Do You Have Rheumatoid Arthritis?
What are the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, do you know? They are similar to osteoarthritis but tend to be more severe in nature. How do you get rheumatoid arthritis? (RA) these questions and more are all answered on my most comprehensive page of this disease, which can be a terrifying diagnosis for some. RA is an autoimmune disease, conditions which are essentially characterised by a malfunction of the immune system. In a healthy person, the body recognises itself from anything foreign, but for reasons “unknown to science”, in auto-immunity the immune system launches an attack on healthy tissue as if the tissue were a foreign body.
In rheumatoid arthritis, tissue in the joints such as ligament, tendons, muscle, is attacked and becomes inflamed. Resulting symptoms include painful and inflamed joints, especially the small joints in the hands and feet), fatigue and stiffness. Rheumatoid arthritis exists in about 1 percent of the population worldwide and affects women two to three times more often than men.
Before I go into describing a lot more about RA, it is important to define this condition a little more. Rheumatoid arthritis is a form of arthritis that affects the tissues surrounding the joints (peri-articular), the synovial membranes (tissues covering the joint capsule) and the actual cartilage of the joints. The condition generally has a symmetrical distribution, meaning it will show on both sides of the body in symmetry. RA on most occasions will affect the smaller joints of the body such as the fingers and wrists, although it may affect the larger joints as well but less commonly in my experience. People who develop RA at younger ages also seem to get worse more quickly.
In the acute stages of RA, the joint lesions may be associated with slight fever, sweating and enlargement of the
spleen as well as an increase in white blood cells (leucocytosis). In the more advanced and later stages you will generally find deformity ranging from mild and discomfort right through to destruction of the joints and much pain.
The Rheumatoid Arthritis Patient is often the Last Resort Patient
We tend to see many RA patients in a naturopathic practice, as many find no joy at the doctor’s surgery. I have seen an increasing amount of women presenting in my clinic with this most uncomfortable condition; unwilling to stay “for life” on steroids and drugs like methotrexate (used in chemotherapy). RA patients are pain patients, and they come in looking for pain relief mainly. It is important to remember that RA is NOT a disease of just the joints, like Osteoarthritis,
Rheumatoid Arthritis Causes
The causes of RA is still largely unknown to conventional medicine. Isn’t it amazing how auto-immune conditions appear to have “no known cause” according to doctors? What a load of nonsense, of course they have a cause, the problem is that the cause has not been established and the condition is placed conveniently in the “too hard basket”, and we all know what happens next – out come the drugs for life.
A little later on we discover that back in 1936 an article in the British Medical Journal appeared which claimed that rheumatoid arthritis was primarily as the result of a (hidden) infection. I find this a most likely explanation, and in my experience I have seen many cases improve significantly finally once the infection (such as root canals, low-grade gallbladder infection, infected diverticulitis or a “grumbling” appendix, diseased tonsils, etc) was uncovered and dealt with. Conventional medical tends to be quick to diagnose a condition such as RA, and then the treatment is purely focused on eliminating the symptoms – almost always for life. An RA patient remains an RA patient, end of story. It has always been my belief that if you shine a light in the RA darkness where nobody has looked before, then you will most likely discover something of great value – the cause. And there will be a cause, the problem is that nobody looks there because the room (the body) is too big and it takes too much time.
The body’s immune system normally fights off foreign substances, like viruses. But in an autoimmune disease such as rheumatoid arthritis, the immune system confuses healthy tissue for foreign substances. As a result, the body attacks itself. We do know that some parts of the body are attacked like the articular cartilage and joints by cells of the immune system. Viruses and bacteria are triggered by this disease similar to the way they are in conditions like rheumatic fever. Some researchers are even studying the relationship between periodontal diseases and rheumatoid arthritis.
Rheumatoid Arthritis Symptoms
The most important Rheumatoid arthritis symptoms are pain in the joints; stiffness felt in the morning for quite a few hours; fatigue and tiredness or even fever. Patients also face reduction of appetite and rapid weight reduction.
Rheumatoid Arthritis usually begins gradually with: weakness and fatigue, loss of appetite, morning stiffness (lasting more than 1 hour) and widespread muscle aches.
Eventually, the joint pain appears. When the joint is not used for a while, it can become warm, tender, and very stiff. When the lining of the joint becomes inflamed, it gives off more fluid and the joint starts to become swollen. Joint pain is often felt on both sides of the body (called bilateral), and may commonly affect the fingers, wrists, elbows, shoulders, hips, knees, ankles, toes, and neck.
Additional Rheumatoid Arthritis Symptoms
- Anaemia due to failure of the bone marrow to produce enough new red blood cells
- Eye burning, itching, and discharge
- Hand and feet deformities
- Limited range of motion
- Low-grade fever
- Lung inflammation (sometimes pleurisy)
- Nodules under the skin (usually a sign of more severe disease)
- Numbness or tingling
- Skin redness or inflammation
- Swollen glands
In some severe cases of rheumatoid arthritis, joint destruction may occur within 1-2 years after the appearance of the disease. This is a very cruel disease, and the trick is to get in early with treatment if you are considering natural medicine. Is it possible for natural medicine to successfully help those with this awful disease? Yes it is indeed – but as I said, you need to begin early on because once the joint deformation and destruction occurs all we can do is offer a degree of relief from the inflammation.
