By Ellen Kamhi, PhD, RN and Eugene R. Zampieron, ND, MH
Although people use the term arthritis as if it were a single disease, researchers have identified an aggregate of more than 100 conditions whose common features include joint pain, stiffness, and inflammation. For millions of Americans, arthritis limits everyday movements such as walking, standing, or even holding a pencil. As they progress, arthritic conditions can cause joint deformities, brittle bones, loss of mobility, and complete destruction of the protective covering around joints.
More than 66 million Americans (nearly one in three adults) suffer from some type of arthritis, with osteoarthritis (OA) being by far the most prevalent form. It strikes more men than women under the age of 45, often as a result of accidents and injuries.
But the disease becomes three times more widespread in women after that age. And as many more baby boomers turn 50, the number of people afflicted with OA is expected to increase dramatically.
The second most prevalent form of arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis (RA), is an inflammatory disease in which the body’s immune system attacks its own healthy tissues. RA affects 3 to 4 percent of the US population, striking people of all ages, including nearly 300,000 children. Women develop RA three times more often than men, and people with a particular genetic marker (HLA-DR4) tend to have a higher incidence of the illness. Other forms of arthritis include gout, which occurs in 3 out of every 1,000 adults, or about 2 million Americans (the majority of whom are men), and less common forms such as ankylosing spondylitis, psoriatic arthritis, and infectious arthritis.
The common conventional medical approach to arthritis relies on anti-inflammatory and painkilling drugs. While these drugs provide temporary relief, they also have serious side effects. Alternative medicine, on the other hand, offers a wide range of treatment options for eliminating the often hidden causes of arthritis. Like most chronic diseases, arthritis can rarely be traced to a single cause. More often it results from a gradual degeneration of internal organs and tissues brought about by a variety of stressors and imbalances, including environmental pollutants and dietary factors. Toxic chemicals that accumulate in the body contribute significantly to this problem, impairing the function of the organs and related systems (the intestines, liver, kidneys, skin, connective tissue, and the lymphatic and respiratory systems) involved in neutralizing harmful substances. When overloaded, these organs stop working properly and no longer fully eliminate the toxins they normally process from the body, leaving a toxic residue. This “undischarged” toxicity can cause damage directly related to arthritis, such as joint degeneration and inflammation. It may, in fact, be one of the prime contributors to arthritis.
For that reason, we typically recommend that our patients undergo one or more detoxification protocols designed to flush out toxins circulating in the bloodstream, embedded in soft tissues, and clogging important organs. These therapies can target the body in general or specific organs like the liver, kidneys, intestines, and lungs. The most effective general detoxification program includes physician-supervised fasts. Together with eating a nutrient-specific diet and consuming fresh juices, fasting forms the cornerstone of detoxification therapy and plays a critical role in the successful treatment of arthritis. Avoiding solid foods and ingesting only liquids or teas allows the body to focus on cleansing, breaking down circulating toxins, and decreasing their adverse effects.
We have seen patients make remarkable progress in reversing all types of arthritis following an individualized fasting program, and researchers have documented decreased joint stiffness in patients with arthritis after a program of fasting and a follow-up arthritis-friendly vegetarian diet. Biological indicators of inflammation such as blood platelet sedimentation rate, C-reactive protein, and proinflammatory immune cells (leukotrienes and eosinophils) tend to decrease after a fast. In addition, patients report a substantial improvement in symptoms and an overall cessation of or reduction in the inflammatory response.
Before You Start
A detoxification program should be tailored to the individual’s specific condition, including disease state, toxic burden, and the functional capacity of his or her major detoxifying organs (intestines, liver, and lymphatic system, among others). People with arthritis are often too toxic or too deficient in functional capacity to attempt to aggressively and rapidly rid the body of toxins. The process must progress at a rate that the body can handle without causing greater injury.
During detoxification, many people experience a healing crisis, a brief worsening of symptoms immediately followed by significant improvement. Although the healing crisis may cause discomfort, it usually indicates that the body is effectively eliminating toxins. To avoid complications or injury, however, you should alert your doctor if symptoms worsen during detoxification. You can avert or diminish a healing crisis by supplementing with antioxidants and eating lots of fruits and vegetables before starting any detoxification program. And you should also make fundamental lifestyle and dietary changes so you don’t introduce additional toxins for your body to process.
