Dr. Ellen Potthoff, DC, ND 

                Oh, my aching back” – how many times have you heard that one?  Or how about “My knees are killing me”?  Early morning pains and feelings of stiffness in your fingers – all of these things point to - osteoarthritis - the bane of older age.

                Arthritis is a common problem in the U.S.  By the time people reach the age of 50-60 or so, they usually experience some form of joint pain or stiffness, usually of the weight-bearing joints or joints of the hand.  There are two categories:  primary and secondary osteoarthritis.

                Primary arthritis is the wear-and-tear type degeneration of the joint’s cartilaginous surface.  This results from decades of abuse of the collagen matrix of the cartilage.  Damage to the cartilage results in the release of enzymes that destroy collagen components.  With aging, there is a decreased ability to repair and replace the collagen components.

                Secondary arthritis results from some predisposing factor:  unusual joint shape or excessive wear; trauma through accidents (Chiropractic helps to prevent this one!), obesity, or fractures at the joint surface; crystal deposition; or pre-existing inflammatory disease of the joints i.e. rheumatoid, gouty or septic arthritis. 

                There are suggestions that the cellular and tissue response to osteoarthritis is purposeful and aimed at repair of the damaged joint structure.  The process seems to also be able to be arrested and sometimes reversed.  Interestingly enough there is little experience of the pain of arthritis in “primitive” societies.  

On x-ray, anyone in this culture over the age of 40 will show degenerative joint changes indicating they have arthritic processes going on in their bodies.  We see arthritic changes in skeletons that have been unearthed, and yet, people in third world countries do not experience the pain that we do.  Why is that? 

                The problem of joint pain relates to inflammation and altered calcium metabolism that occur in our culture as a result of our diet.  People who eat a lot of red meat, sugar, and spicy foods, and drink stimulants such as coffee accumulate excess heat in and around their joints.  Other causative factors include food allergy, poor dietary habits, and a sedentary lifestyle.  In third world nations, people eat little of the luxuries our affluence affords us:  meat, sugar, fats, etc.  They eat “peasant food” – fresh fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, fish and organ meats.  And they are extremely physically active!  They deal with a lot less stress of the kind we create for ourselves and they have a much slower pace of life with time for eating and enjoying life (we are presuming here that neither starvation nor oppression is occurring).

                The modern solution to treating arthritis in our civilized western society is non-steroidal anti-inflammatories.  They work like a charm in terms of turning off the inflammatory pain; unfortunately they make the erosion and degeneration of the joint cartilage surface much worse.   In other words the fire is still raging, but the fire alarm has been disconnected.  The final solution?  Remove the causes of inflammatory pain:  dietary predisposers, sedentary lifestyle, food allergies and poor dietary habits.  Replace with a good quality diet (see Dr. D’Adamo’s book Eat Right for Your Type – people with O type blood are prone to arthritis when they eat wheat, potatoes, corn and dairy), weight-bearing exercise, treatment of food allergies and appropriate dietary habits.  For some people avoidance of nightshade family members is helpful (tomatoes, potatoes, green peppers, and eggplants).  For others, removing dairy and fruits can be helpful.   What happens otherwise is inevitable: arthroscopies, knee and hip replacement surgeries, bleeding ulcers from NSAID use over decades, and pain, lots of PAIN!!

                Fortunately, there are some supplements, herbal medicines, and treatments that can be of use, in addition to the above.  Glucosamine sulfate is very popular these days.  It actually helps to resurface the joint cartilage at the ends of affected bones.  It decreases inflammatory pain as well.  MSM has been used more recently and works by helping to support the cartilaginous components of the joint.  Flax seed oil can be used to force the production of anti-inflammatory prostaglandins rather than pro-inflammatory prostaglandins (what the NSAID’s are doing, but without the unwanted side effects) thus quenching inflammatory pain.  Vitamin E, in doses of 600 I.U. a day, has an antioxidant and membrane stabilizing action.  It also inhibits the enzymatic breakdown of cartilage while stimulating its synthesis.  1-3 grams of vitamin C has a synergistic effect with the vitamin E and results in collagen synthesis.   Also, vitamins A (10,000 I.U.), B6 (50 mg.), and pantothenic acid (12.5 mg.), and minerals zinc (45 mg.) and copper (1 mg.) all have a beneficial effect on collagen synthesis.      

                A good arthritic formula could include the herbs:  Harpagophytum procumbens (Devil’s claw), Yucca species, Cimicifuga racemosa (Black cohosh), Angelica sinensis (Dong quai), [the last two herbs are commonly used also for menopausal symptoms], Arctium lappa (Burdock), Juniperus communis (Juniper, and Medicago sativa (Alfalfa).  This is an anti-inflammatory formula that stimulates lymphatic circulation and has antioxidant properties.  Dosage with these herbs would be 1-2 capsules 3 times daily or 30-40 drops of a combined tincture (use a preponderance of the first 2 herbs).  

                Cherries, hawthorn berries, blueberries and other dark red-blue berries are rich in anthocyanidins and proanthocyanidins.  These compounds help to stabilize collagens in the joint cartilage.       

Also of use are daily exercises including isometric exercises and swimming.  Short-wave diathermy and other physical therapy treatments may be helpful, such as paraffin baths (for the hands only due to size restrictions).

                I sincerely hope that you do not suffer from arthritis, but if you do, I have tried to give you some practical solutions to ease the pain and actually improve the quality of your joint surfaces.  If you have any questions please do not hesitate to call (925) 603-7300, or e-mail me at