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Joint Pain Going Upstream

Joint Pain Going Upstream

by, Dr. Deborah Diamond D.C.

Joint pain can happen to anyone!

About 10 years ago I developed joint pain for the first time. All of the fingers in my hands, my hips, knees and feet were all stiff and sore and I often woke with puffy bags under my eyes.

I also had mysterious GI symptoms; bloating, gas, very loud rumbling after eating and a change in the consistency of my stool.

All systems said go! So WHY the symptoms?

I went to my MD who performed blood tests and referred me to a GI doctor. The blood work all came back negative for joint diseases and I had a colonoscopy that was clean. I was tested for gluten antibodies and that test came back negative too.

It was recommended that I take antacids and anti-inflammatory drugs. I decided against both, but I was a total loss.


At the same time my sister told me that she had developed a latex allergy and also found out that she was reacting to gluten and was having some of the same symptoms I was.

Even though the gluten antibody blood test came back negative I decided to try stop eating gluten and see what happened. Two weeks later all of my symptoms had decreased dramatically. That is when I became gluten-free.

The concept of looking “upstream” for the cause of symptoms is the underlying premise of Functional Medicine. In traditional Allopathic medicine the most common question is “what” do you have (diagnosis) and what treatment, (usually a drug), can be given for it?

Understanding the why is key.

In Functional Medicine the question is always “why”? Why is my thyroid sluggish? Why is my energy low? Why is my sleep disrupted? Why do I have sugar cravings? Why do my joints hurt? The further upstream you look, the closer you will get to the root cause.

In August of 2022 my joints in my hands started hurting again. At night I was waking up with my fingers so stiff I could not make a fist and it was quite painful. During the day it felt better, but at night it was bad and getting progressively worse. Again I went back to my medical doctor for some bloodwork to rule out an autoimmune condition or other inflammatory state. The tests for autoimmunity came back negative, but there were indicators of inflammation which she was not able to investigate further and had no other answers for me.

I wondered if something I was eating had some hidden gluten in it. I make most of our meals from scratch but had been using a salad dressing and other cooking sauces that could have contained hidden gluten in the form of “modified food starch” or other flavorings. I stopped eating them all but no improvement.

I know that upstream of many if not most chronic health conditions (infections not withstanding) are one of three things: food, stress or toxins, all three of which can affect gut function, which is foundational to our physical and mental health.

Food Sensitivity

I decided to do a food sensitivity blood test on myself and a stool analysis. Food sensitivities are different from classic food allergies that a medical doctor would test for. The Immune system has many different ways of reacting to antigens. Food “sensitivities” will not show up on a traditional allergy test, in fact most medical doctors would say they do not exist but believe me they do!

My food sensitivity test showed my immune system was having a strong reaction to eggs, cow’s milk and goat’s milk, all things I had been eating regularly. My stool analysis test showed that my digestive enzymes were too low and there were also signs of inflammation in the lining of my intestines.

These all could have been the result of eating these foods I was sensitive to, however, it is also possible that even further upstream of this is the effects of stress on digestive function. Stress alone can cause a decrease in stomach acid and other digestive enzymes. Maldigested food can cause imbalances in the natural flora living in our gut as well as causing inflammation which is caused by an overreaction of our immune system, 70% of which is found in the gut lining.

Stress compounds any underlying health condition.

In addition to the stress inherent for us all from the Pandemic, I had been under a great deal of stress since March when we were planning for Dr. Barry’s shoulder surgery and one week before I got Covid and went right from that to running the whole practice and taking care of Barry during his recovery. I was also facing the fact that I was not doing a good enough job of having balance in my personal life and my mindset needed an adjustment.

I made a game plan for myself. I stopped eating eggs and dairy. I decided to take digestive enzymes with my meals for a few months while I was trying to get my system back in balance. I took special gut lining healing supplements for a month to restore the mucosal layer and calm the inflammation. I improved my eating hygiene, slowing down and choosing to “breathe, chew and relax” while eating. I joined a community chorus to bring more singing into my life. I started writing in my journal again. I bought more art supplies to feed my creative soul and got more adjustments from my Chiropractor (Dr. Barry!).

Within 2 weeks my joint pain was 50% better. After 4 weeks the symptoms were gone and I felt more energy and more inspired.

The further upstream we go the more we realize that our mindset and everyday choices are at the crux of our health and wellbeing. Everything we eat, think and do matters. Making changes in these areas is far from simple due to the emotional compensations they serve for us, but this journey upstream to healing is one of the most meaningful ones we can make.

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