Arthritis, the inflammation of the joints and the pain that goes along with it, affects over 50 million Americans. The most commonly used treatment modality for this debilitating condition is medication designed to control inflammation and reduce the severity of the symptoms. From a functional medicine perspective, focusing solely on symptom control is an incomplete and inadequate approach to long term management of this group of chronic diseases.
In that regard, ongoing research seeks to ferret out what causes the different types of arthritis and identify new, more effective treatments for these conditions. One area that is continually scrutinized is diet and nutrition. Scientists are looking for potential treatment sources in the foods we eat and also isolate foods that may contribute to the problem. Recent research pointing to drinking milk regularly as a way to relieve pain and slow down the progression of osteoarthritis sounds exciting but gives one pause to raise an eyebrow.
First, milk and dairy foods are among the most common allergy-triggering foods in the American diet. When the allergic response is triggered by one of the three proteins found in milk, the inflammatory response can cause – among other things – joint inflammation, pain and swelling: arthritis.
In addition, there is a body of ongoing research into dairy products as a possible cause or complicating factor in rheumatoid arthritis. It seems advisable to consider this connection thoroughly before anointing dairy products as a treatment for osteoarthritis. Lastly, the authors of this study rightly pointed out that the study was not designed to specifically test the effect of milk on osteoarthritis in joints. The study merely drew an interesting correlation between milk and osteoarthritis in the knee. Correlation does not prove causation and only serves to indicate the need for further research.
On the other hand, there is a fair bit of research pointing to milk, specifically an enriched form of skim milk, as a potential management tool for gout – a particularly painful, acute form of arthritis. Of course, this approach would require testing to rule out dairy allergy before using.
So, despite what is being touted in the media as the new arthritis cure, it probably makes sense to wait until more is known before taking this step. Of course, if you like milk and are sure that you are not allergic to it, it can’t hurt to give it a try. Oreos are optional.
While it is good to continually seek new, natural methods to manage any chronic condition, for osteoarthritis the best course for alternative treatment (in my view) is to stick with the strategies that are research and time tested. These include:
- Change Your Diet – Reducing the foods that create or feed inflammation in your body is the first step in overcoming the pain. The main culprits are fast foods, processed foods, soft drinks and alcohol. Gluten and, for those who are allergic, dairy are particularly inflammatory and should be avoided.
- Exercise – Regular vigorous exercise reduces the risk of arthritis and arthritis-related disability. Walking, yoga and swimming will help build muscle, improve joint mobility, and reduce pain and stiffness.
- Nutritional Support – Add a well-designed joint support supplement into your daily regimen. This specific nutrition can help prevent injury to the joints and will help to slow the progression or promote more complete healing if arthritis is already an issue.