Rheumatoid Arthritis Can Cause Vasculitis
Unlike osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis is an auto-immune inflammatory illness which can affect you systemically (many structures and tissues located throughout the body) Just as the misguided immune system targets the joint tissue, it can also turn nasty on your blood vessels. This inflammation of blood vessels is called vasculitis, and is particularly dangerous because these damaged and inflamed blood vessels carry blood throughout your body: to your brain, lungs, skin, kidneys, heart … that’s right, just about everywhere. Because of this reason, rheumatoid arthritis is not just an arthritis affecting your joints, but it is known as a “systemic” disease.
Rheumatoid vasculitis is a serious, potentially life-threatening complication of RA. It can lead to skin ulcerations (as in the image to the left) and infections, bleeding stomach ulcers, and nerve problems that cause pain, numbness, or tingling. Worst case scenario, vasculitis may also affect the brain, nerves, and heart, which can cause stroke, heart attack, or heart failure.
RA may cause the the outer lining of the heart to swell (pericarditis) and cause heart complications. Inflammation of the heart muscle, called myocarditis, can also develop. Both of these conditions can lead to congestive heart failure.
Unfortunately, the strong pharmaceutical drug treatments for rheumatoid arthritis can also cause serious side effects.
Conventional Rheumatoid Arthritis Treatments
There are several different types of pharmaceutical drugs which your doctor may prescribe if you are diagnosed with RA signs and symptoms. Your doctor will most probably refer you to a rheumatologist (a medical doctor who specialises in diseases of the musculoskeletal system) who will determine which drugs to prescribe based on the severity of your case of RA. You will be told that “RA requires lifelong treatment, including medications (drugs), physical therapy, exercise, education, and possibly surgery and that early, aggressive treatment for RA can delay joint destruction”. I beg to differ, naturally, and would like to show you that there are other options for treatment of this sometimes crippling disease. There is no doubt – you have to get in early as there is no use in trying to reverse a condition like this once severe joint destruction takes place.
There are several factors can determine whether a particular drug will work for you, including how much pain and stiffness you feel, how advanced your RA is and how you respond to the different types of drugs. Sometimes your Rheumatologist will deem it necessary for you to be on several drugs at once, or to switch drug treatments from time to time.
The targets and effects of all kinds of drugs are not same. The prescription of DMARDs is included with cortisone or cortisone free anti inflammatory drugs. Modern concepts of treatment of rheumatism are characterised by the fact that different methods are combined. Compilation of therapies of various diseases and situations help to provide better treatment. Rheumatoid surgery is established as a branch of Orthopaedics. This surgery is mainly done by the doctors who are specialised in heavy and severe joints changes for the rheumatic disease.The synovial membrane – the inner layer of the capsule – is the actual location of the disease. It can affect the entire course if you want to remove this with the help of surgeries. Depending on the anatomy of the affected joint significant reduction of the diseased tissue usually has a soothing effect. Rheumatoid arthritis symptoms should not be neglected. Rheumatoid arthritis must be treated in shorter period of time as it is very dangerous.
I have compiled a list of the most commonly prescribed RA drugs. In drug based rheumatoid arthritis treatments, four main groups of medications are identified:
- Analgesics and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs NSAID (painkillers)
- Glucocorticoids (Steroids)
- Anti-rheumatic drugs (anti-malarial drugs)
- Biologic agents
Analgesics and NSAIDS
These are the anti-inflammatory medications and include aspirin and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as Voltaren and ibuprofen. Although NSAIDs work well, long-term use can cause stomach problems, such as ulcers and bleeding, and even increase your risk of a stroke or developing heart problems. NSAID packaging now even carry a warning label to alert those who use them of an increased risk of a heart attack or stroke and gastrointestinal bleeding.
Cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2) inhibitors: These drugs block an inflammation-promoting enzyme called COX-2. This class of drugs was initially believed to work as well as traditional NSAIDs, but with fewer stomach problems. However, numerous reports of heart attacks and stroke have prompted the authorities to re-evaluate the risks and benefits of the COX-2s. Celecoxib (Celebrex) has been taken off the market in NZ but is still available in some countries labelled with strong warnings and a recommendation that it be prescribed at the lowest possible dose for the shortest possible duration. Probably a bit like going to Iraq on holidays, you do it at your own risk.
Many patients I have seen know plenty about the damaging effects steroids such as Prednisone and Hydrocortisone, and these drugs are the things that side-effect nightmares are made of. A doctor will typically start with a higher dosage such as 40 or even 60 mg, and over a period of time reduce the dosage (as the pain and inflammation decrease) down to 5 mg of Prednisone. These medications work very well (too well in fact) to reduce joint swelling and inflammation. But due to the potential long-term side effects, corticosteroids should be taken only for the shortest possible time and in the lowest doses possible. I think they have their place (down the toilet in my opinion) but for some patients they are a real godsend when the pain is that bad that it sends them through the roof. You call me cynical? Well, I have seen enough patients who have suffered seriously long-term from the side effects of steroid medications.
Anti Rheumatic Drugs
This class or drugs is also known as Disease Modifying Anti-rheumatic Drugs (DMARDs). This group of medicines includes hydroxychloroquine (Plaquenil) and sulfasalazine (Azulfidine), and is usually used in combination with methotrexate. Methotrexate is the most commonly used DMARD for rheumatoid arthritis. It may be weeks or even months before you see any benefit from these medications. Side effects can be as bad as severe eye problems like glaucoma or even blindness. Unfortunately, just like steroids (but even more so) these drugs are associated with toxic side effects, so you will need frequent blood tests when taking them. This class is drugs probably the current “standard of care” for RA, in addition to rest, strengthening exercises, and the anti-inflammatory drugs.
