It seems the older I get the more people I hear ask me how old I am and think that I’m in my 20’s or early 30’s. Today our plumber guessed I was 22. Last I checked my driver’s license it says “born in 1977”, which makes me 37 years old.
It’s tough to know how to respond when you feel like you’re 50 years older than you really are, and constantly deal with a chronic illness like arthritis, yet look normal on the outside. During the past few years I’ve learned that while a person may appear in great shape and look great, they can easily suffer from a hidden illness or even have a serious health condition brewing inside. In some cases it can take years, even decades before major symptoms of disease show up.
The human body continually amazes and fascinates me. It will try to maintain balance, pulling nutrients from storage areas when there are not enough in circulation, constantly working to restore homeostasis until all reserves are depleted. That’s when visible symptoms of illness appear. I realize that’s a generalization, and our bodies are incredibly complex, so that’s not the whole story, especially when it comes to things unrelated to malnutrition like parasites and infections. Based on my experience with inflammatory arthritis, and now osteoarthritis and osteoporosis in my jaw, I have learned a few things that I hope can help save others from additional pain and suffering later in life.
About two years ago, I began experiencing severe pain near both of my ears, and pain while biting and chewing. Over the course of those two years it became harder and harder to open my mouth. I chalked it up to just being another symptom of Lyme disease, which I had been actively treating with antibiotics and natural protocols over the past three years. Or maybe my body was trying to still heal the bone from cavitation surgeries I had the year before. Yet this was one symptom that kept getting worse. After realizing I could no longer get my mouth to open wide enough to enjoy a burger at my favorite restaurant I just couldn’t take it anymore. A few months ago, I started working with a new dentist and naturopathic physician to figure out why I was having so much pain in and around my temporomandibular joints. Dr. Sook Hong is an incredibly caring and knowledgeable dentist. She has a great way of explaining what may be causing painful symptoms and a strong desire to figure out the root cause of dental-related illness. At my first visit, she noticed I had a locked jaw and took x-rays to find I still had multiple cavitations around the sites where my wisdom teeth were removed.
X-rays also showed that the condyles, where my jaw pivots, were severely damaged. Shown here is an x-ray of my left side. The top of the condyle at the bottom of the photo should be rounded instead of concave with sharp edges. When you hear the words “bone on bone” it strikes a pretty clear picture of where the pain originated and how serious it was. Imagine taking a rock and rubbing it along another rock. That is what it sounds and feels like when my jaw opens and closes. Dr. Hong used ozone injections to treat the cavitations and later started working to unlock my jaw with weekly adjustments and the help of a splint to encourage my jaw to open to a wider position. Two months later, I am still working with Dr. Hong to unlock my jaw as she uses ozone, laser therapy and manual adjustments to correct the issue. I have a severe case of TMJ disorder so it could take a long time to correct the placement of the jaw, heal the damaged cartilage and regenerate the discs.
For reference, this is a diagram of a normal temporomandibular joint Notice the rounded edge at the top of the condyle:
Here is a video of a normal looking TMJ
And another video showing disc perforation and degeneration (similar to mine)
So what caused the deterioration of bone? I look healthy right? My skin, hair and nails are in great condition and I’m not overweight. Yet at age 37, my bones and joint tissues are a nightmare inside. I’ve been eating a nutritious, whole foods diet for several years so I never suspected a problem with my bones.
Here are some of the things I believe may have contributed to my osteoarthritis:
Abnormal development of the jaw and skull in early childhood: A lot of factors can play a role here. Genetics, nutrition, injury – it’s tough to look back and see what you can’t change. But if you have children or you want to increase your own bone health, you can introduce nutrients like fat-soluble activators (vitamin A, D and K2) along with mineral-rich foods to promote healthy development of bones and tissue. Foods rich in these nutrients are liver, pastured eggs, homemade stocks and bone broths, grass-fed butter, cheese, cream and organic fruits and vegetables.
