When it comes to arthritis, there is a tendency to think of it as one condition, however, arthritis is actually an umbrella term used to describe more than 100 conditions characterized by joint pain. (1) Another common misconception about arthritis is that it primarily affects older individuals and is caused by simple wear and tear over time. Read further to learn more about this common and complex category of illnesses.
Arthritis is characterized by significant joint pain and virtually anyone can be diagnosed with it, even children. However, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are more than 54 million people with arthritis in the United States, and approximately 60% of them are between the ages of 18 and 64 and it is more common in women than men. (4)
- Achy joints that are difficult to move
- Joint stiffness occuring in the morning, after exercise, and/or after sitting for an extended period of time
- Pain in the lower back or any primary joint including the fingers, wrist, knees, feet, hips, or shoulders
- Swelling in and around the joint that may be painful to the touch, lasts for more than three days, and occurs more than three times a month (2)
Other general symptoms that may indicate the presence of arthritis include fatigue, weight loss, scaly skin, rashes, and changes to fingernails and toenails. (2) Keeping track of symptoms can be helpful in establishing a diagnosis as there are several different types of arthritis that may differ in their manifestation.
What are the different types of arthritis?
The various types of arthritis can be grouped into two main categories: degenerative and inflammatory. The most common form is degenerative arthritis.
The most frequently diagnosed form of the condition is osteoarthritis, a degenerative form of arthritis. Osteoarthritis is characterized by a breakdown in joint cartilage due to joint damage, overuse, or other factors. It is estimated that more than 25% of individuals over the age of 18 in the United States have been diagnosed with osteoarthritis. (6) Certain individuals may be at a greater risk of developing the condition, including those:
- With a family history of osteoarthritis
- With a previous joint injury or a history of repetitive stress to a specific joint such as the knee
- Who carry extra weight or are obese (5)
It’s also widely known that the risk of developing osteoarthritis increases with age and is a leading cause of disability worldwide due to its hallmark symptom of persistent, progressive pain. (12)
There is no cure for osteoarthritis, so the treatment strategy relies heavily on symptom management, controlling its progression, and pain relief. Some natural substances that have been shown to ease osteoarthritis pain include:
- Boswellia (11)
- Collagen (10)
- Curcumin (14)
- Omega-3 essential fatty acids (9)
- Proteolytic enzymes (3)
Learn more about beneficial nutrients for osteoarthritis on the Fullscript blog.
Types of inflammatory arthritis include the autoimmune forms of this condition, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, and ankylosing spondylitis. In individuals with these forms of arthritis, the immune system initiates an excessive inflammatory response, attacking the joints. Chronic inflammation not only damages the joints, it can also negatively affect other parts of the body, as well. (1) Risk factors for the development of these types of arthritic conditions include:
- Environmental triggers, such as trauma, stress, or infection
- Gender — the condition more commonly affects women
- Genetics and family history
- Lifestyle factors, such as obesity or smoking
- Microbes, microbial imbalance (dysbiosis), and increased mucosal inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract
- Nutrient deficiencies, such as vitamin D and fatty acid deficiencies (8)(13)
Addressing these autoimmune forms of arthritis is very complex and it is advised you do so with the guidance of an integrative healthcare practitioner.
Other forms of arthritis
When a bacteria, virus, or fungus enters the joint and triggers inflammation, it can lead to infectious arthritis. Some examples of the causes of infectious arthritis include Staphylococcus aureus, food contamination, sexually-transmitted disease, and blood-to-blood infections such as hepatitis C. (1) Gout is another type of arthritis, characterized by a build-up of uric acid that creates needle-like crystals in the joint leading to significant pain. Unlike other forms of arthritis, diet and alcohol are key triggers for this condition, and men are at a four- to nine-times higher risk of developing gout than women. (15) When treating gout, the goal is to reduce uric acid levels and maintain them within normal range. While there are several medications that can accomplish this clinical goal, interventions including a combination of diet, lifestyle, and dietary supplement recommendations have also been shown to be effective. (7)(16) Perhaps the most widely studied natural substance to control gout attacks are tart cherries. A 2012 crossover study featuring 633 patients with gout showed that tart cherry intake over a 48-hour period resulted in a 35% lower risk of a gout flare, with ongoing tart cherry extract intake further reducing the risk by 45%. (16) Given the extreme pain associated with a gout flare, these results are significant. Other studies examining the effects of tart cherry intake also demonstrate benefits. One clinical trial resulted in a 75% reduction in gout attacks when cherries were combined with allopurinol (Zyloprim), a pharmaceutical medication used to decrease high blood uric acid levels. (7)
The bottom line
The term arthritis emcompasses a category of conditions that can vary significantly in their clinical presentation and treatment. However, consistent clinical goals include preventing its progression and alleviating pain associated with arthritis. Speak to your integrative healthcare practitioner for diet, lifestyle, and targeted dietary supplement recommendations to address specific forms of arthritis.
