I have always been interested in alternative ways to address health issues effectively. At the same time I'm all about the science.
We all experience joint pain at some point in our lives, whether from falling off a bike as a child to sports injuries, auto accidents, or some type of arthritic condition. I have definitely done damage to my joints throughout my life. There are many things available to address these problems: braces for joint stabilization, pain relieving topicals, even copper or magnetic bracelets. I have used all of these to varying degrees of success. I figure part of my job is to try all these things and see for myself how effective they are because people always ask me for advice.
Copper Fit is one such product. I tried the knee sleeve and was severely disappointed. It didn't support the joint in any way and I didn't feel any difference in pain levels, So I was therefore skeptical about the hype. But, I recently found some Copper Fit shirts on a discount rack and decided why not give it another try and even if it didn't work the shirts were very nice quality. In fact much better quality material than the knee sleeve I had previously tried. I have a damaged shoulder that for several reasons never healed properly and gives me a lot of grief. I was amazed at how quickly I felt relief once I put the shirt on. That had me wondering how it works.
What does copper do? It is an essential trace mineral that the body needs to repair tissues, helps make red blood cells by improving iron absorption, maintain nerve cells and the immune system. Most importantly, it helps the body build and repair collagen which is important in ligaments, tendons, cartilage, and bone. Deficiencies are typically rare except when you have a high zinc diet. Red Meat, organ meats, poultry and seafood are the major sources of zinc in the American diet. I follow a hunter-gatherer style diet similar to my ancestors which is high in meat and fat, so it seems I have high amounts of zinc and thus low amounts of copper. Low copper can also lead to anemia, low body temperature, bone fractures, osteoporosis, loss of skin pigmentation (vitiligo), and thyroid problems. Discovering twenty years ago that I had low thyroid was one of the things that set me out on my health journey, so I knew this was something important that I had overlooked.
Dietary sources of copper include cashews and nuts, whole grains, beans, potatoes, all of which I'm allergic to., but also can be found in shellfish, organ meats, dark leafy greens and cocoa, which makes me happy. So whether you're a vegetarian or a carnivore you have some options. Also, a micro-nutrient deficiency test can reveal if this is an issue for you. Sure enough, this is something I need more of. There are copper supplements or micro-mineral supplements if you think that is a route to ensure enough copper. However, there is a risk of taking copper as a supplement when taking certain pharmaceuticals including; birth control pills and hormone therapy, non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDS) such as aspirin and ibuprofen, penicillamine, used to reduce copper levels in Wilson's disease, allopurinol, a gout treatment, cimetidine, or Tagamet, used for gastric ulcers and gastric reflux, or taking zinc supplements in cold and flu season. Many of these pharmaceuticals may reduce or increase levels of copper in the blood, leading to an imbalance. As far as copper toxicity there have not been any adverse effects from normal dietary consumption of copper but some sources believe that a person may get too much copper if using copper pipes or cooking with copper pans. I have added a copper bracelet on my damaged arm and so far the only side effect is a green ring on the skin where the copper is being absorbed into my body. I have not noticed any toxicity reaction. But the literature states these may be signs of Toxicity: nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, stomach pain, headache, dizziness, weakness, a metallic taste in the mouth, cirrhosis and or jaundice, or abnormalities in red blood cells and heart problems. Honestly, those problems could be side effects of many things, but if you add in copper to your regimen and any of these symptoms show up, then you might want to think twice.
So now let's look at collagen since that is important for overall joint health. Collagen is the most abundant protein in your body and it helps give shape, strength, and integrity to all of your tissues, including your skin, muscles, bones, tendons, brain, and organs. IN fact collagen is roughly 30% of the total protein in your body. In regards to joints the breakdown percentages are 60% for cartilage, 30% for bones, and 1–10% of muscle mass. So making sure you get collagen in your diet would be very helpful.
