Topics » Disease » Arthritis and Joint Pain
T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies
Arthritis Joint Pain

Learn how to live without this debilitating disease!

People in non-western cultures who eat diets low in animal fat and protein have much lower incidences of all types of arthritis!

While most arthritis sufferers are being told that they will need to “learn to live with it,” Drs. Goldhamer and Marano of the TrueNorth Health Center in Penngrove, California, are helping patients learn to live without it.

Arthritis is a general term which means inflammation of one of the joints in the body. We have all experienced inflammation at one time or another. The most common cause of inflammation is injury. Suppose you lose your footing and fall. During the fall you injure your ankle by twisting it. As a result, your ankle becomes inflamed. The injured area becomes red and hot, it swells up, and you experience pain. Fortunately, the symptoms associated with acute inflammation are part of the healing process. The increased blood flow to the area brings with it extra white blood cells, results in swelling and pain, and limits mobility, which prevents further damage. This process allows your body to heal itself quickly.

Because there are many different causes of inflammation, there are many different kinds of arthritis. The initial inflammation resulting from trauma or other injury, such as the one described above, is not the big problem. Continuous inflammation- the kind that goes on for years- is what leads to the very debilitating problems of arthritis, and it can result in permanently dysfunctional and deformed joints.


The most common form of arthritis is called Osteoarthritis. This is what most people mean when they say, “My arthritis is bothering me.” The other name for Osteoarthritis is degenerative joint disease, which is a pretty good description of what happens-the joints degenerate.

Osteoarthritis is seen most frequently in the joints that are most used and abused. It is considered a disease of “aging,” but certainly it is not caused by getting older. Whether you develop Osteoarthritis or not depends, to a large degree, on how you live your life. In fact, Osteoarthritis is not just for the aged. By age 30, 35% of people are beginning to show some signs of osteoarthritic changes in their knees, and by ages 70 to 79, at least 85% of people have diagnosable Osteoarthritis.

Osteoarthritis can take place in any joint. As you would expect, carpenters tend to develop Osteoarthritis in their wrists, elbows, and shoulders. Tailors tend to develop it in their hands and fingers. People who are obese tend to have inflammation in their ankles, knees, and hips.

Typically, Osteoarthritis affects a single joint or just a few joints. The early stages of the process are painless. But in time, the pain begins to develop into a deep ache. Many people with Osteoarthritis feel some stiffness after resting and upon waking in the morning. But this stiffness usually lessens after the person has had time to move around a little.

Rheumatoid arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis belongs to a group of ailments that are called antigen/antibody diseases, or immune complex diseases. In rheumatoid arthritis, the immune system malfunctions and damages the joint tissues. Inflammation of the joints leads to cartilage destruction. Rheumatoid arthritis is found in between 1% and 4% of the population.

All of your joints are covered by a layer of smooth cartilage which allows your joints to move easily; this lets your body move and distribute its weight evenly. The rheumatoid arthritis process causes the degeneration and destruction of this cartilage. Once this happens, the bone itself begins to erode and the joint becomes deformed.

Rheumatoid arthritis is usually seen in the peripheral joints-especially the hands, elbows, knees, and even the feet sometimes-and because it is a systemic problem, the distribution is usually symmetrical. If you have it on your right side, you usually have it on the left side, too, in the same joints. You have probably seen someone who has swollen and misshapen joints that do not bend properly. These severe changes are often the result of rheumatoid arthritis.

Rheumatoid arthritis affects approximately three times more women than men, and most often appears between the ages of 35 and 50. Rest, which is helpful in Osteoarthritis, does not seem to alleviate the pain of rheumatoid arthritis; the pain persists. In addition, morning stiffness is much more severe than in Osteoarthritis; it lasts a longer time. As a result, many people resort to taking some kind of medication to get past the stiffness and pain just so that they can button their clothes or tie their shoes.

Osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis are the most common types of arthritis. But there are other less common types, such as gout, lupus erythematosus, psoriatic arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis, etc. There appears to be a genetic predisposition to rheumatoid arthritis, and the less common types of arthritis tend to have strong genetic predispositions associated with them as well.

Is there hope for relief?