Now we are getting quite specific and are starting to modify the immune system’s response towards the inflammation. This to me is the ultimate in ridiculous – there is pain, but let’s “switch off” the body’s pain control mechanism. This is very much like ignoring the red light flashing on the dashboard of your car when there is a mechanical problem, and in fact we are now placing a piece of black tape over the light in order to not distracted by it.
We have two main groups, one group involves specific white blood cell modulators which are prescribed which in effect control inflammation. These drugs include:
- Orencia (abatacept) – Given under the skin (subcutaneously) or into a vein (intravenously) once a month. This drug educes the number of T-cells (a type of white blood cell).
- Rituxan (rituximab) – Given under the skin or into a vein twice a year. Reduces the number of B-cells (a types of white blood cell).
The second group of biologic agents are the tumour necrosis factor (TNF) inhibitors: This class of medications block a protein in the body involved in creating inflammation. They are given under the skin or directly into a vein and include:
- adalimumab (Humira)
- etanercept (Enbrel)
- infliximab (Remicade)
Drugs do work but at a huge cost
There is no doubt about it, drug treatments for rheumatoid arthritis has come a long way. But so have the associated side effects. For most patients, an ongoing course of medication can control all the symptoms and essentially put the disease into remission. The leading treatments today are DMARDs, or disease modifying anti-rheumatic drugs.
The treatment is a success but the patient suffers even more
I can remember reading an article sometime ago how doctors were so excited when steroids were first used in medical practice. In the 1950’s a lady with rheumatoid arthritis was the first successfully treated case in America as far as steroids in practice was concerned. She was injected with a very strong dose of prednisone and literally within a day experienced an incredible improvement and almost complete relief of all pain. The doctors were absolutely delighted, and steroids were used on all manner of painful and inflammatory cases at the drop of a hat. This is similar to when antibiotics were first used in medical practice, and doctors treated every patient with antibiotics. They were even available at your local garage, corner shop and every conceivable retail outlet. That was until the side effects became apparent, then they were removed from retail and placed in the hands of doctors. Remember when heroin was used for coughs? Cocaine was also popular and even cannabis was commonly prescribed at the turn of the century. Today we know better, but we still allow patients to be prescribed with all manner of toxic preparations which can cause massive side effects and can even contribute to their death.
As far as the medical profession is concerned, rheumatoid arthritis is not the same disease as it was 20 years ago – of course not, we are just throwing stronger and more refined drugs at the problem. In my opinion, this is exactly what happened recently to create the biggest financial fiasco in recent history – we kept throwing money at debt and the whole system almost collapsed. People for many years were taking on huge mortgages and creating lots of stress on themselves and the whole establishment. Insurmountable debt led us to the point of the great financial crisis in the early part of the 21st century, and I believe that a continual reliance on stronger and stronger drugs will lead conventional western medicine down the same path of self-destruction.
The medical opinion is to treat early and aggressively and hope the problem goes away because the patient remains a-symptomatic (appears to be free of symptoms). But what about the underlying mechanisms causing the auto-immune inflammation in the first place, what have we done here? We have ignored the cause and just conveniently treated the symptoms and the patient is going to think we are God. That is until the side effects become apparent, and more drugs then need to be prescribed to counter these effects. More drugs = more toxicity = more long term health problems. This is what brought Wall Street to its knees, and it is what will eventually bring drug based medicine to its knees likewise – ignorance, a blind arrogance and the search for the holy grail – “disease remission”.
Here is the opinion of Dr. Yusuf Apparentlyhe New York University Hospital for Joint Disease. “You don’t see people with crippled hands and feet, and the number of joint replacement surgeries continues to decrease. There used to be 10 patients in a hospital at any given time with uncontrolled rheumatoid arthritis—we have very, very few now. We have come to the realisation that we had to treat patients early in the disease, and aggressively.”
Apparentely, the most successful surgeries appear to be those performed on the knees and hips and the first surgical treatment is called a “synovectomy”, which is the removal of the joint lining (synovium).
I have seen some elderly patients who have had a total joint replacement with a joint prosthesis and only in the most extreme cases, a total knee or hip replacement for some RA sufferers can mean the difference between being totally dependent on others and having an independent life at home.
Regular Tests Are Best
It makes good sense to have regular blood tests to determine how well any medications are working and if these powerful drugs are causing any side effects. For this reason, regular blood and urine tests may be called for. If your doctor has not authorised any tests for some time – and you are taking drugs like the ones I have described above, then do make sure you have blood tests performed at least once every six months. Your liver and kidneys are at stake if you don’t!
RA differs from person to person. People with a combined rheumatoid factor, the anti-CCP antibody as well as subcutaneous (under the skin) nodules seem to have a more severe form of RA. Because RA may cause eye complications, you probably should be have regular eye exams as well.
A specific blood test is available for diagnosing RA and distinguishing it from other types of arthritis. It is called the anti-CCP antibody test. Other tests that may be done include:
- Complete blood count
- C-reactive protein
- Erythrocyte sedimentation rate
- Joint ultrasound or MRI
- Joint x-rays
- Rheumatoid factor test (positive in about 75% of people with symptoms)
- pathology fluid analysis
Eric’s 4-Step Rheumatoid Arthritis Program
My comprehensive RA article has reviewed a number of promising alternatives for the prevention and treatment of RA. Although additional research into the most effective natural treatments for RA needs to be done, some of the treatments discussed on my page appear to be as effective as, and even better tolerated than conventional RA drug therapy.
