Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) is the vicious cousin of Osteoarthritis (OA). Rheumatoid arthritis is often excruciatingly painful, more so than OA. Whereas OA goes about its business of slow degeneration over time making a first appearance after 50 years of age, RA attacks often with no prior warning, afflicting a younger cohort aged between 20 to 40 years. Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) is an auto-immune condition that affects synovial membranes. Synovial membranes surround free-moving joints, secreting fluid that lubricates joints for easy movement. In RA, the synovial membrane becomes inflamed and damaged, the lubricating fluid dries up, causing the joint to become tender and swollen. Diagnosis is usually made via a blood test looking for Rheumatoid Factor and other inflammatory markers.
There are over 80 auto-immune conditions including MS, Ulcerative Colitis and RA. An auto-immune condition is one where the immune system whose role ordinarily, is to defend against outside invaders such as bacteria and viruses, all of a sudden gets its knickers in a knot, and begins to destroy the body’s own tissue or ‘self’. The myelin sheath surrounding nerves in the case of MS, the bowel wall in the case of Ulcerative Colitis and synovial membranes in the case of RA.
- Painful joints. Joints typically involved in RA are those of the fingers, toes, wrists, ankles and knees. Joints are often affected bilaterally, ie both sides of the body.
- Swollen joints.
- The joints can look red and feel hot to touch.
- Nodules may appear on the affected joints.
- As the disease progresses, deformities develop in the joint, causing more pain and restricting movement.
What causes it?
- No one really knows why auto-immune conditions such as RA occur. We do know that there is a strong hereditary component, but why it affects one person and not another is still open to speculation. Any great shock, whether physical such as car accident, or emotional such as divorce or death of a loved one, can unhinge the immune system, unlocking the genetic potential of a disease such as RA.
- Stress is nearly always a factor in the onset of RA.
- Septic loci theory. This is an old medical diagnosis not often mentioned, but every now and then perfectly explains a mysterious condition such as RA. A septic loci is a small encapsulated ball of infection, usually bacterial in nature. This tiny mass is not large enough to cause the full box and dice of fever and chills normally associated with a systemic infection, but it is enough to wear down the immune system, and cause mysterious low-grade symptoms including fatigue, headaches, eczema and sinusitis. In fact, it’s not the infection per se, but the by-products of the bacteria within the capsule that are being released into the bloodstream which offends the immune system. Common pockets of septic loci include tooth abscesses, sinuses, tonsils, appendix and within the bowel. These septic loci can brood for years. In the event of a shock or stress, the immune system will suddenly take umbrage, and instead of brooding, create havoc, attacking it’s own tissue.
- Studies have shown that RA has been linked to prior infections involving a variety of possible suspects including Epstein Barr, rubella and a species of amoeba.
- Food allergy, if not a cause may trigger and aggravate RA. Possible allergens include wheat, corn, dairy and the Solonaceae (tomato) family.
- RA is more common among smokers.
What to do
The goal is to stop pain and inflammation and halt the condition before it causes permanent damage to the affected joints. Many sufferers take cortisone and immune-suppressing drugs to deal with the pain. As always, don’t stop your prescribed medication without first talking to your doctor. Natural remedies can generally be taken in conjunction with your prescribed medication, but check with your practitioner first.
- Go vegan. RA is a full-on disease that requires a full-on therapeutic diet. If you are willing, trial a vegan diet as profound results can be obtained on this admittedly rather restrictive regime. If, after 8 weeks, there are no significant improvements, discontinue, unless you are enjoying other benefits. A vegan diet forgoes all animal products – dairy, fish, eggs, animal flesh – all are verboten. Protein is obtained from legumes, nuts and seeds.
If veganism does not appeal or has not proved helpful, pursue some of the following suggestions. You may notice the dietary recommendations below are the same as for OA. Both conditions involve inflammation, so similar dietary changes will help.
- Eat fish 3 to 4 times a week. The omega 3 fatty acid, EPA, found in fish is anti-inflammatory. Fish containing the most EPA are the fattier fish such as sardines, salmon, mullet, halibut, trout and tuna.
- Reduce acid-forming and increase alkaline-forming foods. Acid-forming foods include grains, meat, sugar, egg yolk and prawns. Alkalising foods include all fruits and vegetables. Vegetable juices are very alkalising as the concentrate all the alkalising minerals. Drink 1 to 2 juices daily. One carrot and ginger juice, and one ‘green’ juice made from all the green vegetables you can find such as beetroot tops, celery, parsley and cucumber.
- Good foods for RA include alfalfa, wheatgrass, watercress, potatoes, yams, celery, parsley, garlic, comfrey, endive, pineapple, bananas, cherries, blackcurrants, mango, kiwi fruit and blueberries.
- Avoid allergens. The tomato is often cited as a culprit in arthritis. The theory about the evils of tomatoes was first promulgated in the 1950s by American, Norman F. Childers. Tomatoes and, to a lesser extent, other members of the Solanaceae family (potatoes, eggplants, chillies, capsicum), contain alkaloids that promote degeneration of the joint, and inhibit repair of mucopolysaccharides. To test whether tomatoes are a problem for you, avoid them completely for one month, then have a tomato fest, with tomatoes at every meal for one day. If your joints are more painful a couple of days after this, chances are tomatoes should be avoided forever. However, if you feel no different by avoiding tomatoes….then they are not a problem for you. The same goes for other potential allergens such as oranges and wheat….if the shoe does not fit, do not wear it.
- Turmeric, the yellow spice has anti-inflammatory properties. If you already love curry, further your passion.
