Recent research is providing interesting insight into beneficial treatments for arthritis, especially in the area of rheumatoid arthritis. Those who are one of the more than 4 million North Americans with rheumatoid arthritis have more treatment options then ever before, with several of these options, especially when used together with one another, showing great promise for effectively managing rheumatoid arthritis.
Before we dive right into these highly effective treatment options, it is important to get a firm grip on what this beast called rheumatoid arthritis actually is.
Rheumatoid arthritis, or RA, is a form of arthritis in which the body's immune system turns on itself and begins to attack the joints throughout the body. This causes swollen, painful joints, fever and many times deformity of the joints. Those between the ages of 20-40 are most commonly diagnosed, except in cases of juvenile RA, in which children 16 years of age or younger are typically affected.
Rheumatoid arthritis is three times more likely to affect women then men, and has been shown to favor certain geographical regions with a high concentration in North America. If left untreated, RA can cause rapid degeneration and can quickly begin to deform the joints it affects, especially those in the wrists, hands and fingers. It is also commonly found in the elbow, shoulder, neck, jaw, feet, ankles, knees and hips.
The affected joints will usually feel hot, consistent with the inflammatory process occurring in these joints. One of the landmark signs of rheumatoid arthritis is that the same joints will be affected on both sides of the body.
Until recently prescribing expensive and slow-working drugs known as disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs, or DMARDs, was the favorite treatment for rheumatoid arthritis. While medication may certainly be warranted and beneficial in some cases of RA, research is revealing that a combination of dietary changes along with supplements and herbs as well as physical activity in the early stages of RA is proving to be a highly effective method of managing RA.
As any health professional with tell you, prevention is always more effective than any cure, and rheumatoid arthritis is no exception. Vitamin D therapy, either through diet (dairy products – especially milk) or supplements (Vitamin D3 – cholecalciferol) has been shown to reduce the chance of developing auto-immune diseases including rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis and Type 1 diabetes. Dosages up to 2000 units have shown promising results and also have been shown to reduce a key factor in chronic inflammation throughout the body, which commonly occurs alongside RA.
Blunting the autoimmune response while at the same time reducing inflammation throughout the body is the best way to effectively manage rheumatoid arthritis. Periodic fasting can be very helpful in deadening the autoimmune response, as can taking probiotics (supplements containing beneficial microorganisms). Supplementing your diet with the Omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA also is very beneficial in diminishing the autoimmune response. Identifying and addressing any food allergies or sensitivities, which will typically aggravate autoimmune diseases, is also essential.
It is worthwhile to note that while treatment for rheumatoid arthritis may involve introducing several supplements to your diet, supplements that are meant to enhance your immune system should be avoided. Since the immune system is already overactive, stimulating it through herbs such as Ginseng, Echinacea or others may actually make your RA worse.
Reducing inflammation is possible through supplements and herbal therapies. Omega-3 fatty acids including EPA and DHA have shown positive effects in improving joint function that are enhanced by GLA, a key element in the herb Evening Primrose. Restricting arachadonic acids, which are plentiful in eggs, red meat and organ tissue such as liver, from your diet also helps to minimize inflammation within the body.
Beyond nutritional and dietary treatments for rheumatoid arthritis, herbal therapy can also be an effective means of reducing inflammation and pain associated with rheumatoid arthritis. Tumeric, astaxanthin and ginger extracts may reduce the need for medications for RA if used judiciously.
Physical activity, especially in the early stages of the disease, is showing excellent results in slowing the progression and diminishing pain associated with RA. It has been shown to provide huge improvements in joint function, fitness and mental outlook. Resistance training utilizing exercise bands and tubing along with endurance training, sports and stretching at least two times per week may well slow the progression of the disease.
Interestingly enough, however, those with severe rheumatoid arthritis actually did worse when physical activity was introduced into their regular routine. As a result it is important not only to identify RA symptoms early but also to begin rheumatoid arthritis treatments as quickly as possible.
Unfortunately there is no cure for RA, but the quicker you begin to manage it, the better results you will see and the slower your disease process will progress. Living with rheumatoid arthritis is never simple nor easy, but pursuing natural treatments for RA can improve the results you see in the short term and also greatly improve your long-term quality and quantity of life.