In addition, preliminary evidence (such as the persistence of improvement after treatment is discontinued, and positive findings such as X-ray, blood tests for inflammatory markers and improved biopsy findings) suggests some of these treatments may even help to arrest or even reverse the RA arthritis disease process.
The trick with RA and natural medicine is to get in early. What is the point of trying to reverse theoloy when it in its’ severest form, like a major deformity of the hand and fingers? Why is it that many people with RA that I have seen see the naturopath as the “last resort” when in fact we should be the first port of call, before the decision has been made to embark on many years of suppressive and “disease modifying” drugs?
You are thinking: “Can I cure my rheumatoid arthritis? I prefer never use this four letter word in my clinic, and nor should any doctor. What we are looking for folks is a vastly improved quality of life, whether you are “cured” or not is not the point. Look at improving every facet of your diet and lifestyle and you will be pleasantly surprised to see that you most probably will be able to manage your condition without drugs or surgery. I know this to be a fact because I’ve been helping patients in this field for many years, some don’t improve but many do and some even remarkably to the point where they are living virtually normal lives.
Rheumatoid Arthritis From The British Medical Journal (1936)
I enjoy reading old medical journals and books containing articles republished from older journals. These were written in the days before pharmaceutical dominance in medicine as we now know it to be today. Here is an extract from the book entitled ” Treatment In General Practice II, Articles Form The British Medical Journal”
The article is entitled “Rheumatoid and Climacteric Arthritis” By Dr. F.G. Thompson, M.A, M.D., F.R.C.P
“Valuable time is too often lost by perfuctory treatment with so-called anti-rheumatic drugs, while the patient is allowed, or even encouraged, to carry on the ordinary avocations of life.
The indications all point to the fact that rheumatoid arthritis is due to some focus of streptococcal infection which requires removal or treatment as soon as possible. In many cases, there is some obvious focus is diseased teeth or tonsils; in others the disease follows puerperal sepsis. Where the source is not obvious, careful investigation must be made of the gastro-intestinal tract, gall-bladder, urinary tract, prostrate, and uterus with a view to appropriate treatment of any infcetive conditions.
Achlorhydria (a very underactive stomach and/duodenum) is present in over 20 percent of cases, and in such chronic intestinal infection is unlikely. An infected gallbladder is probably a more common cause than is usually realised. Removal of bile through the duodenal tube may well show that the gall-bladder is a “carrier” of streptococci, though the patient may not necessarily have any definite symptoms of cholecystitis (an inflamed gall-bladder). If it is necessary to remove a number of diseased teeth, this should be done gradually to avoid the risk of a violent reaction in the joints.”
The X-ray below is that from a woman in her late 40’s with rheumatoid arthritis. She is a patient of our practice and in addition has had sinusitis for over ten years. Not the small round white ball (focal infection) positioned on top of her front tooth. This tooth must be extracted and the infection dealt with before we can expect a resolution in both her sinus and her rheumatoid arthritis. Do you have any root canals or diseased or “suspect” teeth? Then please deal with them sooner rather than later. I personally suffered terribly with sinusitis for almost seven years until I had a root canal extracted, and have been free from sinusitis ever since. Do YOU have any suspect teeth, teeth that have had a root canal performed on them, or perhaps teeth that are sensitive? If you do, and in addition you have an auto-immune illness (and remember – the doctors can’t find any cause here) then you would do well to act while you can and have the tooth extracted.
Are you a flexible person? Are you as stiff as a plank and unwilling to change? Is the stiffness in your character, literally creating stiffness in your body? In my clinical experience, some RA patients are argumentative stiff in their approach to life, unyielding and unable to change or accept change in their lives. Are you resisting inevitable change in your life? Loosen up! Say to yourself: “I expect change, and I will bend with this change and am willing to change my approach when needed and won’t hold steadfast to all my beliefs and opinions” Be like bamboo – stay strong, yet have the ability to bend and flex easily if the wind comes up from nowhere. That way you won’t break when challenged.
Do you immediately “get your back up” when your routine is changed? Are you willing to drop things as required and help others out? Are you grumpy, irritable, dogmatic, argumentative and generally not that much fun to be around? That is my experience with the average RA patient. Ask you friends and family if you fit into this mold, if you do – then it’s time to change. Smile and the whole world smiles with you. Cry and you cry alone.
Eric’s 4 Main Points to Look at with Rheumatoid Arthritis are:
- Never stop being active. Rest is rust, move it or loose it!
- Continually strive to Improve your diet and lifestyle. Be flexible enough to change. Inflexibility = pain.
- The “three R’s” Reduce pain & inflammation, Regenerate joint cartilage, Resurrect surrounding bone tissue
- Use natural medicines instead of drugs for pain. Get into Vitamin C and start building strong connective tissue.
1. – Use Your Body or Lose It
Walk, don’t run. As you get older, it becomes easier to become more complacent about activity. It is easier to watch television than to go outside for a walk, have you noticed? A range of motion exercises are very important to increase circulation and reduce stiffness. With rheumatoid arthritis, you should avoid exercising a joint that is inflamed or “hot,” but even in these cases these joints can be gently moved along their range of motion. Swimming is a particularly good exercise for people with all forms of arthritis. Personally, I am NOT a big fan of running or jogging, even though it is not associated with degenerative joint disease, you might like to consider walking as an alternative form of exercise if you experience any joint pain during or after jogging. I find it quite hard on the body, and prefer brisk walking, especially uphill. I walk daily with my wife at a beautiful nature reserve close to where I live, we take our dog and I really enjoy the experience. It is important not to overdo any exercise, but don’t under do it either.
