After experiencing a severe allergic reaction to a drug commonly prescribed for arthritis, I was devastated. I’m a pharmacist, a cosmetics formulator, soapmaker and a church accompanist on the keyboard; all of which I am quite passionate. All of which require almost constant use of my hands which are becoming more and more crippled by arthritis. I had no choice but to begin researching natural treatments for arthritis in hands. And, I want to share with you the amazing discoveries I’ve made along the way.
WHAT IS ARTHRITIS?
Anyone with arthritis can tell you it’s debilitating … which is a nice way of saying you are now living a new “normal” where you can’t move like you once could, you have pain most of varying degrees all the time and most certainly upon movement, and your joints just don’t allow you to do many of the things you once enjoyed. In spite of this, however, I’ve come to entertain the notion that we find natural ways of coping – and yes – even improving some of the symptoms.
For those of you fortunate or young enough not to have experience with arthritis, it involves inflammation of the tissues that line your joints and other body structures and involves a substance called fibrin. Fibrin is an insoluble protein that acts as a first responder to body injury which rushes to the site of injury. Shaped like long threads, each molecule interlaces to form a mesh-like barrier around the wound which is critical for trapping red blood cells and platelets necessary for clot formation. In a normal scenario, once the wound heals, the fibrin dissolves and life continues. However, if this normal dissolution process is interrupted by age or illness, then inflammation, pain and joint damage occur.
Now if you happen to be under 27 years of age (according to Dr. Max Wolfe of Columbia University), you should have sufficient proteolytic enzymes to break down the collected fibrin. These enzymes dramatically decrease with age until the age of 50 at which point there is a substantial increase in inflammation due to fibrin production and proteolytic enzyme deficiency.
The focus of this review of these natural treatments will focus on hand arthritis, although what we discuss can be applied to arthritis in general.
WHAT KIND OF ARTHRITIS AFFECTS THE HANDS?
Arthritic diagnoses include over 100 different types of arthritis, but these two are the most common that affect the hands:
Osteoarthritis: As part of our natural aging process the protective cartilage in the hands which allows the many bones in your hand to move smoothly is worn causing inflammation, swelling, and pain. This type is the most common.
Basal joint arthritis: A type of osteoarthritis caused when cartilage wears away in the joint at the base of the thumb using occurring in people who work with their hand performing repetitive gripping or pressing movements such as instrumentalists, pharmacists, massage therapists, hairdressers, etc.
Rheumatoid arthritis: An immune system dysfunction attacks and wears away at the lining of the joints between the small delicate bones in your hand and generally affects the joints on both hands.
Symptoms can include:
Pain or burning in the hand knuckles or hand joints, especially in the morning, subsiding during the day which worsens with heavy use and again in the evening
Swelling and wamth due to inflammation in the joints
The affected joint becomes painful to use and nearby joints become unusually flexible to compensate
Feeling or hearing a grinding sound inside the joint
Development of knots or bumps on the fingers
A weak grip and difficulty using the hand because of pain in the knuckles
A limited range of motion and pain when pressure is applied to the sore jointAdditionally, as the disease progresses or symptoms worsen a patient may experience:
We are all created uniquely. However, there do seem to be some common denominators in those suffering with hand arthritis.
- Genetic predisposition to rheumatoid arthritis or other autoimmune disorders
- Repetitive activity
- Weight (yup – even with hand arthritis and I’ll explain why later)
- Less commonly, bacterial or viral infections
- Sex (women are more prone to hand arthritis)
Oral or topical medications, such as acetaminophen, aspirin, anti-inflammatory drugs called NSAIDs (Naproxen, Ibuprofen, Relafen) or COX-2 inhibitors (Celebrex – 2 others were pulled from the market in 2004/2005), prescription pain relievers, or pain-relieving gels are usually prescribed. Each has its own profile of adverse effects on the body. Steroid treatment with cortisone or prednisone is only prescribed temporarily.
Therapy to strengthen supporting muscles and tendons and learning adaptive techniques to lessen the strain on the joint Icing the area for five to 15 minutes as needed throughout the day to relieve pain and swelling
Wearing a supportive splint or brace to limit thumb movement and allow the joint to heal
Quite often the doctor will suggest a combination of treatments to control symptoms. When medications, physical therapy and self-care aren’t successful, steroid injections can relieve pain and swelling for several months.
If nonsurgical treatments are no longer effective, surgery may offer varying degrees of relief.
Having experienced all of the traditional treatments that could possibly be offered, including surgery, and having limited success I began searching for “what’s out there that’s better than this”. I refuse to greatly compromise or completely stop doing the things that give me the greatest joy!
- Certainly physical therapy and the application of cold to inflamed joints can be listed as “natural” treatments and do provide limited improvement in symptoms.
- Splinting or support to the wrist and hand often reduce strain, wear and tear on joints, allowing them to “rest” comfortably and protected.
- imitation of activities that produce inflammation (my least favorite).
Because as a population we have been conditioned to find our answers “in a bottle”, it is hard for us to refocus our attention from treating symptoms to finding natural alternatives to address the cause of problems associated with natural treatments for arthritis in the hands.
The National Institutes of Health say fibrin is a prominent feature of arthritis. Since fibrin and the decrease of enzymes that regulate the deposit of fibrin are at the heart of arthritis, we may wish to look at how we can increase proteolytic enzymes in the body.
We know that weight affects the stress upon joints and the old adage “the knee bone’s connected to the…thigh bone, the thigh bone’s connected to the….hip bone” applies here. As much as we love eating delicious foods, there are some that have been suspect in terms of actually promoting fibrin production in the body!
