How I healed from arthritis – National Arthritis Week 2020
How I healed from arthritis.
National Arthritis Week 2020 runs from 7-13 October and as I know from personal experience, it's the biggest cause of pain and disability in the UK. In this post, I share how I healed from autoimmune arthritis with nutrition and lifestyle medicine.
Around 10 million people are living in pain every day and this pain is often invisible... its effects going unnoticed to the eye of the beholder. Left unchecked all forms of arthritis can quite literally, cripple your life. It disfigures joints – hands, neck, shoulders, spine, hips, knees, feet – and restricts movement and mobility. Arthritis is inflammatory, degenerative and chronically painful. It provokes depression. And it doesn’t stop there – it’s progressive.
Many types of arthritis are long-term conditions, where the disease can’t be cured with conventional medications and treatments. And indeed, conventional approaches to treatment offer a glum future – increasingly strong, anti-inflammatory medication (painkillers, non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs), steroid injections, disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs), ‘biological immunosuppressant drugs (commonly methotrexate, used for chemotherapy) and/or surgery.
In the short term, these drugs can help people ‘get their lives back’ – but they’re not a long-term solution.
Arthritis - my experience
The first signs of arthritis showed up in my mid-twenties, explained simply as ‘wear and tear’. Slowly my hands, knees and toe joints were all affected. Initially, my rheumatologist diagnosed primary degenerative and subsequently, inflammatory arthritis and then the final blow: autoimmune psoriatic arthritis.
I’ve been prescribed for and/or endured all of the above treatments. Thankfully, it was the final prospect of the long-term consequences of suppressive drug ‘therapy’ and undergoing yet more surgery that pushed me to search for another way and led me down the road to recovery.
Despite established and emerging science, conventional treatments for arthritis STILL largely focus on pain control, symptom and immune system suppression, and disease ‘modification’ therapies - all involving aggressive medications which create more down-stream problems than they solve. Is there any role for ‘diet and lifestyle modification’? My Consultant Rheumatologist (a senior and well-respected figure in his field) argued vehemently that there was NOT!
There are many different approaches to ‘healing with food’: Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD); Gut & Psychology Syndrome (GAPS); Weston A Price Foundation (WAPF); Paleo, Autoimmune Protocol (AP); Auto-Immune Paleo (AIP); Metabolically Supportive Diet; Ayurvedic Diet.
All differ in their recommendations, but each has something valid to say because WE are all different. Each of us has a unique constitution and each has a ‘blueprint’ that has been crafted from a combination of culture, geography, genetics, ancestry and the cumulative experience of our parents and grandparents.
Healing and ‘autoimmune’ diets will differ in their specifics – for example, GAPS vs Paleo vs Metabolic diets all have a different view about the importance of fats vs carbohydrates – but what they share is FAR more important than where they differ:
- a proper understanding of physiology
- a developed understanding of the role of nutrients
- the elimination of processed and chemically adulterated foods
- an emphasis on eating as our ancestors did
- cooking REAL ‘whole’ foods from scratch.
The common denominator is to eat as our ancestors did. Mother Nature knows best and our grannies did too. Their nutrient-dense ‘traditional’ foods are the KEY elements of the healing prescription that is ‘food-as-medicine.’
The trick is to be patient and to allow time for the gut and digestive system to heal properly so that we can gradually re-introduce many of the foods we think (or have been told) we must avoid.
- CARE about where your food comes from and eat whole, seasonal foods that are grown and raised in healthy soils and buy them as locally as possible.
- CHOOSE organic or unsprayed, non-GMO foods where you can – research shows that these are more nutritious and it simply is nonsense that chemical growing cocktails are a) harmless and b) can just be washed off by soaking in vinegar water or a bicarb solution.
- AVOID all processed foods & reduce restaurant foods – MOST of the time. Avoid anything in a box, carton or package that proclaims to be 'NATURAL' because you can be sure it’s not!
- COOK at home, from scratch – if you want to know what’s IN your food, you need to care where it comes from and cook it yourself. This may be challenging at first (but it truly is about organisation and planning) and the healthiest foods are often slow-cooked and slow cooking is the new fast-food.
- DON’T CUT OUT or down on major food groups (easily digestible proteins, healthy fats, quality carbs) eat them daily – but find a balance that works for you. Experiment and be patient in finding the right balance. Please don’t EVER shun a major food group without getting professional advice; you may feel better short-term, but in the long-term, a nutrient-deficient diet will put your body under stress and you will NOT be able to sustain healing and health. You need all the nutrients Mother Nature has provided (in a combination that is right for YOU) to build your body (proteins), give you energy (carbohydrates) and put sustenance and flavour (fats) into your food.
- THROW AWAY ALL polyunsaturated (PUFA) cooking and vegetable oils except olive and coconut.
- DON’T AVOID nutrient-dense, saturated animal fats - like butter, ghee, beef tallow and lard from pasture-raised animals – use them judiciously and enjoy them.
- MAKE bone broth and use it daily to heal and seal your gut and support your joint and your connective tissue healing OR supplement daily with collagen hydrolysate, or with un-denatured type II collagen. This is CRUCIAL.
- EAT PROBIOTIC-RICH foods daily, in small amounts – fermented vegetables and/or a couple of shots of kefir to support the health and balance of your digestive and immune system.
