When Lou A. first arrived at the Pritikin Longevity Center, his arthritic-related pain was so bad that he couldn’t walk the short distance from his hotel room to the dining room without stopping to sit down.
For years, the 67-year-old real estate developer from Upstate New York had struggled with constant pain – “pain every day. I gotta tell you, it just beats you up.”
But after a month of eating and exercising at Pritikin, “I felt so good I was running.” In addition to arthritis pain relief, his diabetes was in much better control. He’d eliminated 80% of his daily insulin. And nine pills.
Today, Lou is 30 pounds lighter. What’s more, “95% of the pain is gone. It’s been a whole new life for me.”
Reducing the Pain
One in five Americans suffers from some form of arthritis. As yet, there is no cure. Doctors have focused on reducing symptoms, usually with drugs.
But a growing body of research is now finding that a healthy lifestyle like the Pritikin Program can do much to decrease – or even eliminate – arthritic pain.
“Both the exercise and dietary components of the Pritikin Program should help with arthritis, including its two most common forms – osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis,” states UCLA researcher Dr. James Barnard, author of 100+ studies in peer-reviewed on the effectiveness of the Pritikin Program for the prevention and control of many diseases.
Osteoarthritis affects 20 million people in the U.S. alone. The simplest way to describe osteoarthritis is that it is wear and tear on the cartilage near your joints. A joint is where two bones connect. Cartilage is the elastic ‘gristle’ that covers the ends of the bones. The breakdown of cartilage affects the ability of the bones to glide over each other and absorb shocks.
Simple everyday movements like taking the stairs can hurt. Even combing your hair can be painful.
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder in which the body’s own immune system attacks the body’s joints. Some of its hallmark signs are hot or warm feelings in the joints, as well as fatigue and swelling, and pain throughout the night.
A healthy lifestyle might benefit both forms of arthritis because of what both have in common: inflammation.
Inflammation can be a very good thing. Think of inflammation like a burner on your gas stove. When you suffer an injury, your body turns up the flame to heal the injury. This is called local or acute inflammation.
But problems can occur when our bodies keep that burner going. Round the clock it’s simmering, even when we’re not suffering an injury. This constant heat, known as systemic or chronic inflammation, is no longer a healing force. Quite the contrary, it can cause pain, and is linked with a myriad of diseases, including insulin resistance, diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, and yes, arthritis.
How do you quell these chronic inflammatory fires? Research is finding that regular exercise and good nutrition can be very beneficial.
To measure levels of inflammation, scientists now test the blood for markers like CRP (C-reactive protein). Prolonged elevated CRP levels indicate chronic inflammation.
In just two weeks, the Pritikin Program has been documented to cut CRP levels nearly in half. Other inflammatory markers, including SAA, have also plummeted via the Pritikin Program. (1)
And yes, regular use of anti-inflammatory drugs like Advil, Motrin, Aleve, and Tylenol can help relieve pain, but with long-term use they can also cause stomach, liver, and kidney problems.
Natural Pain Relief
With all the controversy surrounding the side effects of anti-inflammatory meds and COX-2 inhibitors like Vioxx and Celebrex, it makes sense to look for natural pain relief in the form of lifestyle changes. For arthritis relief, a healthy lifestyle like Pritikin may be the safest, most effective, and cheapest medicine.
Four lifestyle-related steps for preventing and arresting arthritis:
Maintaining a healthy weight may be the single most important thing you can do to both prevent and control osteoarthritis, the most common form of arthritis in America.
Carrying around extra weight puts extra strain on your joints, particularly the knees and hips. Every pound of body weight means at least three pounds of stress at the knee joint, and even more at the hip joint. That means that shedding just five pounds would take at least 15 pounds of stress off your knees.
Too much body fat may also increase inflammation in the body, making your joints more painful.
“Lose weight,” urges the nonprofit Arthritis Foundation on its website. (2) “You won’t just look better, you’ll feel better, too.”
Yes, it can be challenging to launch an exercise program if you have arthritis because even cherished movements like gardening can bring on pain.
