Functional-medicine doc Susan Blum, MD, outlines her basic plan to treat arthritis.
My functional-medicine approach to treating arthritis focuses on “changing the terrain” in the body. It starts with healing the gut and addressing all the things that might be causing it harm — including problem foods, hostile microbes, and chronic stress. This is a brief summary of the basic plan. If you’d like to know all the details, please see my book Healing Arthritis.
1) Dietary Jump-Start
The first step to healing arthritis begins with a two-week protocol designed to repair the gut and remove foods that might trigger inflammatory symptoms. I call this a jump-start because many people experience a dramatic improvement just from eating differently. Using food as medicine is a core part of my approach to treating arthritis and all inflammatory conditions.
The Leaky Gut Diet for Arthritis removes the following from your diet:
- Processed-flour products
- Nightshade vegetables, such as tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, and peppers
The goal of an elimination diet is to help you feel better while identifying which foods might be a problem for you, so you can create your own personalized food plan once you reach step 3.
I recommend a version of the Mediterranean-style diet — plenty of vegetables, lean protein, and healthy fat from olive oil and nuts — but above all, I encourage you to focus on the quality of your choices throughout the entire healing protocol. Here’s what that means:
- Increase fiber, micronutrients, and phytonutrients by eating a rainbow of vegetables and fruits.
- Remove refined sugar and refined grains, such as those found in cookies, cakes, and bread.
- Improve the quality of your fats by eliminating refined and hydrogenated varieties.
- Eat better animal proteins, sticking to grassfed and grass-finished beef, free-range chicken, and wild or sustainably farmed low-mercury fish.
- Avoid processed foods — especially things you make from a box — and instead choose whole foods and fresh plant foods.
2) Intensive Gut Repair
During the second step, you continue the elimination diet and focus on cleansing and repairing the gut. A healthy gut lining and thriving microbiome help prevent the inflammatory cascade that so often causes joint pain.
The two-month clean-and-repair process involves removing harmful bacteria, yeast, and parasites with herbal supplements; supporting digestion with enzymes; repairing the intestinal lining to treat leaky gut; and restoring beneficial gut bacteria with probiotics.
This is a sampling of some of the gut-repair supplements I use during this phase:
- Herbal treatments, such as berberine and oregano oil, plus garlic, for treating dysbiosis.
- Enzymes that assist with digestion include betaine to support stomach-acid production; lipase, amylase, and protease to improve pancreatic function; and bile acids or dandelion root to support the liver and gallbladder in
- Nutrients such as L-glutamine, curcumin, and zinc carnosine for healing leaky gut.
- Probiotics for restoring healthy gut bacteria.
3) Finishing What You Started
For deeper, long-lasting change, you have to finish what you started and develop a program that becomes a permanent lifestyle change.
In the third step, you’ll develop healthy new habits that will support you for a lifetime. Quick fixes are a good jump-start, but they don’t truly solve anything.
In this six-month stage, you’ll continue your anti-inflammatory and gut-healing supplements, add some joint support with collagen, and begin the mind-body practice of your choice, such as meditation, yoga, or conscious-breathing exercises.
You’ll also begin to transition out of the elimination diet to see if you can tolerate any of those foods without triggering symptoms. (Instructions for reintroduction are in the book.)
At this point you’re ready to adopt the Healthy Eating Plan, which focuses on quality foods but offers more flexibility. Overly restrictive diets are not sustainable — and you need something you can live with.
Your goal is to follow the Healthy Eating Plan 90 percent of the time, so you get the benefits of quality foods that will help you build resilience when you “cheat.” The plan has five simple goals:
- Focus on foods that reduce inflammation, including colorful produce and healthy fats from olive oil and nuts. This also includes anti-inflammatory herbs and spices like turmeric, ginger, and rosemary.
- Include foods that support gut health, such as probiotic fermented vegetables and prebiotic garlic.
- Avoid inflammatory foods 90 percent of the time. This sets you up to tolerate “treat foods,” like dairy or gluten, from time to time.
- Avoid toxins by sticking with organic produce and avoiding plastic packaging.
- Choose quality food. Eat organic produce and proteins from grassfed and grass-finished animals; avoid processed foods.
Shifting your body on the deepest level toward resiliency and health is the ultimate goal of the Healing Arthritis Protocol. If you follow the diet and gut-cleanse part of this program, you will feel better.
But the effect will be short-lived if you go back to your old habits. Additionally, ignoring how stress and trauma influence your health may prevent the lifestyle shift needed for permanent healing.
Healing the gut takes time and commitment. Don’t be concerned when it seems to be taking months, or longer. Remember, every healing journey must begin with a few first steps.
From Healing Arthritis: Your 3-Step Guide to Conquering Arthritis Naturally, by Susan Blum. Copyright © 2017 by Susan Blum, MD. Reprinted by permission of Scribner, an Imprint of Simon & Schuster, Inc.
This originally appeared as “The Healing Arthritis Protocol” in “Understanding Arthritis” in the December 2018 print issue of Experience Life.