Patients come to me from all around the continental United States and other countries for natural treatment of their severe neck and low back pain, hip pain, sciatica, fibromyalgia, spinal stenosis, and peripheral neuropathy and other difficult to treat health conditions.
In addition to my spine pain and nerve function protocols, I also practice functional medicine. Functional medicine consists of performing extensive laboratory testing to determine what to do to help someone become as healthy as possible. In my functional medicine practice, I consult with patients from around the globe.
We are in the modern era and as long as there is a phone and an internet connection, options for care are possible that wouldn’t have been achievable even 10 years ago.
A common question I get over and over again is, “Dr. Currie, my Dr. tells me that my neck, back or hip pain is because I’m old and that it’s arthritis. Is there anything that I can do? Is arthritis curable?”
What Causes Arthritis?
I explain to all of my patients that arthritis is caused by inflammation. It’s pure and simple. Chronic inflammation is intimately linked to all degenerative diseases in the body.
So inflammation can be the catalyst for tissue breakdown that can put pressure on nerves leading to arthritis that can cause pain in the body in general. If you have inflammation in your eye, you can go blind.
If you have inflammation in gums, you can lose your teeth. If you have inflammation in your blood vessels, you can develop cardiovascular disease. Inflammation of your joints in your spine can cause them to degenerate and develop degenerative disc disease (osteoarthritis) in your spine.
The breakdown and arthritis in spinal joints can put a tremendous amount of pressure on your spinal nerves and cause neck pain, low back pain, hip pain, peripheral neuropathy (tingling, numbness, burning, weakness), etc…
Examples of Chronic Inflammation that can Lead to Disease
I know it is a long list and believe me, I could have kept going. The reason why I listed as many as I did was to show that every tissue and organ system in the body can become inflamed and develop disease as a result.
How does Inflammation Cause Arthritis in the Spine?
Arthritis in the spine is called Degenerative Disc Disease or “osteoarthritis”. As people age, their discs can dehydrate. Intervertebral discs serve as shock absorbers and cushion between the bones. When the joints dehydrate, they lose cushion and the bones can begin to rub or grind which causes inflammation.
Chronic inflammation of the spinal joints (facet joints) can cause them to develop calcium deposits and enlarge (hypertrophy). Confirmation on MRI testing can show facet joint hypertrophy as proof positive that there is spinal arthritis. Also, spinal stenosis is another confirmatory finding of spinal arthritis and degenerative disc disease.
What are Markers of Inflammation?
On lab testing that I perform with my patients, I look for markers of inflammation. I want to see every possible sign of inflammatory processes that could be occurring. An example would be the liver enzymes: alkaline phosphatase, GGT, LDH, ALT, and AST.
If ALT is elevated for example, it can be a sign of an inflamed liver. Current clinical or “normal” levels of ALT (as of August 2018 according to Quest Labs) is 6-29 U/L.
So, the question I always ask my patients who have an ALT level of 28 U/L is, “Do you want to be barely well or barely not sick?” When someone has an ALT of a 28 U/L, it only takes 2 more points to go to a 30 U/L and be flagged as out of clinical range on the blood work.
Another thing I hear quite often is, “My doctor says that my enzymes are a little high but it’s no big deal. We are just going to keep an eye on it.” Really? So, smoke is coming out of the laundry room and you’re just going to let it keep smoking? Doesn’t seem like a healthy approach to me.
The reason that there is a normal range of 6-29 U/L is because of the natural turnover of liver cells. Every second of the day and night, some liver cells die and new liver cells are generated. When liver cells die, they release enzymes into the blood. ALT is one of those enzymes.
What Does a High ALT Liver Enzyme Mean?
When ALT starts going up, it is a sign that the liver is unhealthy and inflamed and more cells can be dying than what is considered normal or healthy. That is why a simple marker such as ALT can really give great insight when it comes to one’s inflammation levels and health status.
Through the years, I’ve had patients come in and say that their primary care physician checked their blood work and told them that their tests were great. I’ve even had them bring blood work in so that I could look for patterns and I’ve seen where the Dr. wrote, “great blood work results” or “good labs”.
More often than not, I will see markers on the blood work that tell a completely different picture than “great blood work” results. An example would be that a patient recently brought their blood test to me for review. The patients total cholesterol was in the 130’s.
Can Cholesterol be too Low?
Cholesterol is necessary for the body to heal and repair. Just as too high of total cholesterol can have various health risks, too low of cholesterol can be a big problem. If total cholesterol is below 140, it is considered an ominous sign of poor health.
An ominous sign is a bad sign. It’s not good. So, how could the blood work have “great results” when anyone has an ominous sign of cholesterol below 140?
What I am seeing on a regular basis is that many of my patients are on cholesterol lowering medications, “statin drugs”, that have suppressed their cholesterol and made it too low. It’s one thing to protect against stroke and heart attack risk but another when the levels are too low to help the body be and stay healthy.
What causes High Cholesterol?
Since we are on the topic of cholesterol, there are two main conditions that will cause cholesterol levels to go high: hypothyroidism and inflammation. If someone is hypothyroid, their metabolism is slow. Cholesterol will continue being made by the liver but it won’t get broken down because of the slow metabolism.
Inflammation will cause cholesterol to go high because cholesterol heals and repairs chronically inflamed and damaged tissues. Cholesterol (even the “bad” LDL cholesterol) also serves as antioxidants to protect tissues in the body from free radical damage.
Since this article is about arthritis, it should be understandable that if someone has high cholesterol, it could be from excessive amounts of inflammation and chronic inflammation causes arthritis.
Is Arthritis Curable?
It’s pretty simple when we get right down to it. Arthritis isn’t curable. However, by limiting the amount of inflammation in your body, you can sure slow it down and have a lot less aches and pains.
Antioxidants can help prevent against free radical damage that can create inflammation. Glutathione, the king of all antioxidants can help protect the health of red blood cells. Vitamin C is an antioxidant that can help support your immune system but also helps maintain and support elasticity of connective tissues throughout the body.
There are many strategies for decreasing inflammation in the body. In my opinion, the first step is to get a thorough laboratory test done so that areas of primary focus can be identified.
In my opinion, arthritis isn’t a death sentence or a sign that someone is going to have a lifetime of pain, aches and suffering. I believe that every patient I have ever treated was suffering from some form of chronic inflammation and arthritis to some degree. Most people respond quite well when we limit the inflammatory component.
Health is Happiness,
Dr. Keith Currie