Here is a list of the culprits:
- Bagels, muffins, donuts, sugar or any unrefined carbohydrate drive up the body’s inflammatory processes.
- Processed fast foods (ie French fries -those lovely little strips deep fried in transfats are know to increase systemic chronic body inflammation). Oils such as soybean, corn, and peanut are rich in omega 6 fats. Too much results in inflammation promoting fibrin production.
- BBQ and blackened foods, chargrilled or broiled meats and veggies. AGEs (Advanced Glycation Ends) are produced by high temperatures. Advanced glycation end products (AGEs) are harmful compounds that are formed when protein or fat combine with sugar in the bloodstream in a process called glycation. Antioxidants and proteolytic enzymes are necessary to eliminate AGEs. Preferred cooking methods include stewing, broiling, crock potting and braising.
- Did you know there are “bad” veggies? Potatoes, tobacco, eggplant, peppers, tomatoes all contain alkaloids which if eaten in large amounts affect calcium metabolism in the body. This calcium can deposit on soft tissues (such as tendons and ligaments) and in your joints, leading to an inflammatory response.
Research is now showing that proteolytic enzymes boost cardiovascular, respiratory and immune function as well as fight the production and deposition of fibrin.
The problem is not that we have no natural solutions…It’s that we actually have so MANY! Here are a few of the natural products available to us.
- Turmeric is an excellent antioxidant that destroys free radicals which reduce pain and swelling. A study by Sloan Kettering Institute has shown turmeric is safer than aspirin and shuts down COX-2 production by the body (same as Celebrex). My personal experience is that turmeric can be taken as a capsule and supplemented with addition to foods. It has an indistinguishable taste incorporated into normal seasoning, but adds a depth of flavor to foods.
- Papain occurs naturally in papaya. Some people take papain by mouth for pain and swelling and to remove extra fluid following trauma and surgery. Papain has many uses including being taken orally for digestion, to treat parasitic worms, shingles symptoms, sore muscles, diarrhea, hay fever, runny nose, and psoriasis. It’s also be reported to treat the side effects of radiation therapy and may be used in combination with other therapies to treat tumors.
- Biflavinoids occur in fruits and vegetables are potent phytochemicals. They help maximize the benefits of viamin C by preventing its breakdown in the body. In addition to citrus fruits, they are found in broccoli, red onions, kale, rutabaga, spinach and hot peppers. Antioxidants help prevent the formation of fibrin! Rutin a complex sugar is also found in these same foods.
- Other herbal and food items with dietary benefits include:
- Rutin, a plant pigment, (a strong antioxidant with anti-inflammatory effects) is found in certain vegetables and fruits such as apples, bucikwheat, most citrus fruits, gifs and both black and green tea.
- Devils’ claw, an herb from a flowering plant of the sesame family, contains iridoid glycosides, a class of compounds which has demonstrated anti-inflammatory effects as effective as phenylbutazone, a potent antiinfammatory drug.
- Used commonly in India, Boswellia, is known to inhibit the production of chemicals known to cause inflammation. Additionally it has been shown to improve healthy blood circulation, increased joint mobility and flexibility.
This list is by no means comprehensive, but I hope it piques your curiosity in finding other naturally occurring, easily available alternative treatments for hand arthritis and better health!
(NOTE: THIS IS PROVIDED AS STRICTLY INFORMATIONAL AND IS NOT TO BE PERCEIVED AS AN OPINION AS TO THE LEGALIZATION OF MARIJUANA OR CBD OIL NOR TO ENCOURAGE SUCH DISCUSSION. Thank you.)
In the spring of 2017, Congress introduced a new federal bill to reschedule marijuana and CBD as a schedule III substance, meaning CBD could be freely distributed for medical and research purposes. There is some confusion in the public regarding hemp oil, CBD oil and marijuana. Here’s a quick analysis of the differences:
Hemp Oil: Hempseed oil is actually a nutritious product containing antioxidants, Vitamin E, polyunsaturated fatty acids and minerals and is used in the soapmaking and cosmetic industry for its beneficial skin properties. It contains little to no THC (active component of marijuana) and cannot cause any alteration in the state of consciousness.
CBD Oil: Cannabidiol is a naturally occurring cannabinoid constituent of cannabis, discovered in 1940. It does not appear to have any psychotropic (high) effects such as those caused by marijuana, but surprisingly it may have antianxiety and antipsychotic effects.
In the US, many companies have marketed products purportedly containing CBD and have been admonished by the FDA for making unsubstantiated health claims. It is important to note that In the United States, CBD is a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act. This means that production, distribution, and possession of CBD is illegal under federal law.
Although most states restrict the use of CBD products to certain medical conditions, manufacturers of CBD claim their products are derived from industrial hemp, and therefore legal for anyone to use. A number of these manufacturers ship CBD products to all 50 states, some containing 0% CBD! The federal government has made no effort to intervene to regulate these sales or assure that the products do in fact contain CBD. Therefore, caution in using CBD oil for relief of arthritis symptoms is advised.
We are surrounded by healthy alternatives if we begin to think “outside the box” and take our focus off pills bottles and injections. I know that it’s a frightening to even think about letting go of conventional treatment. But it’s very important to note that all of these natural opportunities can also be used in conjunction with conventional treatment. Hand arthritis is essentially a self-care condition with which we must cope on a daily basis. Having run the gamut of conventional treatments with less than optimal response, I’m excited to know that there are natural treatments for arthritis in my hands.