True fasting involves consuming only filtered water and/or herbal teas, with zero caloric intake. This type of fast causes the rapid release of toxins from the body, where they have been buried in the fat for long periods of time. You can make your fast less aggressive by incorporating vegetable or fruit juices and “green” foods into your fasting regime, which will enable you to better tolerate fasting if you have borderline hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). In fact, for many people, fasting on water can create health problems if their body isn’t adequately prepared for this shock. While we consider water fasting the best method of detoxification, especially for arthritis, no one should undertake one without the guidance of an experienced healthcare practitioner. We recommend that water fasts always follow a healing, nutrient-dense detoxification diet emphasizing a wide range of antioxidants and lipotropic nutrients. Such a diet supports the kidneys and other eliminative organs, which is important because toxins can reach high concentrations in the stool, lymph, blood, urine, and breath during fasting.
We also recommend boosting your nutritional reserves with supplements before beginning a fast. For one month prior to starting the fast, take the following supplements:
- Multivitamin-multimineral without copper: two to three tablets with each meal
- Multiple antioxidant: two to three tablets with each meal
- Lipotropic factors, which support detoxification: three tablets, twice a day
- Bioflavonoids: liquid form preferred, one tablespoon per day
Once You’ve Begun
During a fast, it’s important to get enough rest and to conserve your energy. We discourage vigorous exercise because it increases your physiological need for glucose, which will come from either fat or muscle protein if you push yourself too hard. Light aerobic exercise, such as walking or swimming is fine, and we encourage our patients to stretch and do yoga or t’ai chi. Stress, whether physical or psychological, hampers your healing and even promotes toxemia by producing stress hormones and free radicals. Focus on reducing any negative emotions through creative endeavors, such as meditating or writing in a journal. Good strategies to deal with potential food obsessions or excessive hunger during fasting include light exercise, sleep, or avoidance of situations where food predominates. Stay away from food as much as possible, and have someone else prepare meals for the family. Many people find that food cravings abate after the first couple of days of fasting. We recommend taking time off from your job during the fast.
As you resume eating solid foods, we recommend that you adopt what we call the arthritis diet, a mostly vegetarian regime that consists primarily of fruits and vegetables, grains, raw seeds and nuts and their butters, fermented bean products, and fish. Avoid processed foods, simple sugars, processed grains, saturated fats, nonorganic meats, shellfish, nightshade vegetables (tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, and potatoes), alcohol, coffee, cocoa, soft drinks, dried fruit, dairy, and spices such as pepper, refined table salt, soy sauce and tamari, vinegar, mustard, mayonnaise, and MSG. That may sound like a tall order, but you can ease into this new diet in the months before you fast, which will not only make your fast easier but the positive effects more lasting.
The 15-Day Fast
We recommend easing into this fast over a three-day period. The fast itself lasts for five days. Then you should take a full week to slowly introduce healthy foods back into your diet.
Day 1. Eliminate beans and whole grains. Eat only fruits, vegetables (raw or cooked), tofu, nuts and seeds, and juices. Always dilute juices by 50 to 75 percent with purified water. Drink at least eight glasses of water. Drink the detox tea described on page 76 and sweeten it with stevia, if you wish. Take the nutritional supplements discussed on page 79 for the duration of the fast.
Day 2. Eat only fruits and raw or steamed vegetables. Eliminate tofu, nuts, and seeds. Limit portions to decrease the capacity of your stomach.
Day 3. Consume only raw vegetables and fruits and chew them thoroughly so you’ll feel more sated by the meal.
Days 4 through 8. Eliminate all solid foods.
Drink unlimited quantities of warm herb tea throughout the day. Consume liberal quantities of water, which will dilute body fluids and flush the lymphatic, circulatory, and urinary systems; urine must stay diluted to avoid damaging your kidneys. Water should be filtered through a solid-block carbon filter or through reverse osmosis and then a solid-block carbon filter. Do not use distilled water—it contains an active dipolar molecule that aggressively pulls plastic molecules from plastic containers and is usually high in toxins.
