Arthritis: A Natural Remedy

If Dracula were an old woman, he would have sounded a lot like Mrs. Kelremor. But there was no other physical resemblance. Just shy of eighty, this middle-European immigrant lady had been a housekeeper for decades. Overweight, bent over, worn out and weighted down with cares, she came to see me primarily because of osteoarthritis.

It was the 1980's: disco was still considered music, and arthritis was still said to have no nutritional connection or cure. For centuries, natural healing practitioners have known otherwise. Today, more and more, the medical profession is finally catching on. But Mrs. Kelremor had waited long enough. She said to me, in her thick Transylvanian accent:

"I can't vork. I can't svleep. I om in pain all oof da time."

I vill now drop the accent; you get the picture.

Mrs. Kelremor bowed her curly, gray-haired head as she continued speaking.

"Look at my hands. I can't close them anymore. Look at my knees, all swollen. I am sore all over."

As if that were not enough, she showed me an assortment of lumps on her arms and legs. Her medico had told her they were benign. They certainly were not pleasant to behold.

"What can I do?" she said. "My husband does not work. I have to work. I have to clean."

I said that she might want to try a real dietary overhaul, beginning with vegetable juice fasting. There is a fine line between irresponsible promises and stimulating encouragement. I attempted to straddle that line by telling her that she had little to risk with vegetables.

She looked up, for the first time during the interview, and slowly said, "I will try anything."

Anything? Even living on raw vegetable juices eight days in a row, followed by a very light eating for three days, and a raw-food diet for the next ten?

"Yes," she said. "Anything."

The drop-out rate in such a program is high. That is probably the only true drawback of such an otherwise venerable, simple and safe program. To many, juice fasting conjures up images of starvation, electrolyte imbalance, malnutrition and exhaustion. All false, and for very elementary reasons.

Firstly, vegetables are especially nourishing foods, and a variety of vegetables guarantees more than adequate nutrition. The fact that they are juiced does not change that. Secondly, you cannot hurt yourself with produce. There is no down side to a vegetable diet, particularly when accompanied with a couple of good multivitamin pills each day. Thirdly, look at the animal kingdom. Elephants are huge and muscular, with bones like tree trunks. They eat leaves and roots and shoots. The clearly get enough protein and calcium. So will you. In America, 100,000 cows are slaughtered every day. Their meat is a good source of vitamin B-12, among other things. So in self-righteous panic, dietitians scream that you need to eat animal products, especially meat, to get B-12! Really? Where did the cow get her B-12, hmm? She only eats grains and grasses.

So adequate nutrition, really far more than adequate nutrition, can be maintained for weeks at a time on veggies alone. "But why juice? Why not just eat the vegetables?" Because you won't, that's why. Juicing guarantees quantity. If you juice, you simply will consume more vegetables. It is quicker and easier to down the juice than to sit and munch, so you will consume more. Additionally, the absorption of juiced vegetables is excellent, far superior to what you can get after just using your choppers to chew. Not being ruminants, like cows or giraffes, we get only one chance to masticate our food. A juicer does the job vastly better.

So that's it, then. A safe therapy that is too simple to work.

But it does. And the wretchedly bent-over Mrs. Kelremor was willing to try it.

Not without a fight, however. For weeks, I got her phone calls. "Can I have soup?" Sure, if it will please you. "Can I have some sausage?" No. "Can I cook some of the vegetables?" Some vegetables have to be cooked, such as sweet potatoes, and moving away from a strict meaning of the word vegetable, lima beans and rice. If some of these foods will keep a person on the program, fine. Vegetable juices should still be the focus and the bulk of every meal.

"Every meal?" you, and Mrs. Kelremor would say. "Even breakfast?"

Look, folks: For breakfast, we drink hot bean extract and eat undeveloped bird embryos and the ripened ovaries of trees. We eat the muscles of ground up dead pigs placed between pulverized seeds fermented with a fungus, with a slice of curdled cow breast milk. And if I suggest vegetable juices, I'm the oddball?

So I conceded this and that to insure her compliance. Don't sweat the small stuff. After a quarter-century as a health consultant, I know people.

Mrs. Kelremor's calls persisted, at various times of the day. At least I knew she was on the program. Over time, they were fewer and fewer. She seemed to be doing fine.

A year passed.

