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‘How I beat arthritis’

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Arthritis is the biggest cause of disability in the US and UK, affecting some 50 million Americans and 10 million Britons. Despite being so common and the billions spent on treatment and research, medicine has come up with no real answers to the disease, which can cause persistent and unbearable pain. According to a recent survey of 2,000 people with osteoarthritis – the most common form of the disease – 70 percent suffer some form of constant pain despite taking all their prescribed medication.1

Yet 62-year-old Sarah Gall claims to have cured her osteoarthritis with a simple self-help approach involving honey and apple cider vinegar. The mother of four is convinced that if fellow sufferers followed this approach as soon as the condition is suspected, it would save billions in healthcare and disability costs and “prevent all the misery, suffering, depression and feelings of helplessness people experience with arthritis.”

First struck with arthritis in the form of painful knuckles and a swollen knee around the time of her 50th birthday, church organist Sarah was once skeptical of alternative medicine and unquestioning of her doctor’s advice. “I was of the mindset that if anything was wrong with your health, you go to your doctor and he sorts it out for you,” Sarah said.

But when her health deteriorated in 2005 and she was diagnosed with spondylosis – arthritis of the spine – Sarah’s doctor was at a loss for what to do, as the powerful anti-inflammatories and painkillers he prescribed made her violently sick.

“He told me to come off all the medication and that there was nothing else he could do for me,” said Sarah. “He booked me in to see a specialist, but the appointment wasn’t for weeks.”

Bedridden and depressed, Sarah was left desperate for a solution to the agonizing pain she was in, which she said was like “someone drilling into the base of my spine.”

So when Sarah’s daughter Alison suggested she try an alternative approach she’d found on the internet, Sarah didn’t take much convincing.

Words to live by

A bit of searching online had led Alison to a book by former nurse and arthritis sufferer Margaret Hills, called Curing Arthritis the Drug-Free Way. First published in 1985, the book extols the virtues of a natural cure for arthritis that involves avoiding certain foods, taking Epsom salt baths, and drinking a mixture of honey and apple cider vinegar three times a day.

After ordering and reading the book, “everything seemed to make sense,” said Sarah, and she decided to follow the recommendations religiously.

The first step was a change of diet, so after a painful trip to the supermarket with her husband, Alan, Sarah stocked her kitchen with plenty of the permitted foods – organic vegetables, free-range organic chicken and lamb, fresh fish and whole-grain rice. Forbidden foods included those that were acid-forming like citrus fruits, berries, beef, pork, full-fat dairy products, processed foods and anything containing refined sugar.

The theory behind this is that arthritis and other health problems are the result of excess acidity in the body, and restoring the body’s acid/alkaline balance can help resolve symptoms.

Also on Sarah’s shopping list was apple cider vinegar, which Hills claimed had the ability to break down pain-causing acid crystals in the joints; blackstrap molasses, a thick syrup Sarah says is an excellent source of iron and “helps keep you regular”; and certain supplements, including vitamin C and calcium.

Besides these dietary and nutritional changes, the book recommended warm baths with Epsom salt (magnesium sulfate), which Sarah’s “chemistry-mad” husband happened to have in the garage. “Epsom salts draw things out through the pores in your skin by ion exchange, apparently,” said Sarah. “After my first Epsom salt bath, I had the first decent night sleep I’d had in months.”

Another important part of Sarah’s new regime was exercise. “I could hardly move,” said Sarah, “But the recommended exercises were extremely gentle. I could do many of them while lying in bed.”

As the weeks went on, Sarah’s mobility gradually increased, and she found she was able to take walks around the block and eventually go swimming at her local health club – two things she now does every day without fail.

Life-changing changes

After about a week of starting Hills’ ‘cure’ for arthritis, the pain in
Sarah’s spine started to ease and, three months later, it “completely vanished.” All her other aches and pains also cleared away, and Sarah found she could start playing the organ again, as it no longer hurt her back and fingers.

“I was having lessons with concert organist Gordon Stewart, but had to give them up,” said Sarah. “Three months later, I was able to resume the lessons. Gordon was totally flabbergasted by my improvement.”

Sarah felt so good she even canceled the appointment with the specialist that her doctor had booked for her. “I felt absolutely fine, so didn’t think I needed it,” said Sarah. “I just continued with the diet, supplements, baths and exercise.”

Sarah’s depression also disappeared. “I felt like I was back in control of my health and that what I was doing was actually working,” she said.

Sarah’s condition continued to improve over the months, but it wasn’t all smooth sailing. When it came to Christmas, Sarah “threw caution to the wind” and couldn’t resist indulging in chocolate and other foods she knew were not allowed on her anti-arthritis diet.

The result was “a terrible flare-up in my ankles,” said Sarah. “Ironically, I was meant to be giving a talk locally about my recovery,” she recalls. “But I was in absolute agony.”

Distraught, Sarah made an appointment at the Margaret Hills Clinic in Kenilworth, Warwickshire, where she was given SCENAR (Self-Controlled Energo-Neuro Adaptive Regulation) therapy to relieve the pain.

