Most of us view osteoarthritis as a disease of older age caused by the inevitable wear-and-tear of life or the result of injury. It can't be 'cured' and, at best, we just try to manage the pain with drugs, but it's a deteriorating condition that will eventually end in joint-replacement surgery.
Yet, not one of those statements was true for Paul Heseltine's osteoarthritis. For one, he was just 39 years old
when his was diagnosed; also, his was not the result of wear-and-tear and he was able to reverse it without resorting to
drugs or surgery.
But when he first was given the diagnosis, he thought his life-and his career as a painter and decorator-were over. The orthopaedic consultant gloomily told him that all he had to look forward to was years of painkilling drugs and steroid injections as his knees continued to deteriorate until, eventually, he could have knee-replacement surgery.
As he explained this to Paul, the consultant was looking at X-rays of Paul's knees. "I could immediately see they were pretty bad even before he started speaking, but then the first thing he said was that he thought he was looking at the knees of someone who was 70 or 80," said Paul.
Paul first realized there was something wrong while on a sailing holiday more than a year earlier. "I had been putting a lot of pressure on my knees as I was moving around the deck, and one day I just felt an excruciating pain. It was like hot pokers were stabbing into my knees."
Initially he thought he had damaged his knee ligaments, so he applied ice and started taking over-the-counter anti-inflammatories. But the pain wouldn't go away and, although he carried on working every day, he finally went to see his local GP. The doctor suggested he continue to take anti-inflammatories, but after taking them for a few more months and with the pain as bad as ever, he was finally referred to an orthopaedic consultant.
The consultant explained the current medical thinking about osteoarthritis. Essentially, he was told, it's a disease brought about by wear-and-tear-and he assumed Paul's work had contributed to that. Paul's weight was also a factor-at the time, he weighed over 17 stone (238 lb). He was told of the treatments he could try until his knees had deteriorated sufficiently to warrant joint-replacement surgery: aside from taking anti-inflammatories for day-to-day pain management, he could also have steroid injections, hyaluronic acid injections to help lubricate the knee joint, and arthroscopic surgery, where the knee socket is 'cleaned out' to improve movement. But ultimately, all these approaches would fail and he would have to undergo knee surgery, but this shouldn't be done too early as the metal and plastic replacements only last for 10 years or so.
"Until I had the surgery, I was told I would be in significant discomfort pretty much all the time," said Paul, 43, who lives in Seaford, near Brighton. "I was really stressed out by this news. I needed to stay mobile for my work, and I started to worry whether I would be able to carry on making a living."
Paul was in no rush to start taking any medication as, in any case, the drugs he'd been taking had done nothing to ease the pain. He also wanted to explore what arthritis was and why he had it in the hope there might be a better future for him than the gloomy one laid out by the consultant.
He started his own investigations and quickly discovered an alternative theory of osteoarthritis: far from being a disease of wear-and-tear, it's the result of inflammation in various parts of the body. Inflammatory cells collect within joint tissues and secrete substances that trigger the immune system into 'attack' mode, so targeting the 'alien' inflammatory cells and the joints themselves, especially cartilage.
He also explored a bewildering array of natural pain relievers, ranging from cider vinegar, honey and black molasses to Epsom salts and "a huge variety of vitamins.
"Then there is herbalism, homeopathy, reflexology, acupuncture and chiropractic treatment, although none seemed to focus on the key issue of inflammation," said Paul.
Paul finally settled on a three-pronged approach to his osteoarthritis, and none of them involved taking any pharmaceuticals, not even painkillers.
Judging from his own heavy weight, Paul knew he had to change his diet. And the more he read, the more he came to believe that the food he was eating could even be a cause of his osteoarthritis. Major dietary contributors to the disease include refined sugars, found especially in processed and fried foods, which release oxidizing free radicals into the body that can damage the tissues around the joints, causing swelling and pain-and processed foods were a staple of his diet.
Osteoarthritis can also be a response to food allergens such as members of the nightshade family (potatoes, aubergines, peppers, tomatoes and tobacco). Even so, Paul said he liked food too much to stick to diets like the Atkins or the Paleo, yet he wanted to eat foods that would help reduce inflammation. He decided on an alkalizing diet to restore his body's acid/alkaline balance. Acidic foods aren't necessarily 'bad'-they include walnuts and blueberries for instance-but the Western diet is too acidic because of its dependence on processed food, wheat and alcohol. He also eliminated all the usual allergens and started drinking several litres of water every day. Paul said it's still tough to fully follow an alkalizing diet, but he does so around 80 per cent of the time, with the occasional lapse to enjoy a glass of wine. Now, he always starts the day with an alkalizing smoothie (see box: Getting your acid/alkaline balance right, page 63).
After being on an alkalizing diet for nearly 18 months, Paul finally had enough flexibility and movement in his joints to start exercising. He began with simple physical activities like walking the dog with the aid of a walking stick, and doing sessions of yoga and swimming. From these gentle beginnings, he was soon able to jog for short periods of time. Now, just over three years after being told he would need knee surgery, he has started running a few times a week for around 45 minutes to an hour each time. In fact, he's now training to run a half-marathon later this year.
