People living with Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) compare the pain and inflammation to a fire raging out of control. RA is a chronic, systemic autoimmune disease causing swelling, stiffness, and pain in the joints. It can result in joint deformity and damage to other organs, including the nerves, heart, and lungs.
Approximately 1.5 million Americans have Rheumatoid Arthritis: most are adults over age 40; about 12,000 children under age 16 have juvenile-onset RA.
Symptoms of RA (aggravated by stress and lack of sleep):
- Swollen, painful, hot and disfigured joints on both sides of the body
- Pain, stiffness and limited movement making daily activities difficult
- Fatigue, muscle aches, and fevers
The prevailing, conventional theory is that inflammation results from an “over-reaction” of the immune system that may include genetic factors.
Doctors of natural medicine believe there is a deeper, root cause for this haywire immune system response. They theorize immune dysregulation originates in imbalances that involve a person’s genetics, lifestyle choices, nutritional status, gut health, stress, environmental triggers and emotional wellbeing.
Treatment of RA
Conventional treatment includes physical therapy and prescription medicines (steroids, painkillers, and immune suppressors) to treat pain and swelling.
While these drugs may be necessary for some people, they have side effects including hair loss, liver damage, stress on the kidneys and heart, and risk for addiction, without correcting the underlying imbalance.
Natural medicine emphasizes identification and treatment of root causes. Holistic doctors use safe, natural therapies and interventions that stimulate the restoration of health without side effects.
Here’s a sampling of holistic interventions that can make a huge impact in healing the root causes of RA.
An Anti-inflammatory Diet
Commit to a diet that includes: organic fruits and veggies; healthy fats such as olive, avocado, and coconut oils; whole grains; bone broth; wild-caught fish; and nuts/seeds.
These foods provide natural antioxidants – cellular superheroes that gobble up the free radical cells that contribute to development of RA.
There are many foods that are considered healthy in general, but may cause inflammation for some people, leading to immune dysregulation. Holistic doctors will test for food sensitivities, such as gluten, dairy, egg, or others, and work with a patient to create a diet with healthy alternatives when needed.
Movement is important for managing symptoms (including pain) and enhancing psychological wellbeing. Low impact exercise, such as cycling, walking, water aerobics and Tai Chi, are ideal. Symptoms can improve with strength training.
R & R (& P): Rest, Relaxation & Pain Reduction
Massage therapy, acupuncture or acupressure, reflexology, yoga, deep breathing, and guided imagery provide protection against painful bouts of RA by helping improve body awareness, reduce muscle tension, enhance sleep, and decrease stress hormones.
Another treatment option to consider: Low level laser therapy (LLLT), which is a type of light therapy that generates photochemical reactions in cells, and has been shown in research to produce “short-term treatment for relief of pain and morning stiffness for RA patient.” The bonus of this type of treatment is that it is reported to have few side-effects.
You can try LLLT at home using this red light therapy device.
Manage Symptoms, Naturally
Nutritional and herbal supplements can help reduce pain and inflammation. Vitamin D deficiency is associated with RA, so supplementing can be important. Extracts of ginger and turmeric, Omega-3 fish oil and digestive enzymes are some nutrients that help tame the fire of inflammation.
A natural medicine approach to healing RA will be unique to each person. Consult with your physician for interventions that will work best for you.