Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease, meaning that the body mistakenly attacks its own tissues as some sort of foreign invader; in the case of this condition, it is the joints that come under assault. This painful condition can severely interfere with quality of life, and for some people, be quite debilitating. Standard treatment is heavily dependent on the use of drugs to ease inflammation and suppress an overactive immune system; if you are find these treatments leave something to be desired or you would like to depend a little less on them, there are several natural strategies that may provide some symptom relief. It is important, however, to always talk to your doctor before adjusting dosages of medications or stopping them altogether.
Eating an Anti-Inflammatory Diet
Inflammation is a major issue with autoimmune disease—not only will it worsen the symptoms, such as joint pain in this instance, it can wreak havoc on your already out-of-whack immune system, which just makes any condition you have even worse. Inflammation is a complex process and there is no way to completely stop it, but we do have the power to influence it significantly through diet because the foods we eat contribute greatly to the production of chemicals that either promote inflammation or keep it at bay. The good news is, the tenets of an anti-inflammatory diet are basically in line with the general recommendations for healthy eating overall, so you will be receiving numerous other benefits.
Foods that promote inflammation include saturated animal fats, sugar, refined carbohydrates and omega-6 fatty acids– when eaten in excess, which is the case for a typical Western diet. Oils rich in these fats include corn, soy, sunflower and safflower oil. Cook with olive oil instead and read food packages carefully as most packaged convenience foods are prepared with these oils. Fight inflammation with a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids, found in salmon and other oily fish, flaxseed, hempseed and walnuts—these days you can also find many foods fortified with these fats. Large-scale research has found that cultures who consume diets high in omega-3 fatty acids have very low incidences of a variety of autoimmune diseases, with some conditions being almost completely non-existent. This is because these fats contribute to the production of substances that are very powerful in easing the inflammatory response in the body. You also want to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables in a variety of colors since they are loaded with antioxidants—substances that fight inflammation as well as protect from ,and repair, tissue damage.
Considerations for Food Allergies
Another weapon in fighting inflammation is avoiding foods you have may an allergy to; when we think of food allergy, we may think of someone eating an offending food and having their face blow up like a balloon. Food allergies, however, can wreak havoc on the body in numerous ways, often at deeper levels that can affect our overall health, as well as worsen something like an autoimmune disease. Research conducted specifically on people with RA found they had a high presence of antibodies—substances that fight off foreign invaders—for foods such as cow’s milk, gluten (a protein found in wheat and numerous other grains) and eggs.
In recent years, research is finally starting to see the connection between food allergies, immune system function and inflammation for a variety of conditions. If you suspect you have food allergies, you can experiment with an elimination diet where you cut out all potential offenders and then slowly add them back in one at a time at set intervals. To get the most out of experimenting with this approach, you should consider working with a health care professional knowledgeable about food allergies and disease.
Many natural supplements may help ease symptoms of RA, ranging from vitamins to Chinese herbal medicine. Herbs such as turmeric, boswellia, devil’s claw, cat’s claw and ginger all possess powerful anti-inflammatory properties. Other supplements that may help include vitamin E, folic acid, omega-3 fatty acids, GLA and bromelain. Some Chinese herbal remedies for arthritis pain include a mix of topical treatments such as ma chung se and hong hoa oils, as well as supplements like lei gong teng.
The ancient practice of meditation is most closely associated with reducing stress and overall wellness; it appears to be useful for so much more and it may be a powerful strategy in dealing with your RA. Studies support the use of meditation for improving overall quality of life, reducing depression and easing physical symptoms of this condition. One study in particular found that meditation was a particularly powerful tool for RA patients who experienced recurrent depression—they reported receiving significant emotional benefit from the practice as well as alleviation of physical discomfort.