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Arthritis is a handicap. Swollen, tender, inflamed joints limit motion. The simplest tasks - writing a letter, opening a car door, walking across the room -become a chore.
The two most common forms of arthritis are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Osteoarthritis affects the joints that receive the most wear and tear: knees, big toes, fingers, lower spine. The cartilage that covers the end of the bones disintegrates, and the bones themselves wear away.
In most cases of rheumatoid arthritis, joints are inflamed and may eventually become deformed. Rheumatoid arthritis is regarded by some as an autoimmune disease - the body prod¬uces antibodies against its own cells and tissues. In short, the body behaves as though it's allergic to itself. In addition to the joint changes in rheumatoid arthritis, the adjacent bones, muscles and skin waste away - explaining the muscle aches that so often accompany arthritis.
Regardless of the variety, treatment of arthritis consists mostly of relieving pain and maintaining motion. Mercifully, arthritis pain tends to come and go, granting its victims periods of relief.
Research by Theron Randolph, a Chicago allergist, suggests that some cases of osteoarthritis may improve when food and environmental allergens are avoided. To illustrate his claim, Dr Randolph tells of a thirty-year-old pianist and violinist who had been well until she moved into an all gas-equipped house. At the same time, she began to switch from natural-fibre clothing to synthetics. She then did some travelling, during which she was exposed to heavy traffic fumes.
At that point she became so incapacitated by muscle aches and joint pains that she had to give up playing both the violin and piano.
Dr Randolph found that the woman was allergic to corn, tomato, peas, beets and beet sugar, lamb, rice, wheat, milk and beef. Those foods produced varying degrees of fatigue, stiffness and joint pain, all of which disappeared when the foods were avoided. When she returned home she found that her arthritis flared up again, but that she felt better when she was outside. She replaced her gas stove and heating system with electric appliances and made her bedroom into a pollution-free oasis. She then reintroduced suspicious items one at a time. Polyester bed sheets and several other plastic and synthetic items seem to trigger her discomfort.
'At the present time, [the woman] is free of muscle and joint pain,' reports Dr Randolph. 'But there remains some impaired motion in the left wrist, due to the destruction of tissue caused when her illness was uncontrolled. She also gets a mild increase in arthritic symptoms before her monthly period, after house¬keeping, when the pine trees in her yard are putting out new growth and when she is working in the yard.
'However, there is simply no comparison between the minor problems she has now and the crippled patient whom we admitted to the hospital a few years ago,' says Dr Randolph (An Alternative Approach to Allergies, Lippincott and Crowell).
Rheumatoid arthritis, too, may be helped. While following a diet that excluded certain foods to which they were allergic, twenty out of twenty-two English patients suffering from rheu¬matoid arthritis found that their symptoms were relieved. On the average, it took ten days of being on the diet for the patients to begin feeling better.
The foods to which one or more of the people were sensitive included grain, milk, seeds and nuts, beef, cheese, eggs, chicken, fish, potato, onion and liver. When they later tried to eat these foods, nineteen of the people found that their arthritis worsened - sometimes in as little as two hours (Clinical Allergy).
Furthermore, speaking at a meeting of the American College of Allergists in January 1981, I. T. Chao, of Brooklyn, New York, said, 'Food incompatibility, although unrecognized, is a common cause of many forms of chronic arthritis'. (Annals of Allergy).
One family of foods, the nightshades, seems to be particularly troublesome for some arthritics. Tomatoes, white potatoes, aubergines, peppers and tobacco contain mild toxins such as solanine, which don't bother most people. But to the 5 or 10 per cent of the population who are sensitive to those toxins, nightshades seem to trigger arthritic flare-ups.
According to Norman F. Childers, a retired professor of horti¬culture at Rutgers University in New Jersey, many arthritics who avoid the nightshades find dramatic relief from joint tenderness, pain and stiffness. While not an allergy per se, nightshade sensi¬tivity is managed like an allergy - by avoiding all traces of those foods, plus tobacco. And like other allergy diets, the no-nightshade approach requires careful planning.
'You find tomatoes, white potatoes and peppers in a wide variety of dishes, and they must all be avoided to give the diet a chance to work,' says Dr Childers. 'Even paprika on fish can cause a reaction in sensitive people,' he says. Seasonings containing paprika and other red peppers are widely used in processed foods. (Black pepper is not related to the nightshades and can be eaten on this diet.)
We can't go so far as to say that control of allergies will reverse the degeneration that's responsible for arthritis - the disease tends to progress no matter what you do, especially if it's reached the stage where your joints are deformed. And arthritis is one of those conditions where no one therapy -environmental or medical - works for everyone. But those reports seem to indicate that some people with milder forms of arthritis can experience much-welcomed relief of pain, swelling and stiffness after changing their diet or home environment.






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