Dr. Mercola Dr. Mercola's Comments:
Arthritis is a very common health problem that sends over 20 million people to their physician’s office each year. It’s important to realize that “arthritis” is divided into two primary types: osteoarthritis, also known as degenerative joint disease (DJD); the wear-and-tear form of arthritis, and rheumatoid arthritis.
These two types are completely different, even though they have some similarities.
They both affect the joints and can be connected with joint stiffness, pain, inflammation and swelling.
However, their underlying causes are distinctly different.
What’s the Difference Between Osteoarthritis and Rheumatoid Arthritis?
Osteoarthritis usually occurs in older individuals, but can also be caused by repetitive stress or acute trauma.
Rheumatoid arthritis, on the other hand, can affect you at any age, including children. Fortunately, juvenile rheumatoid arthritis (JRA) is relatively rare.
Understanding the differences between the two types of arthritis will help you distinguish which one you have.
Osteoarthritis – Degenerative joint disease usually affects the distal joints, or the joints at the end of your fingers and toes, not the middle ones. Additionally, it’s not symmetrical, so typically you may have it on just one joint, or on one hand or foot and not the other.
Rheumatoid arthritis – RA, on the other hand, is an autoimmune disease that causes your body to break itself down. Therefore, it tends to be bilateral and symmetrical, meaning it’s the same on both sides of your body. If you only have a specific joint affected on one side of your body it is far less likely to be RA.It also affects your middle joints, and is associated with joint deformities, especially your hands and fingers. It can be very crippling, and people do die from rheumatoid arthritis, so it’s not something to be treated lightly.
Treatments that Work for Both Types of Arthritis
Some of the treatment methods available are similar for both, as both involve joint pain, swelling and inflammation. Hence the typical anti-inflammatory approaches such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) and analgesics, like Tylenol, can be used for either.
However, while these can relieve pain – and there’s a lot to be said for pain relief – it’s very important to understand that the regular, chronic use of these types of medications are associated with significant, and very serious, side effects such as kidney and/or liver damage. In the U.S. overuse of analgesics such as these are very common sources of kidney failure.
NSAIDs also kill some 30,000 people every year due to bleeding ulcers, and the oral drugs have been linked to a host of problems, including heart failure -- Vioxx and Celebrex being prime examples of these very real dangers. This is not to say that they are not useful agents in some cases, however you need to use them very cautiously.
This is also why it’s so vital that you seek out the underlying cause of your problem and treat it “at the root,” so you do not need to pursue these types of medications.
With respect to treatments, there are some commonalities even when using natural approaches.
Omega-3 fats – One of the primary treatment methods you’ll want to include for either of these conditions is a high quality source of animal-based omega-3 fats such as krill oil. Omega-3s are an essential component that your body needs to reduce inflammation.
Nutritional typing – Your unique biochemistry and genetics influence the ratio of fat, protein and carbohydrates your body needs to thrive, so eating for your nutritional type will ensure that you get the optimal macronutrient ratio out of your diet.
Safe symptomatic approaches for pain -- There are some symptomatic approaches you can use for both conditions.
One of them would be glucosamine, which is especially beneficial for osteoarthritis. However, understand that although useful, this is also little more than a band-aid and will not treat the underlying cause. But it’s certainly safer than using NSAIDs and other dangerous medications.
Another treatment I’ve found to be particularly useful is the Indian herb boswellia. It is used very effectively to treat joint inflammation, but again, it’s not treating the cause, only the symptom.
Acupuncture is also a safe and typically effective treatment method for pain.
For even more all-natural alternatives for NSAIDs, please see this previous article.
Special Considerations for Treating Rheumatoid Arthritis
The methods I mention above can all be used to reduce pain and inflammation, but rheumatoid arthritis with its crippling and deformities is far more severe, and is generally treated with very aggressive medications.
In fact, the drugs used for rheumatoid arthritis are some of the most dangerous drugs used in medicine. High doses of prednisone are common, as well as immunosuppressants and anti-cancer agents to treat the severe pain and swelling.
In my clinic, we use a modified protocol that was initially developed by Dr. Thomas Brown, which is based on treating mycoplasma infection with antibiotics. I had a fair amount of success with his protocol when I was using it. However, over the years I found that including the use of dietary modification has dramatically improved the response rate. We also include NST (Neurostructural Integration Technique) in our protocol, which has been found to be very effective in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis and scleroderma.
One new addition to the protocol is low dose Naltrexone which I would encourage anyone with RA to try. It is inexpensive and non toxic, and I have a number of physician reports documenting incredible efficacy in getting people off of all their dangerous arthritis meds. Please understand though that this is for RA, not for osteoarthritis.
Additionally, nearly all autoimmune diseases have two primary considerations that need to be addressed.
Vitamin D deficiency – Almost universally, autoimmune diseases have an underlying vitamin D deficiency. The further you go from the equator, the higher the incidence of RA becomes in the population. The remedy, of course, is to make sure your vitamin D levels are optimized. It’s virtual malpractice and negligence if you have an autoimmune disease, such as rheumatoid arthritis, and your vitamin D levels are not getting checked regularly by your physician. For more information on vitamin D and how to optimize your levels, please see this link.
Emotional trauma -- The second factor, which is also almost universally present in most all autoimmune diseases, is some kind of predisposing traumatic emotional insult that typically occurs before the age of five or six.
And unless that specific insult is addressed in some type of effective treatment modality, then the underlying emotional trigger will not be removed, allowing the destructive process to proceed. Therefore, it’s very important to have an effective tool to address these underlying emotional traumas. In my practice, the most common form of treatment used is a form of psychological acupressure called the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT).
When you combine these -- especially in the hands of a skilled clinician -- with some of the safer modalities to treat and alleviate the pains and symptoms you can make great progress even with this debilitating condition.