Weight loss. Are you carrying too much weight? This is a BIG issue with osteoarthritis as well as rheumatoid arthritis. How can you expect no knee or back pain if you are overweight? One of the first things a person tells me who has lost a lot of weight is that their back and knees don’t hurt that much anymore. Funny that. I should have a bag of two of potatoes in my room, and hand them to the person who has lost that amount of weight, they would be shocked to see how much their joints hurt at once.
Pool walking. Do you have any pain which may be preventing you from walking? – Then try pool walking, that’s right, walking in a pool waist or chest deep. It works, and is a lot less painful than walking without all that water supporting your body. I don’t like excuses, sorry, I have heard them all before, like “I can’t swim” or “the water is too cold”. Remember about being flexible? I’ m not interested in hearing you moan, what I am interested in is that you at least give it your best effort, and to work inside your pain threshold. Try to exercise 15-20 minutes a day, five days a week. On the weekends go outside, a beach walk for a few miles going barefoot in the sand is particularly beneficial for your spine and hips. The fresh air will do you good too. Rest is rust, you simply MUST engage in life to remain fit and well as the years roll by.
Rheumatoid Arthritis Hand Therapy
When I think of RA, I immediately think of the hands, wrists and affected fingers. We often take these body parts for granted but for those with RA they are very much aware of the limitations faced on a daily basis. How difficult it can be just to open a jar, to brush one’s hair or even to drive a car for others. Here are a few hand exercises which are sure to be of benefit, and for those with rheumatoid arthritis affecting the fingers, hands and wrists, I have found the following 6 hand exercises to be particularly beneficial. The trick naturally is to do them every day, and if you do then you will find that things can improve rather rapidly!
- Flat-Hand Finger Lifts: This is a simple RA exercise. Start by placing your hands flat on a table and begin by trying to gently raise each finger off the table, one by one. Go easy and gently to start, and pick up the pace when you can do so. Unless there is a lot of deformity, there will not be a lot of strain on the finger and hand and it is a marvelous way to stretch those tiny ligaments and tendons.
- Folding Fingers: This is another excellent exercise. Slowly draw your fingers down into the palm of your hand like you are making a loose fist, then slowly open your hand and repeat several times. You may like to to theice this under the shower or in a warm bath. You can also gently squeeze a heated wheat bag to warm your hands first.
- Finger Walking: Here is a neat exercise to determine the grip strength, and to regularly test how strong your grip strength is. Put a small hand towel or dish cloth on your table, position your hand slightly cupped above the towel (thumb & fingers down) and gently “walk” your thumb and fingers towards yourself, whilst pulling and squeezing the towel up and into the palm of your hand. Do this regularly, you will become aware of how your grip strength is going.
- Thumb to Base of Little Fingers: It is important for you to be able to determine how your grip strength is developing, or whether it is declining. Each day, try to touch the tip of your thumb to the tip of your little finger. This is an important exercise to do if you want to be able to keep your grip of objects strong, such as your hairbrush.
- Finger Spreading: All you need to do here is to bring the fingers close together, and then spread them further apart, just like when you are putting on a set of gloves. Also try to separate the thumb away from the hand when you do this exercise.
- Finger Pinching: One of the hardest things to do for many with RA is simply to pick up small objects by pinching the thumb and forefinger together. A simple job like tying shoelaces or even doing up a button can be a nightmare for some. A simple yet most beneficial thing for you to do is to move your thumb and touch it your index finger and pinch, and then pinching your thumb to the tip of each of your fingers, one at a time and in order is a very effective exercise. Thumb to index finger, thumb over activity finger, then the thumb to the side of index finger and finally the thumb to the little finger are the key pinches of this RA exercise.
2. Improve the Digestion and Calm the Immune System
Rheumatoid arthritis, unlike osteoarthritis, is an auto-immune condition. This means that your immune system is attacking the tissues and it pays to calm any under activity of the immune system as first line of natural treatment in my opinion. Your digestion needs improving as well, you don’t want any leaky gut syndrome to be affecting your immune system either, and this will need repairing promptly.
Optimise digestion. Your digestive system needs to be operating very well in order to break down and absorb the nutrients you need to repair and rebuild that cartilage around your arthritic joints which is failing you. If you are over 40, creeping up to fifty or older, then go on a course of Digestive Enzymes. You may well have an underactive stomach and small intestine, something we commonly see with RA patients.
Throw out the trash first. The first port of call with your diet is to throw out the trash, that is, the obvious junk and garbage you KNOW you shouldn’t be eating or drinking. This includes alcohol, chocolates, sweets and candies, willnkies and other such garbage foods like donuts, etc. You know they are bad, why eat them?Detoxification is a worthwhile regime. Annual detoxification is clever and ensures that you optimise your digestion and elimination pathways in the body. (your liver, kidneys and skin) You may want to consider a simple, effective and very inexpensive ten-day option. It is very popular in our clinic and targets the target organs, in particular your liver, kidneys and skin and will have you feeling refreshed and clean.
