Dr. Dimitris Tsoukalas, MD
Chronic Diseases & Metabolic Disorders Clinic
Harvard Medical School Course GIMSS
President of The European Institute of Nutritional Medicine E.I.Nu.M
American College for the Advancement in Medicine
The ending '-itis' in medicine refers to inflammation. The term arthritis, for example, means inflammation of the joints. There are over one hundred different types of arthritis (osteoarthritis, rheumatoid, gout, psoriatic, microbial, etc.).
The basic characteristics of arthritis are pain and limitation of motion. These can be mild, such as a minor morning stiffness of the joints, or so severe as to completely hinder mobility.
According to a large scale study of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one out of five adults suffers from diagnosed arthritis with a predicted increase of the effects of the disease over the next few years.
It is therefore no exaggeration to say, as many researchers do, that discovering a cure to arthritic diseases would be even more significant than the discovery of a cure to cancer. An effective cancer therapy would increase life expectancy by an estimated two years while curing arthritis would improve the quality of life by five years.
The two main forms of arthritis are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
Osteoarthritis affects the joint cartilage (the elastic covering of the bones at the joints) as well as the underlying bone. It is apparently due to wear and accumulated injuries of the joints. The main characteristic of osteoarthritis is worn cartilage and calcium deposits in the joints.
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease where the organism attacks its own articulations, gradually destroying them. Joints become deformed as the disease advances, the same joints being affected on both sides of the body. The disease also affects other parts of the body, such as the heart, thus affecting the health of the individual on many levels.
Both forms are characterized by a gradual, continuous worsening of the condition and all forms of treatment are aimed only at delaying the deterioration of symptoms. In other words, with the current approach to the problem, all that can be given to patients is a relief of symptoms.
Developments occurring in that field, be it in relation to the evolution of the disease or to pain management, should certainly not be undervalued but in no way does this approach lead to a gradual and constant improvement. One has to keep in mind that its aim is to slow down the rate of deterioration. That the condition will deteriorate is taken for granted.
A Causative Approach
In several of my previous articles I have mentioned a shift in the medical paradigm that is currently taking place. Discoveries of the last fifty years seem to have become applicable in clinical practice at a tremendous speed over the last four to five years.
The thought model of contemporary arthritis treatment is anatomical: the human body is looked at as a machine, whose organs, which make up its 'parts', gradually and inevitably wear out. This approach proves efficient in acute and emergency-type health problems.
When a knee is injured, it swells and aches. The injury destroyed tissue and subsequently the body starts the repair process, producing in the affected area substances that increase blood flow and cause pain. The organism's purpose in doing so is to supply nutrients to the area (increased blood flow) and to immobilize it (through pain) until its normal functionality is restored.
The process just described is called inflammation.
Inflammation (from the Latin inflammare 'to set on fire') consists of the pain, redness, heat and swelling that occur as the body heals the affected area. It is key to understand that inflammation is the process put into action by the organism to solve a problem.
The greater the injury, the more intense the healing process. In our effort to reduce the pain accompanying inflammation, we resort to drugs and other means, which have as their target either the pain (painkillers, immobilization) or the inflammation (anti-inflammatory drugs, ice).
The aleviating treatment makes us feel better while the body repairs and reconstructs the damaged tissues. It does not assist healing; on the contrary, it slows it down by making it less intense.
In order to heal any kind of damage, the organism needs construction materials and engergy with which to rebuild tissues. The nutritional condition of the body and the state of its reserves in amino acids, minerals, vitamins and enzymes determine the duration and extent of the healing.
Where there is an acute, isolated condition, the organism can restore normal functionality to a great extent. But in the case of chronic injuries and inflammations, nutritional reserves dwindle and the ability to restore function is lowered.
If we know what the body lacks and provide it, we can remedy the cause rather than just offer relief. Our aim nowadays is not just the relief of symtoms but the restoration of normal function (Functional Medicine).
Determining nutrient adequacy through the use of examinations which analyze the chemical reactions taking place within the organism (metabolic status) opens the door to new ways of managing inflamatory diseases.
As mentioned in a recent announcement from Harvard University, "The study of the organism's metabolic status is a simple and accurate way to evaluate the health condition [...]"
What We Can Do
The administration of vitamins and other nutrients, based on an exact analysis that clearly establishes any deficiencies, can turn things around.
Organic compounds administered in therapeutic doses where found lacking, such as:
· Vitamin D3
· Vitamin Κ2
· Omega-3 fatty acids
· Vitamin C
when accompanied by an anti-inflammatory diet, speed up the healing process and reduce the inflammation's intensity.
The speed of progress, especially in the development of new techniques for the monitoring and recording of the metabolic pathways of the human organism, is astounding. Methods which five years ago were only used for research purposes today have clinical application and make it possible, in conjunction with the treatment of symptoms, to establish the exact condition of the organism in real time.
The human body tends to balance out at the best possible health condition it can achieve. Some 2,500 years ago, Hippocrates said that if the physician's actions assist rather than harm the patient, then the patient will heal. Today we can work in that direction with greater accuracy than ever.
To your health!