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- Arthritis Foundation. (Accessed 2020, March 10). What is arthritis? https://arthritis.org/health-wellness/about-arthritis/understanding-arthritis/what-is-arthritis
- Arthritis Foundation. (Accessed 2020, March 10). Recognizing the symptoms of arthritis. https://arthritis.org/health-wellness/about-arthritis/understanding-arthritis/recognizing-the-symptoms-of-arthritis
- Bolten, W. W., Glade, M. J., Raum, S., & Ritz, B. W. (2015). The safety and efficacy of an enzyme combination in managing knee osteoarthritis pain in adults: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Arthritis, 2015, 251521. https://doi.org/10.1155/2015/251521
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2019, January 30). Arthritis: National statistics. https://www.cdc.gov/arthritis/data_statistics/national-statistics.html
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020, February 27). Osteoarthritis (OA). https://www.cdc.gov/arthritis/basics/osteoarthritis.htm
- Chen, D., Shen, J., Zhao, W., Wang, T., Han, L., Hamilton, J. L., & Im, H. J. (2017). Osteoarthritis: toward a comprehensive understanding of pathological mechanism. Bone research, 5, 16044. https://doi.org/10.1038/boneres.2016.44
- Collins, M. W., Saag, K. G., & Singh, J. A. (2019). Is there a role for cherries in the management of gout? Therapeutic advances in musculoskeletal disease, 11, 1759720X19847018. https://doi.org/10.1177/1759720X19847018
- Deane, K. D., Demoruelle, M. K., Kelmenson, L. B., Kuhn, K. A., Norris, J. M., & Holers, V. M. (2017). Genetic and environmental risk factors for rheumatoid arthritis. Best practice & research. Clinical rheumatology, 31(1), 3–18. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.berh.2017.08.003
- Felson, D. T., & Bischoff-Ferrari, H. A. (2016). Dietary fatty acids for the treatment of OA, including fish oil. Annals of the rheumatic diseases, 75(1), 1–2. https://doi.org/10.1136/annrheumdis-2015-208329
- Garcia-Coronado, J. M., Martinez-Olivera, L., Elizondo-Omana, R. E., Acosta-Olivo, C. A., Vilchez-Cavazos, F., Simental-Mendia, L. E., Simental-Mendia, M. (2019). Effects of collagen supplementation on osteoarthritis symptoms: a meta-analysis of randomized placebo-controlled trials. Int Orthop, 43(3), 531-538. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30368550
- Haroyan, A., Mukuchyan, V., Mkrtchyan, N., Minasyan, N., Gasparyan, S., Sargsyan, A., Narimanyan, M., & Hovhannisyan, A. (2018). Efficacy and safety of curcumin and its combination with boswellic acid in osteoarthritis: a comparative, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study. BMC complementary and alternative medicine, 18(1), 7. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12906-017-2062-z
- Neogi T. (2013). The epidemiology and impact of pain in osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis and cartilage, 21(9), 1145–1153. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.joca.2013.03.018
- Ogdie, A., & Gelfand, J. M. (2015). Clinical Risk Factors for the Development of Psoriatic Arthritis Among Patients with Psoriasis: A Review of Available Evidence. Current rheumatology reports, 17(10), 64. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11926-015-0540-1
- Shep, D., Chanwelkar, C., Prakashchandra, G., Karad, S. (2019). Safety and efficacy of curcumin versus diclofenac in knee osteoarthritis: a randomized open-label parallel-arm study. Trials, 20, 214. https://trialsjournal.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s13063-019-3327-2
- Tausche, A. K., Jansen, T. L., Schröder, H. E., Bornstein, S. R., Aringer, M., & Müller-Ladner, U. (2009). Gout–current diagnosis and treatment. Deutsches Arzteblatt international, 106(34-35), 549–555. https://doi.org/10.3238/arztebl.2009.0549
- Zhang, Y., Neogi, T., Chen, C., Chaisson, C., Hunter, D. J., & Choi, H. K. (2012). Cherry consumption and decreased risk of recurrent gout attacks. Arthritis and rheumatism, 64(12), 4004–4011. https://doi.org/10.1002/art.34677