People who suffer from arthritis usually seek some form of treatment to solve their problem. Unfortunately, arthritis of all types has a very poor prognosis under medical treatment. There is no cure for any of the types of arthritis, and medical treatment consists mainly of attempting to relieve pain.

Although medical treatment is not a viable solution, there is hope for those willing to develop a new awareness. New attitudes and behaviors toward arthritis can lead to the lessening, and sometimes the elimination, of pain.

Practical tips

Some of the steps you can take to alleviate the pain of Osteoarthritis are primarily mechanical and are relatively easy to implement.

Osteoarthritis can be caused or aggravated by poor body mechanics, so correction of poor posture and training in proper body use-such as the Alexander technique or similar techniques that teach proper body use-may be beneficial in relieving pain and stopping the progression of Osteoarthritis.

Do not overload or overtax your joints. Alternate your activities to use different parts of your body, and if possible take frequent rest periods during the day. You can apply heat packs or ice packs both before and after a session of use of an inflamed joint. This can be very helpful in reducing pain and stiffness. Ice and heat stimulate blood flow to the area, which brings in added oxygen and nutrients.

Beneficial exercise

Mild exercise that moves the joint, but does not aggravate it, can be very beneficial. Exercise prevents muscle atrophy around the affected joints. Muscles protect the joints, which is why it is so important to maintain the muscle strength around an arthritic joint. Exercise also helps circulate fluids in the joint capsule. There aren’t any direct blood vessels that go right to the joint surfaces, so oxygen and nutrients cannot get directly to the cartilage coating around the joints. Nutrients have to diffuse from the nearest blood vessels into the fluid that is in each joint. Exercise assures that there is plenty of motion of the fluid around the joints, so that the nutrients and the oxygen can get delivered. This allows the joints to repair themselves and prevents further degeneration.

Exercise only to the point where pain is not made worse. Some people may need to change the type of exercise they do. Runners who start developing arthritic knees and hips may need to switch to swimming, which takes the weight off the joint but still allows full joint motion. Consultation with a chiropractor or exercise physiologist may be necessary to determine what type of exercise you can do to maintain muscle integrity and joint motion, while not making the degeneration worse.

Foot problems can cause the mechanics of the entire lower body to become faulty, which can put pressure in the wrong places and cause degeneration of the lower extremity joints. Wearing the proper shoes and possibly using orthotics (devices that hold your foot in a particular position) may help normalize the mechanics of the foot, resulting in reduced knee and hip pain.

Full range of motion

Chiropractic care and physical therapy can be of benefit. Chiropractic adjustments can help arthritic joints by restoring a complete range of motion. The breakdown and degeneration of a joint sometimes leads to the joint becoming tight and restricted in its movements. When it does not move through its full range, a number of problems can occur. The joint will not get the circulation it needs, and the joints above and below it have to move more to compensate. This puts extra stress on these other joints and eventually can cause problems. By restoring the full range of motion and the joint “play,” chiropractic care may alleviate pain and restore normal joint function.

Every day, virtually everyone inflames their joints through normal daily activities. Fortunately, if you get sufficient rest and sleep, your body can heal during the night. If you do not get sufficient sleep, the inflammation can increase faster than your body can heal; this may lead to chronic problems.

Dietary factors

People in other cultures work just as hard as Americans do, and a certain percentage of those populations probably have genetic predispositions similar to those of Americans. But people in those cultures tend not to develop arthritis at anywhere near the same rate as in the United States. Why? It appears that diet is a major factor.

In cultures where people eat very small quantities of animal fat and animal protein, there is a much lower incidence of all kinds of arthritis. When these people relocate to a city or country where people eat the same type of diet that we do in the United States, their incidence of arthritis increases dramatically. That is a clear indication that the westernized diet is involved in the development of arthritis. The two biggest dietary culprits seem to be animal fat and animal protein.

At the TrueNorth Health Center, we see many people experience a decrease in their Osteoarthritis after changing their diets. The dietary changes do not reverse the joint deformities, which remain unchanged. But the pain still diminishes, because the improved diet helps reduce the inflammation in the joints.

