There is something you can do to experience relief from your rheumatoid arthritis (RA) right now. If you continue doing it, you can see results in as little as one week. Yes, one week. If you keep it up, some of your symptoms can even start to disappear in as little as 6 months. And if you’re anything like a recent patient of mine and you follow absolutely everything I’m about to tell you, you may be blessed enough to call yourself “cured” one day. Yes, really.
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: What you eat means everything to your health. It determines how you look, feel, and how well you’ll live your life. It also can determine how long you’ll live. But who cares how long they’ll live if it means suffering and being in pain because of an incurable medical condition?
This is especially true with rheumatoid arthritis. Diet has been proven to be one of the causes and cures of this debilitating disease. (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16194694; http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12548439)
Additionally, an interesting association has been recognized over and over in the research (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1005088/?tool=pubmed): individuals with RA seem to have guts that aren’t digesting as they should be and seem to have holes in them, impairing their nutritional status. There also seem to be more bad gut bacteria guys than good, seriously weakening their immune systems and forcing their bodies to self preserve by attacking what’s killing it: itself. Voila, you have an autoimmune disease, which is what RA is.
So, how does one even begin to take on something like this? With some information and some diligence, that’s how. Focus on the following principles:
Research shows following a pesco-vegetarian diet offers significant benefits to those with RA. Such a diet would include fruits, veggies, WHOLE grains, nuts, seeds, fiber, ginger and oily fish. Why go veggie? Animal sources of protein (except fish) contain large amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus and these things promote inflammation, which irritates RA symptoms. Furthermore, a vegetarian diet is often higher in antioxidant content than other diets, and this offers some protection against RA. The studies show that people with RA are consistently low in selenium. (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/4001893) Zinc and Vitamin E are more recently being implicated as well in RA pathology. In general, it has been observed that people with low antioxidant levels in their systems are at the highest risk for developing RA.
Pick Foods That Target Inflammation
Try to include ample servings of cherries, blueberries and blackberries. Why? Because they are high in flavonoid content, which has been shown to alleviate RA symptoms. (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21432698)
Another powerful dietary weapon to include is turmeric. Its anti-inflammatory properties are well documented and research shows it is effective for individuals with RA. (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21717043; http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21369559)
Lastly, fish is an important component of an anti-RA diet that cannot be ignored. The consumption of cold water fish such as sardines, herring, mackerel and salmon results in reduced inflammation because they are so high in eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed?term=Shapiro%20JA%2C%20Koepsell%20TD%2C%20Voigt%20LF%20et%20al.%20Diet%20and%20rheumatoid%20arthritis%20in%20women.%20A%20possible%20protective%20effect%20of%20fish%20consumption.%20Epidemiology%201996%3B%207%3A%20256–263) There is also some research behind flaxseed oil being useful to boost EPA levels, but you would have to limit your omega-6 fatty acids to make this happen. This would mean you would have to stay away from other vegetable oils.
Know The Triggers
Sometimes its more about what you don’t do than what you do that can mean the most. RA would certainly fit that bill. If you go vegetarian, you will have little trouble following the “no” list. But you need to know why certain things are off limits:
- Meat and dairy products: promotes inflammation.
- Sugar: seriously impedes the immune system, which is the last thing an RA individual needs.
- Wheat: promotes inflammation in the gut, whose integrity is not intact, as already discussed. This means no processed foods, refined carbohydrates or fried foods.
- Anything from the Nightshade (Solanum) family: proven to exacerbate the symptoms of RA. This would include tomato, potato, eggplant, peppers and tobacco.
Pinpoint Specific Issues
Food allergies play a big part in the development of RA. (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1004647/?tool=pubmed; http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2805936/?tool=pubmed) We’re not talking about the anaphylactic kind (IgE), but the IgG kind, which slowly work in other parts of the body, silently causing havoc. In general, its a good idea to stay away from anything mentioned above. But the elimination of any allergenic food demonstrates significant beneficial effects in RA patients. Typically a fast or elimination diet is started, then foods are slowly reintroduced back into the diet too see which ones produce symptoms. Any food can be the culprit, but the top ones are wheat, corn and dairy.
Your Biggest Hurdle
If you can master this aspect of RA therapy, the rest is downhill from here. Diet is probably the most powerful factor in natural therapeutic treatment of RA.
These changes can be made to your diet today and will probably save you money since meat will no longer be included in your diet.
I’ve seen these suggestions make dramatic improvements in individuals with RA. Sometimes, it takes time for the improvements to be obvious to the patient. It is for this reason that I recommend keeping a pain log or list of symptoms and rate them before and after the diet is initiated. As the diet continues, I recommend updating the log weekly so that people can see the progress they are making. This really helps people see even the little differences that are happening every day that amount to big differences when put together.
If this is the crux of natural treatment, what more can be done for RA? In our next couple of posts we will discuss herbs, supplements and other naturopathic therapies that put the finishing touches on treating RA.