Collagen is made from amino acids which are the building blocks of protein. These amino acids are Glycine, Proline, Hydroxyproline, Arginine, glutamine, Alanine, and lysine. Many of these are essential amino acids that must come from the diet in order to repair these tissues. Dietary sources of collagen include gelatin, beef, venison, lamb, bison, pork, bacon, goat, fowl, fish, and cheese. The best source of obtaining these amino acids is from a meat-rich diet or from bone broth. Also when from meat or bones its more cost effective than collagen supplements that can be very expensive. Another source is gelatin but I wouldn't recommend Jello because of the high sugar content. In fact a high sugar diet is bad for your collagen because glucose and fructose bind the necessary amino acids and block them from repairing damage. SO much for a vegetarian diet which is typically 60-80% glucose and fructose. Furthermore, this also produces advanced glycation end products or “AGEs” which are toxic compounds that form when lipids or proteins are exposed to sugars, which is the mechanism behind chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease. Vitamin A, C, E and copper are also involved in the collagen building process. If you are on a low carb diet you can obtain vitamin C as a supplement or remember organ meats, especially liver, contains high levels of both vitamin C and copper. Avocadoes are the highest source of vitamin E. Vitamin A comes from carotenoids or liver. Minerals necessary for collagen are of course calcium, magnesium, selenium, and copper. You want to get your calcium in bone form: calcium hydroxy-apatite which is 100% absorbed instead of calcium carbonate or limestone (less than 30% absorbed) as most people cannot digest rocks. If you can I want to know about it. ;) Also hydroxy-apatite is plug and play. Your body knows exactly what to do with it. Magnesium also comes as hydroxy-apatite if you are taking a bone meal supplement or eating bone broth. Although I've noticed recently that some of my go to supplements have extracted out all the other important minerals including magnesium hydroxyapatite and have replaced them with cheaper magnesium oxide which is yet another rock that you can't digest. I'm a bit disappointed with those companies. But all the more reason to buy or make bone broth as it has everything you need already in the form your body recognizes. I try to cook it until the bones fall apart and save the powder to use. No need to throw any of it away.
Herbal products for joint repair are another avenue to consider. Unlike western herbal medicine which always recommends Turmeric because the studies show its effective with pain, TCM formulas are specifically formulated to address the underlying cause of the pain. Turmeric while good is ONLY a blood mover, so its effectiveness is merely in the improvement of circulation of blood to the injured joint. It also increases bleeding disorders and is contraindicated in pregnancy and in debilitating diseases. In the case of debilitating diseases think of driving a high mileage car with bad oil, speeding up the flow of the oil isn't going to help the problem. The underlying health issue needs to be addressed for pain relief. TCM herbal formulas actually target the specific part of the body and the specific type of pain.
Bone health: The Great Mender is one of my favorite TCM formulas and can cut healing time in half. I have even used it with osteoporotic clients with great success. It is a traditional and effective bone healing formula that has been passed down from Shaolin temples. I would pair this formula with a high quality bone mineral supplement and vitamin D.
Corydalis formula. This internal formula addresses muscular spasms.
Biofreeze: this is an excellent topical formula with healing essential oils that absorb into the skin and go to work quickly. I have used it on one of my dogs with an injured knee. Despite the smell which dogs generally hate he begged for it, because it relieved the pain quickly.
White flower oil/ Wintergreen: That classic smell of BenGay. It cools and soothes
Arnica: for mild pain only
Pain in extremities:
Ledebouriella formula (Fang Feng Tang ) an internal formula for pain and soreness in all joints, with difficulty in flexing and extending along with limited range of motion
Dang Gui extremity formula (Dang Gui SI NI San): an excellent formula for arthritis in fingers, and especially effective for Raynaud's disease along with following a zero gluten and nightshade diet.
Pain exacerbated by Cold: Aconite Formula (Wu Tou Tang) severe pain and stiffness in joints and limbs
Pain exacerbated by damp weather:
Coix Formula (YiYi Ren Tong) joints often present as swollen and painful, this can be used for fluid on the knee etc,
Five Flowers oIl: one of my favorite topicals for swollen tissues. It can quickly reduce swelling in a joint
Pain with heat:
White Tiger formulas; this is for any joint that feels hot to the touch.
White tiger Liniment or Tiger Balm are both excellent topical liniments that I use frequently whether it’s a twisted ankle or hot painful arthritic knuckles. These come in a variety of strengths from mild to ultra with the addition of specific herbs to address pain, swelling, tissue mending, inflammation, move blood, clear bruising or edema.
Shoulder and neck pain: these formula address upper body pain
Juan BI Tang
Ge Gen Tang
Low back and Knee pain:
Solitary Hermit (Du Huo JI Sheng Tang). It is amazing for knocking out the pain, and has some hormonal modulators to increase tissue healing specifically in the lower body. You can combine these two formulas for a great 1-2 punch.
Chronic Pain: when the pain has been going on longer than 3 years and it's time to really address nourishing the tissues to stimulate healing.
Three Painful Formula (San Bi Tang) works wonders
Some of these items are quick grab off the shelf options. But TCM internal formulas have to be prescribed by a licensed TCM practitioner in order to ensure the safety of these formula with anything you are currently taking.
My point for putting them here is to demonstrate that TCM herbology is very specific and targeted in how it addresses pain. You can contact me for a consultation, or find a TCM/ Licensed acupuncturist in your area.