Energy healing therapy
To help control the pain, Paul turned to energy healing therapies such as SCENAR and a device called an e-Mat, which creates pulsating electromagnetic fields (PEMFs) while the patient lies on a mat. Paul started with SCENAR, a pain-relieving device that also boosts the healing process in the body, and had regular weekly sessions with a practitioner for several years. "It was very effective, although the changes were subtle," said Paul.
The practitioner also told Paul about the PEMF mat, and he lies on it every day for around eight minutes in the morning and evening. Even the family dog, Jess, has been feeling the benefits, as he's also been lying on the e-Mat to help ease his bad hip (see boxes: Feel the force and SCENAR: the sticking point, right).
Now Paul has no discomfort or pain-actually, he was free of pain within several months of starting the diet and using SCENAR. He now spends eight hours every day climbing up and down ladders as he paints the homes of Seaford. He's also lost a lot of weight. Paul can't say for sure that he doesn't have osteoarthritis any more, but he doesn't have a single symptom of the disease. Not only was his arthritis "a wake-up call", as he puts it, but it also transformed his life and, today, he is healthier than he's been in years.
Paul has launched a website to help guide other sufferers:
Getting your acid/alkaline balance right
Our pH levels (the hydrogen in our blood) should be slightly alkaline at a level between 7.35 and 7.45. You can test your levels by putting a drop of your urine or saliva on a pH test strip. Any level below 7 means your blood is too acidic-and a reading of 6.9 can even induce coma and death.
An acidic pH can be caused by stress, toxic overload and immune reactions-but mostly diet. Our body is always regulating its acid/alkaline levels and uses alkaline minerals wherever it can find them. But if the diet isn't delivering high quantities of alkaline, there will be a buildup of acid in our blood cells.
The typical Western diet is too acidic. The general rule of thumb is that meat, eggs, dairy, white flour, sugar and processed foods are all acidic, while fruits, vegetables, beans, lentils, seeds and nuts are alkaline (with some exceptions). You should be aiming for a 60/40 balance towards alkaline foods in your diet.
The major alkalizing foods
Lemons, watermelon, figs, limes, mango, melon, papaya, watercress, asparagus, pears, pineapple, raisins, sweet apples, alfalfa sprouts, bananas, lettuce, peaches, pears, peas, beans, broccoli, cabbage, lettuce, oranges, raspberries, strawberries and turnip.
The major acidic foods
Artificial sweeteners, beef, beer, breads, carbonated drinks, processed breakfast cereals, chocolate, coffee, white flour, sugared fruit juices, alcohol, pastries, cakes from white flour, pork, poultry, seafood, and wine.
Feel the force
Paul's use of a PEMF (pulsed electromagnetic field) device isn't such an eccentric choice. PEMFs have been used for decades to reduce pain and inflammation, and induce muscle relaxation.
In the US, the National Institutes of Health have made PEMF research a priority, and several devices have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to mend broken bones, heal wounds and relieve pain.
Dr William Pawluk, former assistant professor at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and a PEMF advocate, claims that "active, regular tuning-up of our cells is not only feasible, but also necessary to slow ageing and reduce the risk of cell dysfunction".
A PEMF device can rebalance the body in minutes, he says, by addressing impaired cells. "PEMFs of even the weakest strengths pass right through the body, penetrating every cell, tissue, organ and even bone without being absorbed. As they pass through, they stimulate most of the electrical and chemical processes in the tissues."
There are many different PEMF devices on the market and at varying prices. Paul paid around lb3,000 for his full-body mat, which he says helped reduce inflammation around his joints.
SCENAR: the sticking point
Paul's other energy healing device was SCENAR, which helps to relieve pain and also activates the body's own healing defences. It was developed in Communist Russia during the space race, when physicists were faced with the challenge of treating cosmonauts who fell ill in zero gravity.
The SCENAR (Self-Controlled Energo-Neuro-Adaptive Regulation) device is the size of a TV remote control and runs on a single 9-V battery. Researchers and doctors in Russia claim it can reverse most diseases without drugs or surgery. In the UK, it's licensed as a pain-relief device.
The practitioner brushes the device along the patient's skin, looking for any resistance or 'stickiness', as SCENAR therapists call it. Such 'stickiness' indicates disease, inflammation or injury, while different areas of the skin correlate with different internal organs and muscle groups, similar to the acupuncture model.
Once a problem area has been detected, the practitioner changes the SCENAR frequency modulation and, using biofeedback, begins a 'dialogue' with the patient's central nervous system. SCENAR is said to stimulate neuropeptides in damaged cells to speed their recovery by helping cells to 'remember' their healthy signature state. The healing process continues long after the session ends, though it may take many sessions to achieve full health, depending on how chronic the condition is.