Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a very destructive inflammatory arthritis that affects approximately 1-5% of the population in the US. RA can occur at any age but occurs more common after age 50. Women are also affected 2-3x more than men. It is also a fast acting arthritis, and can cause damage to the joint space within a few years if left untreated.
RA can be diagnosed in many ways that usually included laboratory testing in combination with imaging. Common lab markers that are elevated in rheumatoid arthritis include anti-CCP antibodies, rheumatoid Factor, ESR (sedimentation rate) or C reactive protein. While rare, it is possible to have rheumatoid arthritis without elevation of any of these markers. This is considered ‘seronegative’ RA.
Conventional Treatments for Rheumatoid Arthritis
The progression of RA is not often stopped without the use of medications that suppress the immune system. These medications can often prevent further destruction of the joint space, dependent upon how far along the disease process is. They can often be scary for individuals to use as they commonly produce significant side effects and are often expensive. While medications are often implemented as first line treatment, there are many alternative therapies that can help prevent or slow down the course of rheumatoid arthritis as well.
Alternative Treatments for Rheumatoid Arthritis
While the cause of RA remains largely unknown, estrogen and progesterone balance may play a huge role in the disease process. Estrogen can be stimulating to the immune system, while progesterone can help to reduce inflammation. Many women who develop rheumatoid arthritis have a history of irregular or difficult periods during their lifetime. Working on balancing out hormone prior to menopause can be helpful in reducing RA risk and progression.
There are also several foods that have been linked to aggravating rheumatoid arthritis. The nightshade family has been associated with increased pain and swelling. This includes foods like potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant and peppers. Vegan diets, or diets that are largely plant based and avoid things like red meats, gluten and dairy, have also been associated with lower levels of pain and swelling in RA.
In Chinese medicine, RA is considered a damp heat condition. Removing foods that are heat producing (such as red meats) can be helpful in combination with removing heat with acupuncture. Certain botanical herbs can be used to help treat the pain and swelling of RA.
For short term relief, contrast hydrotherapy, which is alternating between hot and cold in the area of swelling and pain can sometimes be very helpful, especially in the morning when pain and swelling tends to be worse. Short term fasting may also be used intermittently for reducing overall pain.
The best treatments for rheumatoid arthritis though include individualized plans for each person. Identifying specific triggers that could be contributing to inflammatory burden in the body is important. If you want to learn more about how you can identify your own specific inflammatory triggers for rheumatoid arthritis, contact our office today to schedule a free introductory consult with one of our physicians.