19 May 2021
By Emily Johnson
With over 100 forms of arthritis and 18 million people in the UK suffering with musculoskeletal conditions, there are numerous people living in chronic pain. Arthritis is one of them. Typically associated with “getting old”, there are so many forms of arthritis that are chronic inflammatory conditions, also known as autoimmune diseases, which are not just something that your grandparents might end up with. Arthritis really does happen to anyone at any age. I am living proof of this.
I have lived with arthritis since the age of 20, and it is an autoimmune disease-based condition – seronegative arthritis – presenting as being in-between rheumatoid arthritis and psoriatic arthritis. Rheumatoid arthritis affects more than 500,000 people in the UK alone, with 27,000 people under 25 living with it. Without treatment, inflammation can lead to cartilage damage, joint destruction, and impaired movement.
The only way I have been able to have a handle on my pain and inflammation is through living an anti-inflammatory lifestyle alongside my medication. It may sound outlandish to think of food and lifestyle as factors that are able to help me to manage my condition, but it's not as strange as it first may seem.
The Fire of Inflammation
Arthritis is associated with excess levels of inflammation in the body.
Taken from chapter three of my book, Beat Arthritis Naturally:
“If we imagine this as an ongoing fire within us, low-grade or not, it will be wreaking havoc. And throwing in an abundance of inflammatory foods, a sprinkling of stress, a week’s worth of inadequate sleep and no exercise could be compared to pouring fuel all over this inner fire, causing it to burn more ferociously.
If we just focus on diet for now, simply adding one anti-inflammatory food to your daily intake would not be enough to tame the fire. Especially when you are simultaneously still splashing on the fuel, whether in the form of junk food, alcohol or sleepless nights.
The objective here, then, is to eliminate the fuel completely (it may take time, and it may not be all the time, but it is possible) and replace it with a fire-engine-style hose-down – not in the form of 100 shots of turmeric or ginger, no, but an array of colourful plant-based wholefoods (along with modifications to lifestyle, treatment plans, sleep and more).
The inflammation may not disappear completely – after all, we are talking about a chronic inflammatory immune response here, so it is more complicated than this – but perhaps your inner inflammation might become calmer and more manageable than it was and, as a consequence, you could end up finding some relief.”
3 things you may not know about inflammation
- Inflammation is activated by our immune system and is actually supposed to be there to protect us, not “harm” us. Acute inflammation appears when we have the scratchy start of a sore throat, or a stubbed toe – alerting the body. Chronic inflammation on the other hand, is when the body has not switched off this acute initial stage of inflammation and causes longer term damage in the body, and if it persists for a long time it can result in autoimmune conditions, like rheumatoid arthritis.
- Hot white potatoes have been found to be inflammatory to the gut, whereas cold potatoes or sweet potatoes (hot and cold) are arguably not.
- Healthy people found that consuming just one sugar sweetened drink per day (with 40g of added sugar) increased their inflammatory markers.
So, what has worked for me?
Living an anti-inflammatory lifestyle has significantly reduced the manifestation of my symptoms, improved my pain levels and I am able to live happier and healthier alongside my arthritis. It’s not a cure, but it is a way with coping day to day with this chronic lifelong condition.
What's an “anti-inflammatory lifestyle”?
It’s not just food. It’s everything from sleep to mindfulness and exercise, to avoiding the more inflammatory things in life:
- Certain foods (like refined and/or processed foods, or trans fatty acids)
- Being sedentary
- Lack of sleep
Superfood smoothies won’t do an awful lot if you’re not sleeping properly and you’ve been sat stationary at a desk all day, that’s why it’s a holistic approach to your health and wellbeing that may help. Also, I am still on medication and would never advise anyone to stop theirs. It’s the things we can do alongside our medication – big and small!
Based on the chapters in my book “Beat Arthritis Naturally”, here’s a short overview of the “anti-inflammatory” lifestyle things that you can do:
- Nutrition: The Mediterranean Diet is largely cited as the most anti-inflammatory and healthful diet you can get. It’s where the foundation of all my recipes comes from, keeping recipes packed full of nutritious fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, beans, herbs and spices, as well as unsaturated fats and omegas with a low intake of meat and dairy foods. Whereas, the Western Pattern Diet, is typically highly inflammatory (high content of meat, ultra-processed foods, saturated fats, refined produce, sugar, alcohol and low in fibre).
- Exercise: A study has found that one 20-minute session of moderate exercise can act as an anti-inflammatory. It doesn’t matter how you move, just get moving. For mindfulness and light exercise, yoga or a walk in the park are my go-tos.
- Sleep: Good sleep hygiene is essential to keeping our immune systems healthy and our inflammation in check, things such as reducing our caffeine intake and detoxing on our digital devices will help.
- Mindfulness: It may sound cliché, but breathing exercises and staying mindful actually work. Whether its writing, drawing, listening to music or taking a walk in the woods. Find time to be grateful for the things you do have rather than the things you don’t.
- Healthy relationships: Feeling less alone and sharing how you are feeling with people you love and trust is paramount. And, even finding people who are living with the same condition as yours through social media can help too.
Overall, it is about finding what works for you in your body. With so many types of autoimmune diseases, inflammatory and arthritic conditions, plus noting that we all have different genetic make-ups, guts, bodies, and lives…you have to take the journey to find what works for you.