Millions of Australians with arthritis need to speak up, hold the government and doctors accountable and take charge of their condition, instead of just popping pills.
Monday is World Arthritis Day, a rare chance to talk about a disease which affects millions but receives little attention.
I was diagnosed with arthritis over a decade ago and it has been part of my life ever since. Years of nasty drugs and three operations later, it’s not going away. Only one thing has kept me sane: not ignoring it.
Arthritis is not something people like to talk about. Yet it severely impacts the lives of almost four million Australians. That is one in six Aussies.
Half are of working age, despite people thinking it only affects old people.
One thing which frustrates many people with arthritis, according to a recent study by the Wellvess Arthritis Program, is not knowing what to do about it. But there is hope for those willing to take a stand.
Part way through my struggle with this silent disease, I started reading, studying and experimenting with lifestyle changes.
I was looking for a secret cure and – though I soon realised a full remedy does not exist – I learnt there are things you can do that are proven to make a difference. They work for me and perhaps they can work for you.
Here are my four tips to try.
Avoid inflammatory foods like the plague
For someone with an inflammatory illness, like arthritis, eating foods which create inflammation is insane. It’s like filling a leaky rubber dingy with broken glass. The worst foods for causing inflammation are refined sugars, trans fats and refined grains, all of which are common in processed, packaged food.
Thankfully healthier alternatives do exist. Honey and dates provide dishes with a healthy sweet hit. Olive or coconut oil replace nasty fats. Natural wholegrain options are plentiful, such as oats, quinoa, spelt or brown rice.
Start an anti-inflammatory food feeding frenzy
Thankfully, though some foods cause inflammation, others help reduce it. A diet rich in these anti-inflammatory foods gives the best chance to minimise the onset of arthritis and even fight it from within.
One nutrient proven to alleviate arthritic symptoms, in several studies, is omega-3. It is abundantly found in oily fish and various seeds (such as chia, flaxseeds and linseeds).
Vegetables and fruit are highly anti-inflammatory, especially sweet potato, broccoli and all berries. Other anti-inflammatory powerhouses include ginger, turmeric, various nuts and green tea.
Keep moving, your body will thank you
For a long time, exercise was thought to exacerbate the symptoms of arthritis. This is now proven to be wrong. Light to medium intensity exercise works in a number of ways to help people with arthritis. Exercise allows joints greater range of motion, builds muscle strength that reduces joint strain and minimises bone loss.
Great options include walking, swimming, aqua aerobics, tai chi and yoga. I try to exercise four times a week and it makes a huge difference. Most important is to find something which fits into your routine and, though it seems obvious, you actually enjoy.
Talk about your condition and join the cause
While ‘a problem shared is a problem halved’ is a cliché, it’s at least partly true. People with arthritis are particularly prone to depression and mood swings. The best way to tackle these problems is to talk, whether to friends and family, or to a professional. GPs can provide referrals and help you work out a mental health plan typically covered by Medicare.
If you want to really speak out about arthritis, consider helping raise the profile of this poorly funded, rarely mentioned disease. Contact Arthritis Australia or your local state or territory organisation, to see how you can get involved.
One thing is clear to me: with a nasty disease like arthritis, you need to show it who is the boss.
Sandra Witzel is a qualified health coach, digital health entrepreneur and founder of the Wellvess Arthritis Program: www.wellvess.com