How to Reduce Chronic Inflammation to Alleviate Joint Pain | The Integrative Medicine Approach to Joint Pain and Arthritis

If you're one of the millions of people who suffer from chronic joint pain, you know how debilitating it can be. Not only does it make everyday activities difficult, but it can also lead to a reduced quality of life. Many people turn to prescription medications in an attempt to find relief, but these drugs often come with unwanted side effects. An integrative medicine approach uses a combination of natural remedies and conventional treatments to help reduce inflammation and alleviate arthritis symptoms. Let's dive into the root cause of joint pain and inflammation, the link between them, and how to reduce arthritis pain using integrative medicine.

There are various types of arthritis, but they belong to one of two categories:

  • Osteoarthritis (OA) is caused by physical wear and tear on a joint over time (or sometimes as a result of an injury).
  • Inflammatory arthritis (IA) is a chronic autoimmune disease in which your immune system mistakes your own tissues as harmful invaders and attacks them. The result is inflammation of the tissues in and around joints.

OA has traditionally not been considered an inflammatory condition, but evidence suggests that chronic inflammation is linked with joint damage, and possible immune response (1). IA affects people of all ages, often flaring during times of increased stress. IA diseases occur in patients as young as 20 or 30, while OA is usually seen in those over 50.

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The main types of inflammatory arthritis include:

  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Ankylosing spondylitis
  • Gout
  • Lyme disease
  • Lupus
  • Psoriatic arthritis

These types of degenerative conditions cause joint damage, pain, and greatly affect quality of life. They affect 1 in 4 adults in the U.S., and most rely on anti-inflammatory medications to reduce joint pain.

Joint pain is worsened by inflammation that starts in other areas of the body (2). In the case of inflammatory arthritis, immune dysregulation triggers an inflammatory response and the immune system attacks connective tissue.

For all types of arthritis pain, lifestyle, stress, and diet have a significant impact, and conventional treatments like surgery may not always be the best option to fight inflammation.

Related: Fight Fibromyalgia with Integrative Medicine

Surgery and NSAIDs treat symptoms, but not the root cause

If you have an inflammatory arthritis condition, you're treated by a rheumatologist, or a physician who specializes in inflammatory diseases. Those with OA are typically treated by an orthopedist, who are trained surgeons. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and corticosteroids are the main treatment for RA, and sometimes surgery (3).

While surgery or corticosteroid shots may temporarily relieve pain, they’re not an effective long-term solution. Surgery can cause more damage to joints, and long-term use of pain medications also comes with risks and side effects (4,5). Instead of temporarily relieving symptoms, it's important to address the root causes of joint pain to provide optimal relief.

Read more: How Inflammation Wreaks Havoc & What You Can Do

Your Immune System, Inflammation, & Joint Pain

Your immune system relies on inflammation to heal your body after any problem—from injury to illness and everything in between. However, the same immune system that works so hard to heal your body is the same one that attacks your joints in the case of inflammatory arthritis.

Everyone has a certain amount of inflammation in their body at any given time. But the question is whether or not this inflammation is causing chronic, low level harm to your muscles and tissues, causing joint damage.

If you have symptoms like joint pain, fatigue, headaches, weight gain, allergies, or even mood issues—you are most likely dealing with inflammation. This type of inflammation can simmer away silently for decades, which is why it's such a problem for issues like arthritis. This inflammation slowly attacks your joints, until it causes intense pain and flare ups.

Learn more: Autoimmune Disease Assessment

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How can I reduce inflammation in my joints?

To reduce joint pain at the source, it’s first important to focus on fighting inflammation.

The conventional approach to arthritis pain generally focuses on systemic anti-inflammatory drugs like NSAIDs, corticosteroids, and immunosuppressive drugs. While these are valid treatment options, they can have adverse side effects and may cause problems over the long term. 

To relieve joint pain effectively, you have other options outside of (or in addition to) conventional treatments:

Get into a consistent diet and exercise routine—one that fights inflammation, not fuels it. Studies have shown that those who eat a diet rich in nutrients and vitamins and low in processed food, and who are moderately physically active can increase lubrication and synovial fluid in the joints, which reduces the wear and tear on the cartilage (6).

Optimize glutathione—Increasing this powerful antioxidant has shown to decrease inflammatory markers and reduce pain associated with rheumatoid arthritis (7).

Consider low-dose naltrexone. This medication was originally developed to help those with addiction, but it has shown benefits for treating autoimmune conditions like arthritis (8).

Explore natural anti-inflammatories, like curcumin and acupuncture. Curcumin, boswellia, ginger, and omega-3 fatty acids are all excellent natural anti-inflammatories that can help reduce joint pain and swelling. There is also growing support for treatments like massage therapy and acupuncture for reducing inflammation (9).

Inflammatory arthritis can cause serious health problems that affect the heart, and other systems, so working with a qualified physician to develop an individualized treatment plan is key to long-term success. 

Read: Autoimmune Flare Ups: 11 Ways to Manage Symptoms

What is an arthritis-friendly diet?

Diet is one major contributing factor to the level of inflammation within the body. The Standard American Diet high in refined starches and ultra-processed foods is known to promote inflammation and worsen rheumatoid arthritis symptoms.