Take the following supplements to support your organs of detoxification and minimize any temporary worsening of symptoms (healing crisis): the antioxidants milk thistle (80 percent standardized silymarin, 450 mg, three times a day) and artichoke root (5 percent standardized cynarin, 300 mg, three times a day); and the amino acids SAMe (S-adenosylmethionine, 500 mg, twice daily), NAC (N-acetylcysteine, 500 mg, twice daily), glutathione (150 mg, twice daily), and L-glutamine (4 g daily). L-glutamine is an amino acid that supports regeneration of the gastrointestinal barrier and is particularly useful during a fast.
Day 9. Take a full week to ease into your healthy diet again. On the first day of eating solids, consume only one light meal of steamed or baked vegetables such as squash, sweet potatoes, or carrots. Eat only one type of vegetable, don’t mix them. With your meal, take one to three capsules of digestive enzymes or bromelain (an enzyme from pineapples) to help support your digestive system, which has now been inactive for an extended time.
Day 10. Now you may supplement your diet with more varieties of cooked foods and a raw salad (with a dressing of flaxseed oil, lemon juice, and sea salt). Look for reactions to foods as you reintroduce them into your diet. Work with a healthcare practitioner to determine the extent of your hidden food allergies and sensitivities.
Days 11 through 13. Reintroduce into your diet easily digestible proteins, such as organic tofu, and whole grains, such as brown rice, millet, quinoa, amaranth, and buckwheat. Avoid high-gluten foods such as wheat, spelt, rye, barley, and oats.
Days 14 through 15. Now you can return to following an arthritis-friendly diet.
At this point, you have successfully completed the fast.
Two-day fast: For two days, drink the Rainbow Feather Veggie Juice, whey-, rice-, or soy-based protein powder shakes (two a day), and the detox tea (this page). Select a protein powder that has very few ingredients. They vary greatly; read the label and take special note of the section titled “other ingredients.”
Three- to five-day fast: Follow the guidelines for the two-day fast, adding an organic vegetable soup prepared with the following ingredients: 1 cabbage, 4 leaves of kale, 2 carrots, 1 onion, 2 cloves garlic, 1 bunch of parsley, 2 stalks of celery. Cut the vegetables into bite-size pieces and place them in a soup pot with 1 gallon filtered water. Simmer for 1 hour, then add Bragg’s Liquid Aminos (available in most health food stores) to taste. You may eat a bowl of this soup as many times a day as you choose.
Three- to five-day mono diet: For those who find it difficult to complete a liquid fast, try eating only one type of nonallergenic food for several days. The proper food to consume on your mono diet can be chosen by you and your health-care professional. Good choices include pears, brown rice, apples, squash, and carrots (if hypoglycemia is not a problem). The food can be prepared raw, boiled, steamed, or baked. You should also consume at least 2 quarts of filtered water and/or herb tea daily during the mono diet. The typical mono diet lasts for three to five days. Break the mono diet by slowly reintroducing arthritis-friendly foods.
Testing Your Detoxification Capabilities
Determining how efficiently the body can detoxify itself is especially useful for those suffering from arthritis. Here are two laboratory tests that can help you and your healthcare provider decide if your body can handle a fast.
Functional liver detoxification profile
A liver that can’t adequately detoxify the body’s store of toxins and waste products may contribute significantly to the emergence and continuation of arthritis. The detoxification profile assesses the liver’s ability to convert potentially dangerous toxins into harmless substances that the body can then eliminate. This conversion process occurs in two major chemical reactions referred to as phase I and phase II. The detoxification profile determines the presence of enzymes needed to start the conversion process and the rate at which phase I and phase II detoxification operate.
Oxidative stress profile
When your ability to detoxify is impaired or you’re deficient in antioxidants, free radicals run unchallenged throughout your body, damaging cells. They tend to affect the immune, endocrine, and nervous systems, damaging mitochondria, interrupting communication among cells, and depleting key nutrients and antioxidants. This is called oxidative stress. The oxidative stress profile assesses the degree of free radical damage in the body and measures the body’s levels of glutathione, an amino acid complex central to detoxification.