- Various natural substances have the potential to stop the expression of certain genes. If MS (along with many other conditions) is the expression of a gene you don’t want expressed, then taking these substance in food or supplements may prove helpful. These substances include the micronutrients such as zinc and folic acid, and phytochemicals such as EGCG (found in green tea), curcumin (found in turmeric), resveratrol (found in red grapes, peanuts, pistachios, pomegranates, berries) and oligomeric proanthocyanidin complexes (OPCs) from grape seed and maritime pine bark.
You will notice that some of the remedies are the same for OA and RA. Particularly in the case when you are reducing inflammation. RA remedies differ when they are addressing the underlying cause, that is, a defective immune response.
- Fish oil contains the omega 3 fatty acid, EPA, and is brilliant for relieving the symptoms of arthritis. However, you need to take a fair bit, that is, 10 to15mls daily to make an impact. Given the quantity you need to consume, liquid supplementation makes better economic and psychological sense. After all that’s 10 to 15 capsules you need to swallow.
- Herbal remedies that dampen inflammation are useful for RA as for OA. These include ginger, willow bark, devil’s claw, boswellia and turmeric.
- There are several herbs that are useful in any auto-immune condition, including RA. Rather than stimulating the immune response, which you want to avoid when the immune system is hyped up anyway, these herbs help to modulate and regulate immune function. They include echinacea, rehmannia, bupluerum, cat’s claw, and astragalus. A bevy of some of these herbs together with one or more of the anti-inflammatory herbs mentioned above will work well for RA.
- If you suspect a ‘septic loci’ may have been the originating trigger, investigate. Go to the dentist and get that manky tooth pulled if necessary. Even if you can’t locate the loci, it is worthwhile taking some of the antibiotic herbs, many of which are also immune modulating. The herbs include; echinacea, calendula, cat’s claw, baptisia, golden seal. Top these up with a dollop of vitamin C, say 500 mg three times daily.
- Selenium, vitamin D vitamin E, zinc, manganese, potassium, copperand boron have proved to be helpful in the treatment of RA. Take a combination daily.
- Vitamin B9 (Folic acid), in the dosage found in a good B complex can be good to protect against side effects of immune-suppressing medications that are sometimes prescribed for RA.
- Homoeopathic remedies which may offer relief include apis, bryonia and ledum.
- Hot compresses and poultices give immediate relief, so use when pain is bad. Choose from one or more of the following:
- Ginger compresses. Grate a cupful of ginger on the middle of a kitchen wipe or muslin cloth, and fold to form a ginger parcel. Place in a shallow bowl and pour over half a cup of boiling water. Leave until bearably hot. Gently squeeze and place on the painful area, then wrap the body part and parcel with plastic wrap. Wrap again in a towel, then relax and keep warm for twenty minutes before unpeeling.
- Castor oil packs. Heat 3 to 4 tablespoons castor oil, then saturate a face cloth with the oil. Place cloth on the affected area and cover with plastic wrap, then a towel and rest for 30 minutes. Stick a hot water bottle or heating pad over the towel.
- Heat paraffin wax until it is above blood temperature, but not hot enough to burn… up to about 51°C. Dip the affected joint in the warm wax, remove when cooled. The wax may be reused. This treatment is especially good for RA of the hands.
- Acupuncture can be excellent for RA, particularly to relieve the inflammation and improve mobility.
- Gentle exercise is important to maintain mobility of the joints. Choose an activity such as swimming or Tai chi that will not aggravate this painful condition.
- Fall pregnant! The change of hormones during pregnancy often creates a time of remission for auto-immune conditions such as RA.
- Sometimes illness can teach us valuable lessons. Patience for example. RA often affects self-sacrificing, unassertive types. If this sounds like you, perhaps the lesson on this occasion is to voice your needs and stand up for yourself. Go get ‘em, tiger.
- Sometimes, in a ruthless condition like RA, it is well worth pursuing a line of enquiry that may result in cure or cessation of symptoms. If you believe the RA came on after a ‘shock’ to the body or mind, re-examine that event. Treat as if it has just occurred. For example, if the incident was car accident, you may like to try homoeopathic arnica or the Bach flower Star of Bethlehem both indicated for shock. Hypnotherapy or kineisiology may also prove fruitful.
- 4 drops of eucalyptus – analgesic, anti-rheumatic.
- 4 drops of juniper – anti-rheumatic, anti-oxidative, depurative.
- 5 drops of lavender spike – analgesic, decongestant.
- 5 drops of sweet marjoram – analgesic, antispasmodic, diuretic.
To use this wonderful soothing blend, mix with 15ml sweet almond oil and 5 ml St John’s Wort and apply to the affected area as needed. You can also sprinkle 8 drops of the essential oil blend into some cool water and use as a cool compress as needed. Use 10 drops of the essential oil blend in 125 g Epsom salt in a hand, foot or full body bath.
At a glance
- Go vegan. A vegan diet is a plant-based one free of any animal products including dairy and eggs.
- Eat more fish. The omega 3 fatty acid, EPA, found in fish, helps to reduce inflammation. Salmon, sardines, herring, mackeral and tuna.
- Decrease acid-forming foods including grains, sugar and meat. Increase alkalising foods – fruits and vegetables.
- Avoid the solanaceae family – tomatoes, eggplants, capsicum, potatoes, chillies.
- At least 10 to 15 ml of fish oil daily will help with inflammation. The oil is easier and more economical than capsules.
- Herbs for inflammation include ginger, turmeric, willow bark, boswellia.
- Herbs to modulate the immune system include echinacea, rehmannia, cat’s claw and bupleurum
- Hot compresses made with ginger or castor oil may relieve symptoms.
- Try a course of acupuncture for pain relief.
- Keep moving. Gentle exercise to maintain mobility of the joints. Use it or lose it.