Avoid the allergy potential foods secondly. As I mentioned earlier, stop the allergenic foods FIRST, and before you do this stop the nightshade group of vegetables in your diet. How can you expect to get well from a disease which is causing your joints to fail, if you fail to improve your digestive system? Start following this dietary regime in order to remove any possible allergens challenging your immune system. Just do it.
Avoid the highest allergic foods for at least 6 months. It makes sound common sense for you to avoid ALL of the most allergenic foods for several months. but why you ask? Because RA is an auto-immune disease, unlike osteoarthritis which is the wear and tear arthritis. The most allergenic foods are dairy products (except butter and natural sour yoghurt), all wheat/ gluten foods, bananas, oranges (the recipe below is permissible, Ted’s Natural Arthritis Remedy), chocolate.
Alkalise the body
An old folk remedy for arthritis is to drink raw potato juice. To make it, wash a potato (don’t peel it), cut in into thin slices, place it in a glass of cold water, and leave it overnight. Drink this water in the morning on an empty stomach. Another trick, especially good with inflammatory arthritis, is to juice a small whole potato each day and drink the juice. It is very alkaline and appears to have a most beneficial effect in those who have had a diet rich in breads, meats, alcohol and other acid forming foods. Cabbage juice will give a similar effect. Some evidence suggests that magnesium bicarbonate (1.5 liters of magnesium bicarbonate-containing water per day for at least six weeks) may cause the remission of osteoarthritis (by counteracting the acidosis (acidity) that may cause osteoarthritis). Please try Ted’s Natural Arthritis Remedy below, it is a superb alkaliser.
Eat anti-inflammatory foods. These include tumeric, ginger and particularly pineapple. Pineapple when eaten fresh regularly will supply the body with bromelain, an enzyme which is excellent for reducing inflammation. To be effective, the pineapple must be fresh, because canning and freezing affects sulphurain.
Eat more Sulphur containing foods. Sulphur containing foods include asparagus, eggs, garlic, and onions. Sulfur is required for the repair and rebuilding of bone, cartilage and connective tissues in the body, and aids in the absorption of calcium. Other good foods to eat are green leafy fresh vegetables, containing high levels of Vitamin K as well as non-acidic fresh fruits (apart from pineapple which is acceptable), whole grains, oatmeal, brown rice, quinoa, and fish.
Eat more fibre containing foods.
Get those bowels moving, eat foods high in fibre such as ground flaxseeds, LSA mix (linseed, sunflower and almond ground up), oat bran or rice bran. Dr. Alan Gaby, America’s past president of the Holistic Medical Association, once said to me the “small stools – big hospitals, big stools – small hospitals”. You get the picture.
Experiment with taking the nightshade family of foods out of your diet.
With osteoarthritis I’m not that convinced, but with RA you may want to try this: take peppers (capsicum), eggplant, potato, tomatoes) from you diet for 3 months to see if that makes a difference. This class of foods contains a substance known as solanine, to which some people (purportedly those with RA) are highly sensitive to. Solanine can interfere with enzymes in the muscles and may cause pain and discomfort for some. Worth a try.
Yoghurt can help prevent and heal rheumatoid arthritis. probiotics (friendly) bacteria found in yogurt offers “remarkable preventive and curative” effects on arthritis, say Israeli researchers in a study published in the Journal of Nutrition. Because lactobacillus has already demonstrated beneficial effects in other inflammatory diseases such as inflammatory bowel disorders, researchers thought it might also lessen the inflammation of arthritis. To find out, they ran two groups of animal experiments. In both sets of experiments, laboratory animals fed the yogurt with large amounts of lactobacilli had the least amount of arthritic inflammation, while those fed plain yogurt experienced only moderate inflammation. The animals that received just lactobacillus, even heat-killed lactobacillus, also showed significant benefit. Milk, however, had no effect. So impressed were the researchers with the study’s results that they recommended trials using commercial yogurts containing lactobacilli in arthritic patients!
An auto-immune disease like RA provides yet another reason not to smoke. The link between rheumatoid arthritis and cigarette smoking is not yet fully known, but many there are many studies which provide evidence that long-term smoking can contribute significantly to the immune system’s malfunctioning and worsen rheumatoid arthritis. If you smoke cigarettes as well as drink alcohol as well then you are really placing stress on your immune system by creating lots of oxidative stress. This most likely explains why smoking is associated with increased activity and severity of the disease, and it also explains why conventional medicine has not really conquered auto-immune disease. Why? because the cure does not lie in putting out fires, it lies in making sure they don’t get started in the first place. The cause needs to be established when you have a disease on “no known cause” like RA – there is always a cause, and the best place is to start with a little housekeeping – stop alcohol and cigarettes in you can started to develop a crippling illness like RA.
3. Pain Management and Reduction
Hydrate Your Body. Hydrotherapy is very effective in many cases for pain relief. By stimulate circulation in the affected areas through taking a hot shower or bath, then turning on the cold water, you are improving the blood flow and reducing stiffness to the arthritic areas. Repeat the warm, and then a hot cycle and then return to the tepid and cold cycle. If your hands, knees or feet are the primary sources of pain, you can place them in a tub or sink of hot and then cold water. Another alternative is to place a hot pack on a specific area and alternate with a cold pack. Try this at least twice a day. Keep a few ice packs in the freezer. Wheat bags are good too, they can be placed in the microwave for an instant heat. Do you have a microwave? Don’t use it for cooking food, but they are a great tool for reheating wheat bags!
