Thursday, February 13, 2014

Spice It Up This Valentine’s Day

Where I live, in western Canada, Valentine's Day usually comes at the coldest time of the year, almost without fail during the last wintry blast of the season.  While both Valentine’s Day and cold weather are excellent excuses for snuggling with your Sweetheart, when you both suffer arthritic pain, romantic gestures are just not as…cozy.  Hand-holding can be downright terrifying.  Hubby and I, diagnosed with Rheumatoid and Osteo-arthritis, have found a few home remedies that give us relief.

The best – and the most difficult – remedy was an exclusion, yet the results for Hubby were dramatic.  He once had a 1400 ml per day soda habit, plus he enjoyed candy and sweet treats.  When I showed him the research I'd found on the negative effects of refined sugars on arthritic pain, he began cutting back.  After a brief period of withdrawal, Hubby noticed a lessening in both the intensity and frequency of his pain episodes.  That convinced him.  Now, he rarely drinks soda, and continues restricting his consumption of sweets, candies, and alcohol (which is, essentially, another source of refined sugar.)  As a result he suffers only rarely, often during the most frigid days of winter.

That's when I employ a few soothing foods and there are several which have been shown to either exacerbate or alleviate symptoms of arthritis.  Long ago, we eliminated or restricted those aggravating foods, and being a firm believer in the healing benefits of whole and natural foods, I was eager to use foods shown to have healing or soothing properties.  Really, it was an easy choice.  Since I have limited my intake of salt/sodium, the task of heightening flavours has been taken over by spices and herbs.  So, garlic, ginger, turmeric and cinnamon, (along with many other spices) were already ever-present in our diet.  Learning of their arthritic pain-relieving properties, we quite happily bumped up our use of those four powerhouse spices.

The most common home-remedy we use is a Cinnamon spread:  one part organic cinnamon to three parts
pure honey.   Some sources recommend a twice-daily cinnamon and honey hot drink, while others debunk it as ineffectual.  We use good quality organic cinnamon mixed with pure honey from a known and reputable source, and enjoy the mixture regularly, if not daily, slathered on morning toast or dolloped into tea.  In doing so, we find joint stiffness and swelling are reduced and we maintain relatively smooth ease of motion.

Ginger and garlic have long been staples of our diet, but when the situation calls for it, I’ll use massive amounts of both to “dose up” a batch of my "Healing Soup" -- a home-made ramen-style soup loaded with veg in a hearty and spicy stock – to alleviate bouts of Arthritic pain, or even to ease an upset stomach.  We're also big fans of curries, so turmeric and garlic are also used in similar Asian-style dishes, but turmeric’s effect seems more subtle than cayenne.

Ahh…that little red chili pepper!  Cayenne has quickly become our drug of choice, though we don't use the capsaicin cremes or ointments.  We simply add minced pepper, fresh or dried, to whatever we're cooking.  Its pain-relieving effect was so pronounced, I grew a few plants last summer.  Prior to that, we rarely consumed spicy foods as we both suffered heartburn.  However, when eaten in moderation – I use about 1/3 to 1/2 of a cayenne pepper for a 2-4 portion meal – there is only a mild and pleasing heat, a brighter flavour than black peppercorn, and no heartburn.  Not only does it relieve pain, it also warms the body!

There are other foods said to help with Arthritic pain -- cherries (fresh, canned, or dried), borage, fish oils high in omega 3 & 6, alfalfa seeds, and Ginkgo Biloba -- but we have little or no experience with these.  Well, we eat fish, regularly, and some of it (when we can get it) is high in those omega fats; and we do eat cherries, occasionally, throughout the summer; but we haven’t noticed any marked difference in our levels of pain or mobility after eating either.  That, however, could be due entirely to our infrequent consumption of them.

Regardless, there are many ways a person can relieve symptoms of arthritis, and not all of them come from a medicine cabinet.  If you or a loved one is suffering with stiff, sore, arthritic joints, and the thought of holding hands makes you want to run screaming, try warding off the chilly with the chili.  Or perhaps some Cinnamon Spread instead of the usual Valentine sweets?  Maybe a romantic dinner at a Thai restaurant where they use plenty of garlic, ginger, and chili peppers?

You know…spice things up a little!  ;)