One day I was shopping in a friend's health food store. There were a few people at the check-out counter. One was a tallish lady, or if not tall, she certainly had very good posture.

"Remember me?" she said, with the unmistakable voice of Bela Legosi on estrogen.

I recalled only the voice. It did not match this graceful woman, at ease and smiling, buying a counter full of vitamins. But it was Mrs. Kelremor.

I greeted her, and she wasted no time in telling me:

"I can work. I can bend, and reach, and sit and stand, and walk without any pain. I can work! I feel like a new woman."

She actually said something more like, "I veel loke new voman," but enough of that.

I couldn't help but notice that the lumps on her arms and legs were gone. It wasn't surgery; a year and a half of juicing had apparently eradicated them. Now that was a bit unexpected.

And all this progress, past age 80. I saw something similar with a woman half her age.

The early forties is a bit young for rheumatoid arthritis, especially arthritis as severe as Cynthia's. Mostly I remember her hands. They were an old lady's hands on a middle-aged woman's body. Swollen knuckles, fingers tightly drawn together to a point, almost like a paintbrush. Cynthia could hardly move them, and never without pain. The doctors, and there had been many, had all told her that there was nothing that could be done. Well, pain killers, but nothing else. Diet, perhaps? she'd asked them. Of course not, they'd told her.

She disbelieved them just enough to come and see me.

I suggested that she do the same thing as Mrs. K. had done, and hope for the same results.

"And you are so much younger than her," I added. "Perhaps you have an advantage there."

At the very least, she complained a lot less. I had just one or two conversations with her on the phone over the next many months.

It was about eighteen months later when I actually saw Cynthia again in person. She had scheduled a follow-up appointment and breezed through the door into my office.

"Hi!" she said.

"Hello!" I answered. But who are you? is what I thought. Now I do not have a good head for names or faces to begin with, but this was extraordinary. I really thought there had been a mistake. I had gotten my appointment book messed up. This could not be Cynthia. I was expecting someone else, someone with at least some signs of arthritis. This woman had none.

"Look!" she said. "Look what I can do!"

She flexed and turned her wrists and opened and closed all her fingers, effortlessly. I'm no orthopedist, but anyone could see that there was nearly complete range of motion.

"Wow!" I said. "What have you been doing?"

She looked at me as if I asked an odd question.

"What we talked about," she answered. "I've been juicing every day, and fasting on juices every other week. For the last year and a half! And look at my complexion!"

Cynthia, or whoever this person really was, had almost no wrinkles. Her skin tone was perfect, perhaps a bit on the carotene-orange side. USA Today has described this harmless mega-juicing side effect as looking like "an artificial sun tan." True. The doctors' Merck Manual describes hypercarotenosis "harmless." Also true.

I describe it as "effective." There is more to juicing than just carotenes. The complex carbohydrates, raw food enzymes, organic minerals and vitamins, soluble fibers, and other vegetable nutrients makes for the perfect antidote to the protein-dominated, fat- heavy, sugar-laden arthritis-causing Standard American Diet.

Once, my own mother had arthritis. She was just entering her sixties. The symptoms were not severe, but they were getting worse each year. She started taking vitamins, juicing, and most notably, eating lentil sprouts.

Mom is a unique person, a "strange bird" as our old hardware-store man used to say. She will stick to an idea, even an untenable one, for a long time. This time, her talents for stubbornness were put to good use.

Every morning, Mom would have a large bowlful of sprouted lentils. Lentils look like brown split peas. To sprout them, she would soak dry lentils overnight in tap water. The next morning, she'd pour off the soaking water, rinse and drain them. Later that day, she'd rinse and drain the lentils once more. They were ready for breakfast the next day. This may already sound pretty funky, but she went one step further: she topped them with molasses, and ate them with a spoon.

Yum.

Now where does an otherwise intelligent person pick up ideas like this?

Guilty. Yes, I was the culprit.

I will stand on the results, though. It was considerably less than a year and my mom had no trace of arthritis. And this may be the really good news: she eventually discontinued the lentil meal, and also the moderate (one glass per day) juicing she was doing. She still continues to take her vitamins to this day.

I know this lady and her hands especially well. The raw sprout program worked. Juicing worked for Cynthia and Mrs. Kelremor. It all sounds quacky, because it is.

But that's how arthritis was eradicated from three sets of hands.

-Andew Saul