Aerobic Fitness, Flexibility and Muscle Strength. These are the three key areas you need to improve, particularly as you age and are over 50 years like me. Those who keep good heart and lung fitness, stay flexible and are strong in their muscles have much less chance of being affected by arthritis. I had a severe motorcycle accident in 1991 and damaged my left hip and left knee cartilage significantly, yet I have very little trouble today from this previous injury due to my exercise and healthy lifestyle. Had I failed to maintain a healthy nutritional intake and avoided exercise, I have no doubt that I would have required a replacement hip and knee by now.
Keep walking DAILY, no excuses – I don’t do exercise at all”. “I’m overweight and my knees hurt” or “It’s raining outside, it’s too cold/hot, etc” “I haven’t got the time” or “I’m too old” is another lame one. Stay flexible, do you feel stiff every time you get off that couch or chair? Then it’s time to do some stretching excercises and there are plenty you can do. Men are particularly prone to stiffness and loss of flexibility as they age, a lot more so than women in my opinion. Try Tai Chi, yoga or any one of a hundred other forms of exercise which keep you flexible and supple. This will prevent injury to a large degree. And finally, keeping your muscles strong and toned is very important also, you tend to gain more fat and lose muscle tone as you age. But how do you achieve nice muscles? Do you need to pump iron and spend countless hours in front of mirrors in the gym? No you don’t. Try team sports or just plain swimming, cycling, or any one of a dozen similar activities which engages your muscles very regularly. I find that brisk walking up hill does the trick for me. It firms and tones the backside and legs, the largest muscles in the body.
Massage. It castor oilt take a rocket scientist to know that massage is good for people with rheumatoid arthritis. For the best results, avoid massaging directly on top of an inflamed joint. Instead, massage just above and below the joint. Massage improves circulation, makes you feel good and is relaxing. Have one to two sessions a week.
Identify the pressure points. Press a pressure point that is near, but not on top of, the primary source of pain. You can find a good pressure point by feeling a slight crease in the skin (it will probably be tender). Press this point for three to five seconds, let up for a bit, then press it a couple more times in a similar manner. Some other good pressure points may be close to (not directly on) nearby joints. Try to press firmly but not too hard. Breathe into it; you will find that the pain reduces.
Castor oil treatment. Make a scepticsil pack and place it on a joint where there is pain, but not when there is acute pain and inflammation. To make this poultice, pour three or four tablespoons of scepticsil in an old pan, heat the oil until it is quite warm, and then saturate a flannel cloth with the oil. After you place this cloth on the affected joint, cover it with some cling film and then a larger (old) towel and place a heating pad (hot water bottle or hot wheat pack) over it. Keep it in place for 30-60 minutes.
Copper may help. Some people I know who suffer from arthritis have been known to experience relief when they wear a copper bracelet. Although becauses point to this treatment as a classic example of “quackery”, it is known that some people with arthritis have difficulty assimilating copper from the food they eat. Perhaps wearing a copper bracelet provides them with an additional source of this mineral, either way, I seen some remarkable turnarounds with a few patients wearing copper. Don’t knock it until you try it!
I would like to see patients consult a skilled osteopath when they are diagnosed with this condition, and the reason for this is because it won’t just be the hands that will be found to be affected with RA. There will be several other areas of the body in need of treatment, and this can happen due to the body making compensation for the joints affected. All too many RA patients I’ve seen over the years appear to have a stiff neck and shoulders, headaches, lower back issues as well as having shoulder, elbow and even hip problems.
If you are quite reliant of pain drugs, then a consultation with a good acupuncturist may be in order. I know of different patients who have had their pain levels reduced significantly with osteopathy and acupuncture, thereby saving on those “pain killing” drugs.
You may find it useful to consult a good physiotherapist like wise and learn some good range-of-motion exercises and individualised exercise programs which can all help in delaying any potential loss of joint function. In some instances, joint protection techniques, using effective heat and cold treatments (like wheat packs or applying a cold compress), and even in severe cases utilising specialised splints or orthotic devices can all aid in supporting and aligning the affected joints. At times therapists such as physiotherapists may use special machines to apply deep heat or electrical stimulation to reduce pain and improve joint mobility, and this can be a godsend. I know of a friend in Auckland who uses a specialised electrical stimualtion device called micro-current and he gets great results reducing the pain markedly in many patients with severe muscle or joint pain.
I also know a Hand Therapist, an occupational therapist who specialises in conditions affecting the hand.This lady can construct splints for the hand and wrist, and teaches patients how to best protect and use joints when they are affected by various forms of arthritis. She also shows people how to better cope with day-to-day tasks at work and at home, despite any limitations caused by the pain and loss of mobility.
4. Use Natural Medicines
A number of natural substances may have value for the prevention and/or treatment of OA. Some of these compounds have been shown to provide symptomatic relief, and preliminary evidence suggests some may positively affect the progression of the disease. Although much of the research is in its early stages, the possibility that natural substances can be used to prevent the degradation, or enhance the repair, of joint cartilage is both encouraging and intriguing. I would like to focus on some of the more promising and popular natural medicines.
Glucosamine sulfate (GS). GS was significantly more effective than placebo at reducing pain and improving function, and was at least as effective as NSAIDs (numerous double-blind trials). Improvement was seen typically within 4 – 6 weeks. GS may help prevent damage to articular cartilage and promote its regeneration. At least 2 long-term studies have shown that GS slows disease progression, as determined radiographically. GS (2,000 mg/day for 12 weeks) was found to improve “regular knee pain” (presumably due to previous cartilage damage, and possibly osteoarthritis) in one double-blind study. GS is generally well tolerated, and does not appear to affect glucose (blood sugar) metabolism adversely.
