Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is one of two main types of arthritis. The other type is osteoarthritis (OA) which is covered in detail here.
RA is an autoimmune condition - meaning that the immune system attacks the joints of the body, causing pain, inflammation and damage over time. Typically, RA affects the wrists, hands and knees, but it can cause problems in any other joint and even the lungs, eyes and heart. Joints affected by RA become inflamed, painful, red, swollen and eventually they can become misshapen from the ongoing damage caused by the disease.
It’s unknown what exactly causes the body’s immune system to be triggered into RA, but there are a handful of known risk factors that include:
Female gender: Women are 2-3x more likely to develop RA than men.
Obesity:The more obese, the higher the risk of developing RA.
Smoking:Smokers and children of smokers are at higher risk of developing RA.
Age: Chances of developing RA increase with age, especially over the age of 60.
Genetics: there are certain genes (human leukocyte antigen class II genotypes) that can predispose and or worsen RA in people that carry them.
RA directly affects the linings of the insides of joints, known as the synovial tissue. Over time the inflammatory damage causes painful swelling, stiffness and joint destruction.In its early stages, the beginnings of RA may show up as fatigue and a slight fever before joint signs appear.Once the joints become involved, they can be painful, swollen, red and stiff.RA may only be limited to one set of joints, or several. It can remain mild or it may flare up from time to time, for an extended period.
Diagnosing RA can be challenging initially.Different Autoimmune diseases often share many similar symptoms and even blood tests.This is why a person will undergo several different types of tests and imaging before a diagnosis can be made, especially in the early stages of the disease.
Treating Rheumatoid Arthritis
Conventional treatment of RA involves a variety of powerful medications ranging from non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen, steroids like prednisone, methotrexate, hydroxychloroquine and a variety of “biologic” medicines (Humira, Enbrel, etc) with some serious side effects like heart problems, liver damage, serious infections and even certain cancers.
While RA can be an extremely limiting condition to bear, we encourage our patients in clinic to adopt a whole-body approach in order to balance immune function and minimize the inflammatory effects of RA.
Food Sensitivity Testing Identifying and eliminating food sensitivities is an important first step in dealing with RA, or any other autoimmune disease.By consuming foods that the body is sensitive to, this can tip the immune system into imbalance and possibly set up autoimmunity.Food sensitivities can create inflammation throughout the body.You can easily test for food sensitivities using this kit at home.
Identify and Treat Leaky Gut Syndrome In short,Leaky gut syndrome is a condition that may contribute to the development of RA and other autoimmune conditions.Leaky gut is a condition where the digestive process is incomplete, and certain food proteins and or bacteria can “leak” beyond the gut and cause immune system issues throughout the body.Here’s more detailed information about leaky gut here.
Maintain the basics- Eat a healthy, nutritious diet (after removing food sensitivities).Regular, low impact exercise as long as it’s tolerated.Ongoing stress management through meditation and exercise.Taking care to get good sleep. Each of these are very important in maintaining overall health and most importantly a balanced immune response.
Natural medicines - several natural compounds can help minimize inflammation and balance the immune system in RA.
Vitamin D: Many studies note the relationship between low/inadequate levels of vitamin D in the blood and the occurrence and severity of autoimmune diseases like RA and lupus.Maintaining adequate blood levels of vitamin D may improve RA.
Natural anti-inflammatories like Curcumin, Boswellia, Bromelain, Devil’s Claw and Ginger can help limit the inflammation, pain, stiffness and swelling of RA, without the side effects of powerful RA drugs.Curcumin is one of the most powerful natural anti-inflammatory medicines available, while the others can be found in combination in Cell Rescue. Probiotics are healthy, beneficial bacteria that are typically used to treat aspects of gut health.Interestingly there have been positive clinical trials in people with RA that have shown their ability to improve the disease on several levels.This also provides another link between improving gut health (leaky gut) and RA.
Fish oilis a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids, which have very powerful anti-inflammatory effects as well.Similar to the other natural anti-inflammatories we mentioned, omega-3 fats have a positive benefit on RA, namely they limit joint inflammation and pain and can even halt the development of the disease in experimentally-induced RA in animals.
Lastly, there is some evidence that supplementing with collagen can also help relieve the pain of arthritis. Since this is a disease affecting the collagen in our bodies, it makes some sense that by providing the body with the raw materials to grown collagen, it might be able to help.
Note: A Last Word on Immune-Boosting Supplements
Oftentimes people will try to assist their immune system by taking “immune boosting” herbs and supplements. However this is NOT the approach to take in rheumatoid arthritis (or any other autoimmune condition). The immune system is already “boosted” in autoimmunity, and it’s being driven to fight against the body. Taking immune boosters will certainly aggravate RA as they can drive the immune system into more activity.
We encourage a whole-health approach to minimizing arthritis symptoms by first looking at the diet, gut health, and using natural medicines which can effectively limit the pain, inflammation and long-term damage that results from rheumatoid arthritis. Conventional drug therapies come with a hefty amount of serious side effects - try a natural approach first to see how much you can help the disease before using these powerful medications!