Decades of reductionist logic and subspecialty turf battles have led most people to think of arthritis solely as a joint disease. The result is suboptimal treatment, tremendous morbidity, and soaring costs both public and personal.
In her new book, Healing Arthritis (Simon & Schuster), clinician and author Susan Blum, MD, tries to rectify that flawed logic by reframing arthritis as a systemic inflammatory disorder and offering clear, practical guidance on how to apply nutrition and lifestyle change to reverse the physiological conditions that stoke the disease.
With her rare gift for translating complex data into actionable medical advice, Blum synthesizes key findings from the rapidly evolving fields of microbiome research and brain science into a comprehensive 3-step self care protocol that—if widely applied—could go a long way in stemming the tidal wave of arthritis and related conditions that are quite literally crippling our nation.
The stats are disturbing: Current estimates are that 54 million Americans—more than 22% of the adult population—have some form of arthritis. Almost half of them have significant physical limitations due to the disease. Two-thirds of all cases are in women who, in addition to their roles in the workforce, are often the primary caretakers for their children and/or aging parents.
Though many people attribute arthritis to old age, the epidemiology tells a different story. In the years 2010 - 2012, 7% of all Americans aged 18-44 were diagnosed with some form of arthritis. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that 30% of all cases are in people between the ages of 45 and 64 years old.
Blum, an internist by training, is founder of the Blum Center for Health—a popular functional medicine practice in Rye Brook, NY where she and her team have treated thousands of people with complex chronic diseases. She is certified by the Institute for Functional Medicine, serves on the senior faculty at the Center for Mind-Body Medicine, and—we are proud to say—is a member of Holistic Primary Care’s editorial advisory board.
A Gut-Related Disorder
Healing Arthritis builds on the principles and protocols described in her first book, The Immune System Recovery Plan (Scribner 2013), and posits that in most cases, arthritis emerges in a context of severe gut dysregulation, chronic stress, and medication overuse. One could say that arthritis is as much a gut disorder as it is a joint disease. The overlap should not be underestimated or dismissed.
“With a growing epidemic of gut problems in our country, it’s not surprising that inflammatory arthritis is also on the rise, and the two go hand in hand. It’s crucial that we pay close attention to this gut-arthritis connection and repair the gut to effectively treat arthritis,” she writes. “Just about every new patient walking into my office has constipation, gas, bloating, GERD, heartburn, or a diagnosis of irritable bowel syndrome.”
The strategies she details in the new book are largely focused on healing leaky gut, affecting shifts in gut microbiome composition, and—crucially—reducing and reversing the impact of chronic stress, which Blum believes to be one of the major drivers of osteo- and inflammatory arthritis.
The approach is highly food-centric, but also includes guidance on functional lab testing, nutraceutical and probiotic supplementation, and when appropriate, use of conventional antibiotics. The book also gives suggestions on meditation, exercise, acupuncture, and other therapies that can be tailored according to each individual’s conditions and needs.
Blum’s recommendations are not only research-based, they’ve also been field-tested in her own clinic—and in her own personal life. Throughout the book, she weaves in the story of her own encounters with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and, later, with early-stage inflammatory arthritis and episcleritis.
She also includes case studies drawn from her own practice, to illustrate how arthritis manifests in different people, and how the general principles, guidelines, and diet plans can be tweaked to fit individual needs.
Her emphasis on practical applicability is the real strength of Healing Arthritis. The world’s most advanced scientific knowledge has absolutely zero impact on health and wellbeing if it cannot be distilled into meaningful changes that people can actually implement.
Blum offers no quick fixes or magic cures. Rather, she provides clear and detailed recommendations that have a high likelihood of success if applied diligently. She offers the “why”---the rationale for making these shifts, and the “how,” in terms of handy hacks and tips for staying the course over the long term.
Blum’s goal is to help as many people as possible step off what she terms, “the stress-gut-arthritis merry-go-round.”
“People usually can do what’s needed short term. The problem is that after the initial kick start, and once they begin to feel better, they need a program that will help them be more resilient—so that when life events come along, they don’t become sick again.
Though written for a non-physician audience, Healing Arthritis offers a wealth of useful information for practitioners seeking valid ways to bring the principles of functional medicine to bear in the lives of their patients with chronic inflammatory disorders.