Joint disorders | December 8, 2017 | Author: Naturopath
Rheumatoid arthritis is the most common autoimmune disorder in Australia. Its development is triggered by an abnormality of the immune system which leads to destruction of the joints. Symptoms include joint pain and inflammation, swelling and restricted movement.
So, the question is—can anything be done about this? …the answer is YES! But first let’s understand a little bit more about this all too common condition.
Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic autoimmune disease that causes long-term joint pain, swelling, stiffness and limitation in terms of movement. It mainly affects small joints in the hands and feet, and usually occurs on both sides of the body. Unlike the wear-and-tear damage of osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis affects the lining of your joints, causing a painful swelling that can eventually result in bone erosion and joint deformity.
Rheumatoid arthritis can have times where it ‘flares up’ and the disease is active and other times where it is inactive. No two cases are the same and symptoms vary from person to person. However, here are the most common signs and symptoms:
In approximately 40% of people with rheumatoid arthritis, the condition additionally damages a wide variety of body systems, including the skin, eyes, lungs, heart, kidneys, nerve tissue and blood vessels.
The mechanisms surrounding why rheumatoid arthritis develops isn’t fully understand. A combination of factors such as genetics, environment, diet, lifestyle, infection and disruptions to proper functioning of the immune system are thought to be involved.
Our immune system functions to protect us from infections but in autoimmune diseases the immune system starts to attack healthy tissues. In the case of rheumatoid arthritis, the immune system targets the lining of he joints, called the synovial membrane. This results in inflammation and joint damage—sometimes to the point of severe deformity.
Natural therapies can help to manage the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. Early intervention is vital to prevent complications from developing.
The main benefit of fish oil is to reduce inflammation, joint swelling and pain. If inflammation is affecting blood vessels or other organs in the body, it may help to provide support in these areas too.
Clinical trials show that dietary omega-3 fatty acids (particularly eicosapentaenoic acid or EPA) have numerous beneficial effects such as significantly reducing the number of tender and swollen joints.
Eating fish with a high omega-3 content is also recommended and includes weekly servings of salmon, rainbow trout, sardines and mackerel.
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There are a few diets which have proven helpful in individuals with rheumatoid arthritis. One such example is following a Mediterranean diet which involves eating a minimum amount of meat and plenty of vegetables, fish, fruit and wholegrains. A 2009 Cochrane review suggests that fasting followed by a vegetarian or Mediterranean diet may improve pain when compared to an ordinary diet. Overall, eating an anti-inflammatory diet has been found to ameliorate clinical signs of inflammation in patients with rheumatoid arthritis.
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Foods which evoke specific immune responses have been linked to rheumatic disorders. What triggers this reaction could be different for each person, but typical culprits include dairy products, tomatoes, corn, wheat and meat products. Food testing or elimination diets may be useful to ascertain individual intolerances and sensitivities.
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Bromelain is an enzyme derived from pineapple that helps to reduce inflammation and provide pain relief. In a small clinical trial, Bromelain reduced soft tissue swelling in those with rheumatoid arthritis. Bromelain combined with quercetin has been shown to inhibit a number of inflammatory processes associated with arthritis.
In patients with rheumatoid arthritis, antioxidant status is significantly lower if compared to healthy people. It has been found that having a diet low in vegetables and vitamin C increases your risk of rheumatoid arthritis. Increasing intake of fresh fruits and vegetables is therefore incredibly important and supplementation with vitamins C, E and A, manganese, selenium and zinc may help to get faster results.
Turmeric is one such example that has powerful anti-arthritic properties and in one study was found to be more effective than diclofenac sodium.
Shoe wear—supportive shoes with a high top are recommended to reduce force and impact on joints. Make sure they are deeper than standard shoes with moulded insoles and a wide toe box to decrease pain on weight bearing exercises. Rocker shoes are a great example of what shoe type to choose.
Tai chi and gentle forms of yoga—Tai chi is a traditional Chinese form of exercise that has been found to increase range of motion in patients with rheumatoid arthritis. Gentle forms of yoga may also be beneficial and if undertaken 2-3 times per week decreases perception of pain and reduces the need for medication.
Pain management techniques—visualisation, meditation, deep breathing and yoga nidra provide non-pharmacological methods for pain and stress management.
Hechtman L (2014). Clinical Naturopathic Medicine. Churchill Livingstone, Australia
Adam O, Beringer C, Kless T, Lemmen C, Adam A, Wiseman M, Adam P, Klimmek R, Forth W. Anti-inflammatory effects of a low arachidonic acid diet and fish oil in patients with rheumatoid arthritis. Rheumatol Int. 2003 Jan;23(1):27-36
Bagherzadeh Cham M, Ghasemi MS, Forogh B, Sanjari MA, Zabihi Yeganeh M, Eshraghi A. Effect of rocker shoes on pain, disability and activity limitation in patients with rheumatoid arthritis. Prosthet Orthot Int. 2014 Aug;38(4):310-5