This post concludes the series on Weapons in the War Against RA Inflammation. The focus on inflammation is due to the fact that RA is a disease of chronic inflammation. Thus far we’ve examined Conventional Weapons – NSAIDs, Nuclear Weapons – Steroids, Chemical Weapons– Methotrexate and others, and Biochemical Weapons – biological drugs. The arsenal in the war is vast but comes with pros and cons.
The historical medical approach to treating RA seems to center on the use of drugs. Out of frustration with the lack of success of treatments, RA sufferers often look for other cures on their own. Indeed, some natural approaches to reducing inflammation may be worth trying.
I classify natural weapons against inflammation into two categories, Ingested Substances and Physical Treatments. Ingested Substances include supplements, diet, and herbs. It stands to reason that one should be careful what you put into your body. Eating unhealthy food is unwise in general and certain foods even increase inflammation.[i] [ii] Some supplements like fish oil may even reduce inflammation.[iii] There may be interactions between supplements and medications so be sure to tell your doctor about everything you take. A few months ago, in response to reading about a possible relationship between diet and autoimmune diseases (see earlier post), I eliminated dairy and gluten for one month. I didn’t notice any difference before, during, or after this elimination diet. I’m glad because a daily latte is a must (maybe caffeine should be included on the supplement list)! I still try to eat as healthy as possible. I also take fish oil and use flaxseed on a regular, but not daily, basis.
Physical treatments include procedures and substances applied externally and may include heat or cold, massage, lotions, stress management, physical therapy, exercise, and prayer. [iv] [v] Some of these treatments like heat, massage, and lotions have short term effects. There’s nothing better than spending some time in my hot tub each evening. And I’ll apply a topical to a flaring joint periodically. Stress management is a wise life skill for anyone but RA sometimes causes us to slow down. I think that’s our body’s way to speaking to us that it needs rest. I’m still struggling with that exercise thing and there are many conflicting views about it and RA. I regularly receive prayer for my RA symptoms.
An examination of natural treatments must be tempered with a word of caution. Beware of quick cure schemes and tonics! Books, websites, and TV commercials are used to prey upon those who suffer from chronic diseases. Run a simple internet search for RA and you’ll find all sorts of claims like, “New breakthrough for arthritis discovered!”, “I was cured of arthritis. You can be too!”, and “Diet can send you into remission.” I apologize in advance for any reader who was hoping to find a miracle, natural treatment for RA in this post because it just doesn’t exist. This quote sums up my view on natural therapies…
Alternative therapies are popular among people with rheumatoid arthritis, however, they should complement, not replace, conventional care.[vi]
I offer the following words of advice based on the Weapons series:
- There is currently no known cure for RA and anyone who tells you otherwise is wrong.
- Take your prescribed medicines. Particularly those that have a long term impact on RA-induced inflammation like methotrexate and biologicals.
- Be willing to try various medicines to see what works. When one doesn’t work or stops working, try something else.
- Eat a healthy, balanced diet.
- Speak with your doctor about any supplement you take.
- Live life with moderation.
- Use any safe method for short term relief of pain.
- Don’t fall for schemes that prey on the chronically ill who are desperate for a cure.
- Hold onto to hope as new anti-inflammatory treatments are always in the pipeline.