Rheumatoid Arthritis is a crippling disease that focuses on the small joints of the body such as those in the hands and wrists but which acts on many different tissues such as the white of the eye, the membrane around the heart and the lungs.
Like osteoarthritis with which it is often confused it is an inflammatory disease and generally thought to be an systemic autoimmune disease like lupus.
Pharmaceutical treatment can only relieve pain and perhaps reduce inflammation but neither of these will stop or reverse the progression of the disease.
The joint damage of a Rheumatoid Arthritis ( RA) patient usually occurs symmetrically so if the joints of the left hand are affected then the right hand will be too; if the right wrist is affected the left wrist will be as well. This is quite unlike the case of osteoarthritis where we typically have a large joint such as the hip joint showing osteoarthritic damage on one side of the body only.
In addition people suffering from RA will show high cholesterol and triglycerides and anaemia and low levels of iron. The inner lining of their blood vessels will show damage from the inflammatory chemicals circulating in the blood and overall, RA patients have a 40% greater likelihood of death than the general public.
Natural Treatment for RA
As a Naturopath the first thing to say is that it is the person that needs help and treatment and I do not treat RA or any other disease. This is not a quibble or semantic over correctness on my part but a fundamental difference in approach between Naturopathic and other approaches. In what follows I can therefore only give general hints and guidance because I do not have a particular person in mind and in my clinic.
The first requirement in Naturopathic Medicine is “First do no harm” so we will be working with diet, food supplements and gentle herbs and not using any chemicals that the body finds toxic – such as the majority or pharmaceuticals and quite a number of so called nutraceuticals.
We will also be paying special attention to food allergies and sensitivities and avoid them as much as possible. This not only helps us to obey our aim to do no harm but assists us to keep inflammatory responses to a minimum.
We already have an immune system damaging joint and other tissues so we do not want to add inflammatory foods to this situation. To do so would be like throwing petrol on a raging fire.
The diet has to be a low allergy anti-inflammatory selection of foods and drinks. In broad terms in will be vegan or lacto-vegetarian and focus on a high consumption of fresh vegetables, some fruit and healthy whole grains such as oats quinoa and barley.
No sugar, junk starches or soft drinks aka soda is included and perhaps not fruit juice either – at least not purchased. The diet would have to be worked with and modified over several weeks and months to tune it to have the best features of natural healing vitality with palatability and practicality.
Oils are an integral part of the diet and fresh coconut oil and olive oil add important factors of anti-inflammatory power and palatability – otherwise known as yumminess!
There’s no reason at all that a powerfully healing diet needs to be anything other than delicious!
Natural Food Supplements for Rheumatoid Arthritis
Along with the diet we include a powerful selection of anti-inflammatory food supplements. As a starter we include a high quality multi-vitamin and multi-mineral then we add to that as required. In such an inflammatory picture I would start with a vitamin C dose of around 3 grams a day – divided into breakfast, lunch and bedtime doses of 1 gram.
The form of vitamin C may be basic ascorbic acid 1 gram tablets or could be a powder. Ideally you can source a vitamin C that is a combo ascorbic acid, sodium ascorbic acid and perhaps calcium ascorbate. Some find such a blend of different forms of vitamin C easier to tolerate and each has its own merits anyhow.
I would either test for leaky gut or just assume it to save the patient expense and then focus initial efforts on healing the gut.
This has at least 2 parts – one is to use special foods such as slippery elm and rice that work directly on the gut lining to heal it and to use nutrients such as L-glutamine and butyric acid which has powerful healing effects on the gut.
Working on optimising the gut flora is an important part of this strategy. Natural yogurt, use of sauerkraut and other probiotic foods help condition the gut so that pathogenic micro-organisms find it difficult to colonise and grow. Careful choice of foods such as apples, pears, artichokes, oats and others each of which contributes special sources of fibre to further condition the gut and optimise the micro-flora.
Vitamin D is likely to be very low and if needed a simple blood test can be done to find current levels. The old definition of normal is now considered to be inadequate so it is essential that the patient is not fobbed of by being told that the level is normal. The new normal level is usually taken as being above 50 ng/ml with many regarding 70 as a desirable target.
Herbs and Spices for RA
Turning now to herbs and spices for their contribution to this all round anti-inflammatory approach, we can start with
Andrographis – a well known Ayurvedic herb it is a powerful anti-inflammatory and helps deal with the damage done to the circulatory system by the inflammation.
Boswellia – another Ayurvedic favourite used in many cases of inflammation
Ginseng – optional but all forms of ginseng can be considered when the patient is exhausted and has suffered their ailment for several years. A gentle herb, ginseng is worth using for any long term illness to act simply as an all round tonic and rejuvenator.
Ginger more anti-inflammatory action here. Ginger tea can be made in a few minutes by boiling a few slices of ginger root in a pan. Sipped throughout the day with a little honey.
Turmeric – either as capsules or preparations of curcumin a particularly active agent has strong immunomodulating effects. Turmeric may be sprinkled over rice and other foods or taken as a capsule.
This gives us plenty to work with for a good three months. As the healing proceeds you need to reassess and treat what shows up. There may come a time before or after this initial 3 month period that the need for a detox arises. Gentle and slow colon cleansing would be a good place to start and for ideas and details on how to do that please see other posts on naturaldetoxblog.com