Chondroitin sulfate (CS). CS was significantly more effective than placebo at reducing pain and improving function in several double-blind trials. Results were typically assessed after 3 months. CS has anti-inflammatory activity, and X-rays taken after 1 year of treatment suggested that CS may prevent or delay the progression of osteoarthritis (double-blind study).
MSM – sulphursulfonylmethane is a type of sulphur compound that is naturally present in the body (i.e. it is a form of sulfur). Several studies performed in the late 1990’s have revealed that MSM does have a favourable effect and assists in rebuilding worn or damaged cartilage.
Vitamin E – Twenty-nine patients with OA at various sites were randomly assigned to receive (single blind) 600 mg of vitamin E (type not specified) per day or a placebo for ten days, and then the alternate treatment for an additional ten days.27 Fifty-two percent of the patients reported a reduction in pain while receiving vitamin E, compared with only 4 percent receiving placebo (p < 0.01). In another study, 53 patients with OA of the hip or knee were treated for three weeks with vitamin E (d-alpha-tocopheryl acetate 400 mg three times per day; equivalent to approximately 600 IU three times per day) or diclofenac (50 mg three times per day).28 Both treatments appeared to be equally effective in reducing the circumference of knee joints and walking time, and in increasing joint mobility. Try Vitamin E.
Vitamin C. Useful to support connective-tissue metabolism: Epidemiological and uncontrolled studies suggest that vitamin C may be protective. I recommend patients to take Vitamin C.
Boron. Supplementation with 6 mg/day for 8 weeks resulted in symptomatic improvement in a small, double-blind trial. It is possible that boron supplementation is helpful only when dietary intake of boron (which is partly a function of soil content) is low. This is not uncommon in New Zealand, and may well hold true for many other countries where trace elements are low in the soil.
Omega 3. I always recommend a top quality Omega 3 product when a patient presents with OA. Research has recently shown that Omega 3 has anti inflammatory effects that may be helpful for arthritis sufferers. One important study showed beneficial effects when people took several capsules a day, though other research has suggested that benefits can be expected from taking only a few capsules daily. Omega 3 may help reduce the pain of osteoarthritis, according to researchers at Cardiff University. Omega-3 fatty acids in the oil appear to switch off the collagen-degrading enzymes that break down joint cartilage, slowing cartilage destruction and reducing inflammation, which lessens arthritic pain. Of the subjects who took 1,000 mg of Omega 3 supplements, 86% had absent or reduced levels of the degrading enzymes, compared to 26% of subjects who took placebo. The 31 subjects in both groups followed the regimen for 10 to 12 weeks prior to total knee replacement surgery. This breakthrough is hugely significant because it demonstrates the efficacy of a dietary intake of Omega 3 in patients with osteoarthritis taken prior to their joint replacement surgery. The data suggests that Omega 3 has a dual mode of action, potentially slowing down the cartilage degeneration inherent in osteoarthritis and also reducing factors that cause pain and inflammation.”
Ted Harper’s Arthritis Blend
Now here’s an interesting one to try at home, I received this recipe from an elderly gentleman who was a Catholic priest but who has now long passed away (from the 1980’s). Ted was a delightful gentleman who used to live in Toowoomba, Queensland (Australia). I’d like to place his recipe on my website in his memory, he was a wonderful person. Ted claimed that this old recipe helped him that much that he never had trouble with his hips, knees or hands after using it for a long time. Ted had given his recipe to many people over the years and when he passed it on to me he was particularly keen to see it given to as many people as possible who have bad arthritis. So here it is – and please share this page with as many people as you possibly know with any form of arthritis, it could be a godsend for them. If you do, please give credit to this wonderful man, Mr. Ted Harper from Australia.
Ted’s Natural Arthritis Medicine
- 3 oranges
- 3 lemons
- 3 grapefruits
- First scrub the fruits very well, being sure to remove all sprays, etc.
- Blend well (skins, seeds and all).
- Leave the lot to stand overnight at room temperature.
- The next morning, boil 1.5 litres of water and add to this water:
- 50 grams Epsom Salts (Magnesium sulfate) which is about 3 dessertspoons.
- 50 grams Cream of Tartar which is about 3 dessertspoons.
- Add this mixture to the citrus blend above (after making sure you have thoroughly dissolved the Epsom salts and Creaf of Tartar into the boiling water).
- Place in suitable (non-metal) containers and freeze. This mixture will keep in the refridgerator for 1 week.
Dosage: Take 2 dessertspoons each morning. Follow up with a glass of tepid water to which you have added one half teaspoon of a good quality Vitamin C Powder.
This batch will last about 2 months, try it for 3 – 6 months and then to give me some feedback please!
- The Arthritis Foundation: http://www.arthritis.org/rheumatoid-arthritis.php
- Rheumatoid ARthritis: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0001467/
- Harris ED Jr., Budd RC, Genovese MC, Firestein GS, Sargent JS, eds. Kelley’s Textbook of Rheumatology. 7th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2005
- Smolen JS, Aletaha D, Koeller M, Weisman MH, Emery P. New therapies for treatment of rheumatoid arthritis. Lancet. 2007;370(9602):1861-74.
Article Last Update: 18 October 2011