Eating animal products

Rheumatoid arthritis is rare in societies where animal products are seldom eaten, such as in Africa, Japan, and China. And when rheumatoid arthritis does develop, it is usually much milder and is associated with much less disability than in the United States. There are several theories as to why diet influences these antibody/antigen complex diseases, and the culprits are again protein and fat.

Any foreign protein that comes into the body is called an antigen. Our immune system manufactures antibodies to fight these invading substances, and antibody/antigen complexes are formed.

The invaders can be viruses, bacteria, or food protein. (Most people do not think about food protein when they think of invading protein or other foreign proteins.) The antibodies fight antigens by attaching to them and clumping them together to form complexes (many antibodies and antigens clumped together). These complexes are usually eliminated from the body by the immune system. But in some people this does not happen. Instead, the complexes become lodged in various tissues around the body where they cause inflammation (much like a splinter causes when it lodges). When these complexes lodge in the joints, you get pain, swelling, and redness.

Diet can play an additional role in antigen/antibody problems if a person’s intestines allow large food proteins to enter the body. When we eat, our digestive system breaks the food down into smaller and smaller particles. In most people the particles have to be very, very small-down to their basic components-before they can get from the digestive tract into the body proper. But in some people, proteins are able to get through at an earlier stage, when they are still quite large and complex. This process is called “gut leakage.”

When these larger proteins get into the body, they are perceived as antigens. The body starts attacking them and trying to eliminate them. Eating a high-protein diet, especially one containing animal products, may make people who have a genetic tendency to allow larger particles into their bodies more susceptible to arthritis.

Diet change alleviates pain

One study that supports the contention that diet plays a role in the evolution of arthritis was undertaken at Wayne State University Medical School. The results were dramatic. Investigators took six rheumatoid arthritis patients and fed them a totally fat-free diet for seven weeks. During that time all six patients experienced a complete remission from the pain. The symptoms recurred within 72 hours when either vegetable oil or animal fat was introduced to their diets. If they ate chicken, beef, cheese, coconut oil, or safflower oil, they experienced severe arthritic pain within 72 hours.

Fasting in recovery

People’s reactions to the various antigens can be very different. Dairy products, eggs, beef, wheat, and corn are the most common culprits, but there are many others, some of them quite obscure.

If a person suffering from rheumatoid arthritis wants to find out what foods he or she is sensitive to, the best way to go about it is to undertake a period of fasting (ingesting only pure water), followed by a period of rotational feeding. Many arthritis patients have fasted at the TrueNorth Health Center. During the fasting period, it is common for joint pain and swelling to totally disappear.

This pain-free period provides welcome relief, but proper refeeding after the fast is crucial. In fact, there is no point in undertaking a fast if your intention is to go back to your previous way of eating because this behavior is part of the problem (possibly the major part).

Life after the fasting

During the refeeding period we can find out which foods are contributing to the joint pain. We introduce various foods slowly, one at a time, starting with those that are least likely to cause problems. Ideally, every patient would eat the diet we recommend at the Center-a plant-based diet of fresh fruits, vegetables, and the variable addition of nuts, grains, and legumes. This diet is low in fat, low in protein, high in fiber, and contains no animal products. But some people’s systems are intolerant even to some of these plant-based foods.

Arthritis patients need to learn which foods they can eat without inducing symptoms, and how much they can eat of those acceptable foods. Some people find that they cannot tolerate very much fruit; others find that they can tolerate some vegetables but not others. Simply eliminating the worst offenders-meats, dairy products, eggs, and wheat-may not be adequate to relieve the pain in a particular individual.

Re-feeding is a learning process. Each person is different, and each person must learn how he or she needs to eat (and live) in order to remain free from arthritis pain. As a result of their new awareness, many people come to consider their arthritis a kind of “blessing” because a reoccurrence of their arthritic pain reminds them of their need to adhere closely to a health-promoting lifestyle.

Experience of success

At the TrueNorth Health Center, we have found that the most effective approach to arthritis involves an appropriate period of supervised fasting, followed by a health-promoting diet, appropriate exercise, adequate rest and sleep, good body mechanics and posture, and, when appropriate, chiropractic manipulation and physical therapy. Arthritis is something our patients are learning to live without.

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