But the benefits, as Lou and many other Pritikin guests have found, are well worth it. “Exercise helps lessen pain, increases range of movement, reduces fatigue, and helps you feel better overall,” states the Arthritis Foundation.
Many forms of physical activity are “joint-safe,” including walking, swimming, and biking, encourages Dr. John Klippel, president of the Arthritis Foundation. If people walked at least 30 minutes a day, he asserts, “it would have a profound effect on reducing their pain and improving their symptoms.”
Of course, regular exercise can also help you lose weight and keep it off.
“The muscle strengthening program that people learn at Pritikin is also beneficial,” notes Dr. Seth Marquit, Medical Director at the Pritikin Longevity Center.
Randomized controlled trials utilizing the recommendations taught at Pritikin (at least two sessions per week involving 8 to 10 exercises for different muscle groups) have documented significant increases in functional ability and muscular strength in people with arthritis, and without exacerbating pain or damage. (3,4)
Eat More Fruits and Vegetables
Foods that are good for heart health and weight loss are also good for arthritis. Several studies have shown that people who eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables have a lower risk of developing arthritis. (5,6) Scientists suspect there are many substances in fruits and veggies, including vitamin C and boron, that help reduce inflammation by ‘mopping up’ some of the body chemicals that cause inflammation.
Research also suggests that moving toward a vegetarian or near-vegetarian diet, like Pritikin, is beneficial. Studies of people with rheumatoid arthritis showed improvements in just four weeks, and follow-up studies of those who stayed on the diet showed continued improvement after one and two years. (7,8,9)
4. EAT MORE OMEGA-3-RICH FOODS (LIKE FISH) AND LESS OMEGA-6
Today’s typical U.S. diet is full of omega-6-fatty acids, often in the form of fried foods, chips, salad dressings, and sweets containing omega-6-rich corn oil as well as an omega-6 called arachadonic acid, which is found in fatty red meat. That’s a problem because when omega-6-fatty acids are metabolized, substances like eicosanoids and prostaglandins are produced that promote inflammation.
By contrast, omega-3-rich fats tend to have opposing, anti-inflammatory effects. Omega-3s are plentiful in fish and in smaller amounts in walnuts, fruits, vegetables, and flaxseed.
What’s troublesome (and common in America) are diets with an abundance of omega-6 compared with omega-3. It may lead to the production of too many pro-inflammatory chemicals and a state of chronic inflammation which, scientists now suspect, contributes to a host of common ailments, not only arthritis but also heart disease and cancer. (10)
These two fats weren’t always so out of balance. The plant-rich diet of most of humankind’s history, point out nutrition researchers, provided a healthful 1 to 1 ratio of omega-3 and omega-6 fats. But our diet has changed so much in the last century that many of us now eat 14 to 16 times as many omega-6 as omega-3 fats.
Arthritis Pain Relief Naturally | Summing Up
Changing your lifestyle can be difficult at first. “When I first got to Pritikin,” laughs Lou, “I was thinking of how to escape.”
But the benefits – the dramatic drops in insulin levels, the excess pounds shed, the decreases in daily medication, and, last but not least, the disappearance of arthritic pain – “absolutely made it all worthwhile,” says Lou.
“Plus, at Pritikin I met 70 of the most wonderful people I’ve ever met, both staff and guests. I’ll be back in the fall because when you feel this good, you want to keep feeling this good.”
1. Metabolism, 2004; 53: 377.
3. Curr Opin Rheumatol, 2004; 16:132.
4. Arthritis Rheum; 2003: 48: 2415.
5. Am J Epidemiol, 2003; 157: 345.
6. Arthritis Research & Therapy, 2006; 8: R127.
7. Am J Clin Nutr, 1999; 70 (3): 594S.
8. Scand J Rheumatol, 2001; 30 (1): 1.
9. J Altern Complement Med, 2002; 8 (1): 71.
10. Exp Biol Med, 2008; 233: 674.