Lack of exercise: Before my chronic knee swelling, I used to exercise about six days a week, alternating between aerobic, cardiovascular supportive training and weight bearing exercise. In the past few years, due to joint pain and limited movement, my exercise levels dropped to almost none. When moving is painful, motivation to exercise is difficult. It’s important to keep moving as much as possible and perform some type of weight bearing exercise to keep bones in good shape. During weight bearing exercise, the body triggers cells inside our bones to become more dense and strong. With lack of exercise, bone density drops and risk for osteoporosis increases.
Medications: This is another important factor for me. Early after my onset of knee inflammation symptoms I worked with rheumatologists that recommended various prescription and non-prescription medications for pain and inflammation. Specifically, I took prednisone for a year, non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) long-term, and other immune-suppressing drugs to combat my illness. Later I learned that some of these medications can contribute to bone loss. Research has shown that the most common cause of secondary osteoarthritis, second only to menopause, is excess corticosteroid usage . 50% of patients on chronic corticosteroid administration for longer than six months develop osteoporosis. And a daily dose of 2.5 to 5mg of prednisone has been identified as enough to cause osteoporosis .
Parasites and infections: In severe cases of Lyme arthritis, permanent joint dysfunction can occur from bone erosion and cartilage loss . Lyme disease is likely only one of my contributing problems, but it’s worth getting all the vitamins and minerals you can from whole food sources to combat mineral depletion and bone loss. Dental focal infections, such as improperly extracted wisdom teeth, can also smolder for years, causing chronic deterioration of bone .
Imbalanced diet: Back when I was into heavy weightlifting and strength training I learned a lot about the proper way to lift weights and build muscle. I thought I knew a lot about eating right for building a strong body with low body fat and lean muscle. While successful from an outside view – I was 6′ 1″, 195lb with a proportional muscular build and around 10% body fat. The problem with this image is even though I felt great, I was eating an extremely high protein diet with poor quality vegetables and fruits, along with a significant amount of processed carbohydrates and oils. The body needs additional potassium and minerals to buffer an acid-forming diet like that. Looking back at eating 6 giant chicken breasts a day, whey protein powders refined with chemicals and added artificial sweeteners, and vegetables or fruits with low amounts of vitamins and minerals, I see clearly how my body was on the verge of breakdown. When pushing the body hard with exercise (which can be a good thing), it’s best to get adequate fats from non-refined oils like grass-fed butter, avocados, olive oil and coconut oil. Protein is necessary, but too much meat can be hard on the kidneys, especially when it comes with antibiotics and other chemicals like pesticides or herbicides from where the animals fed. It’s interesting to see where you can get quality protein, like green powders, natural, less-refined whey, raw, fermented dairy/cheese or nuts and seeds. Carbs are important too, but instead of processed you can get a lot of energy from organic, whole-grain rice, fresh root vegetables and pre-soaked/fermented beans and other grains.
For the body to function properly, especially when it comes to supporting healthy bones, a variety of nutrients in balanced form are necessary like calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, chromium, silica, zinc, manganese, copper, boron, potassium, strontium, vitamin D, C, A, B6, B12, folate, K1, K2, essential fatty acids and protein.
All the recommendations or suggestions I list here are from my own personal journey and are not intended to substitute for medical or professional advice. I would recommend finding an experienced holistic-focused nutritional counselor or integrative physician if you feel you have similar symptoms and wish to improve your health. I would appreciate your feedback in the comments too.
1: Kohlstadt, I. (2013). Advancing medicine with food and nutrients (Second edition.). CRC.
2: Epstein, S., Inzerillo, A. M., Caminis, J. and Zaidi, M. (2003), Disorders Associated With Acute Rapid and Severe Bone Loss. J Bone Miner Res, 18: 2083–2094. doi: 10.1359/jbmr.2003.18.12.2083
3: STEERE, A. C., SCHOEN, R. T., & TAYLOR, E. (1987). The Clinical Evolution of Lyme Arthritis. Annals of Internal Medicine, 107(5), 725–731. doi:10.7326/0003-4819-107-5-725
4: Dental Cavitation Surgery. (n.d.). Weston A Price. Retrieved from http://www.westonaprice.org/holistic-healthcare/dental-cavitation-surgery/