- HYDRATE, but don’t over-hydrate – let thirst be your guide. But…
- DON’T DRINK TAP WATER if it’s chlorinated or fluoridated – fluoride, in particular, is toxic chemical waste from the fertilizer industry and an endocrine disruptor – read the health warnings on your tube of toothpaste
- SORT YOU LIFE OUT NOW! Don’t wait another day - start creating daily habits that you enjoy and that enhance your health and happiness. And JUST. DITCH. THOSE. THAT. DON’T!
My older self has learned that the physician IS within us all – healing our body is in our own hands. There are no magic pills, potions or procedures that will truly heal ‘dis-ease’ with a disordered diet and a dysfunctional lifestyle. And that older self has learned that it is NEVER, EVER, TOO LATE to start healing!
My book - The Real Food Solution - dives much, much deeper into the importance of whole, seasonal, REAL food, grown and raised in healthy soils and in sympathy with the planet. It is a vital resource in the battle to take back control of your health
A metabolically supportive diet is a necessary, but not a sufficient, condition for healing and for maintaining optimum health. Restoring restful sleep; reducing stress; taking regular breaks in nature to move our body; and fostering inner and outer connectedness and removing toxins from our ‘habitat’ are all necessary too if we truly want to create a whole, happy and healthy life.
Arthritis - the key healing lifestyle changes I made
I prioritised my sleep (this was huge!) - Without quality sleep, our body can’t repair from the daily toils of living, nor can it heal from disorder and disease. So, with a simple ‘Sleep Audit’ I reviewed my (terrible) sleep habits, made a plan for a healthier sleep routine… and made a firm COMMITMENT to stick to it.
I got serious about managing my stress (this was huge too!) - Stress is a killer. The physiology of chronic stress not only promotes and underpins disease through chronic inflammation but actually prevents the process of healing itself. Stress and sleep are toxic bed-fellows; chronic stress disrupts our hormones and our sleep physiology, making restful, restorative sleep impossible.
And here’s the thing: we’re not even aware of how hard our body is working to cope chronic stress, because it’s all done unconsciously by the complementary actions of our very smart Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) – the ‘fight or flight system‘ and the ‘rest and digest’ system. So it’s really important to develop body self-awareness and learn to listen to your body, so you can recognise when things may be getting out of hand – and head yourself off at the pass!
I committed to moving my body - We were born to move. We humans have been pushing (as every mum will know!) and pulling, squatting, lifting and climbing for millions of years!
Movement is so important to our health that regularly moving our body calms our ‘fight or flight’ system, and reduces our stress load – including lowering blood pressure and levels of LDL cholesterol; increasing our levels of helpful HDL cholesterol; improving our blood flow and basic heart function and even in preventing and helping us to recover from cancer.
In combination, these physical changes reduce our body’s stress response and help to flip-the-switch over to ‘rest and digest’ allowing our natural detoxification and healing mechanisms to get to work. This post and this post explain why and how movement (especially if we make it playful, natural and enjoyable) is SO critical for healing and for our general and mental health too – and give a wide a range of suggestions for simple, natural and functional ways of exercising (at leisure and at work) to heal. No, we’re NOT talking the high-intensity stuff that further stresses a struggling body!
I chose to ‘green exercise’ (physical activity performed in nature – like walking, cycling, boating, conservation activities) because it’s been shown to have a very positive effect on several stress-related states like anger, confusion, depression and anxiety.
I began to nurture inner and outer connectedness - no woman is an island! In mathematics, ‘connectedness’ means ‘all one piece’. When a mathematical object has such a property, we say it is connected; otherwise, it is disconnected. And we too, are designed to be ‘all one piece’ and are, fundamentally, an organic ‘object’ – a big blob of organic matter made up of very smart cells creating energy, organised into a system of systems… all hard-wired for connection.
“Connection is what gives purpose and meaning to life…neurobiologically, it’s how we’re wired. But, people’s stories are about disconnection”
– Brene Brown, The Power of Vulnerability
And our disconnection seems to be the scourge of modern life; in recent years we’ve seen an explosion of self-help, personal development and spiritual enlightenment books, websites and on-line communities seeking to guide us towards a sense of connection, purpose, fulfilment, peace and happiness.
This post explains why we need other people to be healthy and happy; why social support is a stronger predictor of survival than physical activity, body mass index, hypertension, air pollution, alcohol consumption, and even smoking fifteen cigarettes a day!
No-one likes change and making quite radical lifestyle changes isn’t easy for the individual (or the family) concerned; it can often provoke a negative or critical reaction from others, and changes can be perceived as over-the-top, neurotic, obsessive, paranoid, contrarian… get the picture? When (and it’s not too often) I encounter this I no longer try and justify myself to others – “Well, each to their own,” I’ll say kindly, but firmly… and then change the subject.
BUT KNOW THIS: Committing to making the food and lifestyle changes that stopped the clock on my autoimmune psoriatic arthritis and has been the key to reversing it and to making the rest of my life the BEST of my life!
Discover how I beat arthritis using food-as-medicine and making lifestyle changes:
If any of what you have read above resonates with you, know that health coaching can make the difference between wishing life was better and creating a much better life.
✅ A mentor, helping you to understand why food-is-medicine and why education comes before medication; teaching you how to put the nutrient-dense traditional foods that kept generations of our grandparents fit, lean and free from chronic diseases, back onto your table.
✅ A coach, helping you to get clear on your health goals and priorities; supporting you with information, inspiration and the motivation to take small, actionable steps for the wins - the diet and lifestyle changes that get you into the driving seat and put the pedal to the metal for more energy, vitality, control and much better health.
✅ An ally, on your side, encouraging you to gain the confidence to manage your own health. An ally in allowing you to shine and make rest of your life, the BEST of your life.