“It really worked,” said Sarah. “Within a week, I felt so much better.”

She was also tested for nutritional deficiencies and discovered that her zinc levels were low. She was advised to add zinc supplements to her regimen along with a multivitamin and mineral formula and, of course, to continue the low-acid diet.

Back on the road to recovery, Sarah went ahea
d with her talk and used her experience to emphasize the importance of sticking to the diet. “This is what could happen if you veer from the plan, I told them.”

Self-helped and in control

A month after her clinic visit, the pain in Sarah’s ankles had completely gone, and now, over a decade later, Sarah is still pain-free. She does have the occasional flare-up – if she deviates from the diet or is stressed out – but she soon manages to get it under control and knows what she needs to do to stay healthy.

An added bonus of the diet was weight loss. Sarah went from a size 20 to a size 14 and has “never felt healthier.” She also rarely gets a cold or flu, although they seem to plague the rest of her family.

“I’m so glad I couldn’t tolerate the drugs I was prescribed,” said Sarah. “They would have just masked the problem, and by now, I’d have been in a mess.”

Sarah believes that starting the self-help approach early on was the key to her success. “If it was further down the line, the damage may have already been done,” she says.

She’s now eager to spread the word about Hills’ plan and has written a booklet detailing her recovery, as well as a recipe booklet full of low-acid dishes. She’s had a great response from readers, with dozens of people so far getting in touch to tell her how much the information has helped them.

Her dream now is to open a cafe selling arthritis-friendly foods, along with her recipes, booklets and other helpful literature on arthritis and how to beat it.

“It would be great to just be there, on hand, to help people who are going through what I went through,” she said.

Sarah’s anti-arthritis action plan

1) A low-acid diet

Permitted foods and drinks: fish, chicken, turkey, lamb, eggs, skim milk, olive spread, cottage cheese, low-fat bio-yogurt, homemade wholewheat bread, unsalted nuts, whole-grain rice, all vegetables, beans and lentils, mushrooms, apples and apple juice, pears, bananas, apricots

Forbidden foods and drinks: beef, pork, butter, full-fat cheese, full-fat milk, cream, tomatoes, citrus fruit, berries, pineapple, grapes, chocolate, alcohol, tea, coffee

2) Apple cider vinegar and honey drink

Mix 1 teaspoon honey + 2 dessertspoons organic apple cider vinegar (available from health food stores) in a glass and top up with cold water.

Drink after every meal (3x a day)

3) Epsom salt baths

Add 1 cup of Epsom salt to a warm bath and soak for about 20 minutes (3x a week)

4) Supplements

Sarah mainly used the Margaret Hills Clinic’s range of supplements, available from, but says similar products from other brands are fine too.

Margaret Hills multivitamin and mineral (6 capsules/day)

Margaret Hills Calcium, D3 and K2 formula (1 capsule/day,
calcium 282 mg, vitamin D3 10 mg, and vitamin K2 15 mcg)

Soy isolate protein powder (1 dessertspoon/day)

Zinc 60 mg (1 capsule a day)

Sustained release vitamin C 500 mg (1–2 tablets/day)

5) Blackstrap molasses

1 teaspoon organic blackstrap molasses after every meal (3x a day)

6) Exercise

Sarah swears by walking and swimming. But when her mobility was limited, she found the following particularly helpful.

Back exercise: Lying in bed, press the spine firmly down into the mattress, hold for a count of 10 and release

Foot circles: Circle the left foot in a clockwise direction, then counterclockwise; repeat with the right foot

Toe exercise: Sitting on a chair, pick up scattered marbles with toes

Ankle stretch: Sitting on a chair with feet flat on the floor, raise heels while keeping toes on the floor, then return to starting position; then raise toes and arches, keeping heels on the floor

The Hills approach

Margaret Hills came up with her natural approach for arthritis after developing rheumatoid arthritis in her 20s and later, osteoarthritis. Realizing conventional medicine could do nothing for her, she started researching traditional remedies like apple cider vinegar and Epsom salts, as well as the importance of good nutrition.

After a year of following her multifaceted approach – based on the belief that arthritis is caused by an excess of uric acid in the body – Margaret was reportedly pain-free with no signs of the disease that had previously crippled her.

She went on to open a clinic in 1982 to help others with arthritis and guide them through her holistic approach to healing.

In the late 1990s and after training her daughter, Christine Horner, to continue her work, Margaret gradually withdrew from seeing patients at the clinic; she passed away in May 2003 at the age of 78.

Today, the Margaret Hills Clinic is still run by Christine (now a nutritional therapist) along with her daughter, Julia Davies (also a nutritional therapist), who herself has overcome arthritis by following her grandmother’s program. The clinic offers advice on diet and supplements, as well as laboratory testing and ‘hands-on’ energy therapies like SCENAR, which is licensed for pain relief in the UK.

For more information, visit



Clin Rheumatol, 2015; 34: 1581–8

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