To contrast, a nutrient-dense diet paired with regular physical activity has been shown to improve joint health and relieve pain associated with inflammation. The following diet recommendations may help reduce joint pain:

  • Reduce refined carbohydrates and sugars.
  • Get more fiber, vitamins & minerals, and phytonutrients from vegetables and fruits. Choose organic when possible.
  • Improve the quality of fats by eating more omega-3 fatty acids from fish and seafood, and omit inflammatory seed oils.
  • Eat high-quality animal protein by choosing grass-fed beef, naturally-raised chicken, and sustainably caught or farmed, low-mercury fish.
  • Aim for whole foods, and decrease consumption of ultra-processed foods that contain preservatives and other potentially inflammatory ingredients.

An anti-inflammatory diet can be immensely beneficial for those who suffer from inflammatory arthritis and osteoarthritis. 

Related: Top 5 Foods to Fight Inflammation & Anti-Inflammatory Diet

Heal & seal a leaky gut

In the case of inflammatory arthritis, this is an autoimmune condition in which the immune system mistakenly flags joint and connective tissue for destruction.

Integrative medicine approaches autoimmune conditions as sharing a root cause, which is immune dysregulation. There is some research to suggest that autoimmunity can cause gut permeability and be caused by gut permeability (10). So taking all of the necessary steps to heal the gut, including identifying potential pathogens, improving stomach acid, rebalancing the gut flora, removing things that are harmful for the gut from the diet, etc. is crucial to long-term success with treatment.

Learn more: How to Manage Chronic Disease with Functional Medicine.

Yoga and Tai Chi can improve mobility and reduce arthritis pain

Yoga incorporates several elements of exercise that may be beneficial for arthritis, including activities that may help improve strength and flexibility.

A 2018 meta-analysis involving a total of 1,557 participants found that regular yoga practice reduced knee arthritis symptoms, promoted physical function, and general wellbeing in arthritic patients (11). 

Yoga, tai chi, and other restorative types of exercise are a stark contrast to the high-intensity, strenuous activities we typically think of as exercise. But these types of activities that encourage pushing yourself to the limit (combined with other types of stress) can lead to problematic chronic inflammation.

Optimize anti-inflammatory supplements

Glutathione depletion is associated with everything from autoimmune disease to cardiovascular disease (12). Glutathione controls specialized immune cells, called T regulatory cells (13). And as their name suggests, these cells are responsible for regulating your immune system. So if there are too few T regulatory cells, or they aren’t functioning properly, then you may experience immune dysregulation. This is often the pathway to autoimmune disease.

In one animal study examining the effects of liposomal glutathione on rheumatoid arthritis, a 30-day treatment of liposomal glutathione significantly reduced oxidative stress biomarkers and rheumatoid factor, which is an autoantibody protein produced by the immune system (14). 

Oral glutathione supplementation is an ineffective way to raise glutathione levels in the body, however, as it’s swiftly broken down into its amino acid components in the stomach. Using precursors, like lipoic acid and n-acetyl cysteine, may be more effective.

Alternatively, liposomal glutathione, or IV glutathione are more effective to raise glutathione levels within the body.

Curcumin, from turmeric, can reduce inflammation with arthritis, including both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. But don’t start searching recipes with turmeric just yet, because the beneficial curcuminoids in turmeric are not very well absorbed. 

To get the anti-inflammatory benefit of curcumin, the BCM-95 form, which is a proprietary blend of curcuminoids, is a more bioavailable and efficient form. Studies support the use of BCM-95 curcumin to address not only the symptoms of inflammation, but also the systemic autoimmune dysregulation (15). 

Explore IV Drip Therapy at CentreSpringMD

Acupuncture alleviates pain due to arthritis

Acupuncture is a form of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) that has been used for centuries to treat pain and other medical conditions. Acupuncture may be effective for the treatment of osteoarthritis, particularly knee osteoarthritis.

 A 2016 meta-analysis of 10 randomized controlled trials concluded that acupuncture can improve short and long-term physical function, and appears to provide short-term pain relief in patients with chronic knee pain due to arthritis (16).

Other risk factors to address to reduce arthritis pain and joint pain

  • Lose weight. One study found that gaining 30 pounds in early adulthood more than doubled the risk of developing gout later on. Interestingly, losing just 10 pounds reduced the risk of gout by 39 percent (17).
  • Manage stress. Chronic stress can lead to a host of inflammatory conditions, including arthritis.
  • Improve sleep quality. Poor sleep is linked with higher levels of inflammation, and can trigger an arthritis flare if you already suffer from autoimmune issues.

Relieving joint pain with Integrative Medicine

Inflammatory arthritis is a serious condition that can lead to joint pain and damage. However, by reducing systemic inflammation through an anti-inflammatory diet and lifestyle changes, like participating in calming activities like tai chi and acupuncture, you may be able to improve your symptoms. If you are looking for other ways to reduce inflammation and alleviate your arthritis pain, consider integrative medicine treatments like liposomal glutathione therapy. These treatments offer a safe and natural way to target the root of immune dysregulation and resolve inflammation.


  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3638313/ 
  2. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19079223/
  3. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19328245/
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2942971/
  5. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19180516/
  6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5682732/
  7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6661417/
  8. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32845365/
  9. https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/providers/digest/arthritis-and-complementary-health-approaches-science
  10. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30075589/
  11. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30075589/ 
  12. https://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/acsinfecdis.0c00288
  13. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32213345/ 
  14. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6661417/ 
  15. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7144558/ 
  16. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27655986/
  17. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/fullarticle/486491



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