Updated on 6/20/2005
Rheumatoid arthritis is one of the most common autoimmune disorders, diseases caused by the immune system attacking the body's own tissues. Autoimmune reactions may be triggered by infection, tissue injury, or emotional trauma in people with a genetic predisposition to them. Conventional medicine treats rheumatoid arthritis (and other autoimmune diseases) with steroids and other immunosuppressive medications, most of which are toxic when used long-term. Try to avoid these strong drugs if you can. Patients who are dependent on them are less likely to respond to natural treatments.
Lifestyle changes can moderate autoimmunity, and other strategies can help you control the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. Here are my basic recommendations:
- Follow a low-protein, high-carbohydrate diet; minimize consumption of foods of animal origin.
- Eliminate milk and milk products including commercial foods made with milk.
- Avoid all polyunsaturated vegetable oils, margarine, vegetable shortening, and products made with partially hydrogenated oils of any kind.
- Increase intake of omega-3 fatty acids by eating more cold water fish, walnuts or freshly ground flaxseeds. You may also want to consider taking a fish oil supplement to help keep your protein intake low.
- Get regular aerobic exercise (swimming is best for those with rheumatoid arthritis).
- Practice relaxation techniques. In addition, visualization can help moderate autoimmune responses, and psychotherapy can help you change emotional states that keep the immune system off balance.
- Try hypnotherapy or guided imagery. Look for a therapist willing to take on an autoimmune disease. Meditation and yoga can help, too.
- Avoid health care practitioners who make you feel pessimistic about your condition.
- Eliminate or reduce intake of coffee and tobacco as both have been liked to an increased risk for rheumatoid arthritis.
Here are specific recommendations for rheumatoid arthritis management:
- One at a time, eliminate the following categories of food for two months: (1) all sugar except natural fruits; (2) all citrus fruits; (3) wheat, corn and soy. At the end of each trial period, restore the eliminated items to your diet. You may find that one or more has an influence on your arthritis symptoms.
- For symptomatic treatment use aspirin and other over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs.
- Take feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium) for its anti-inflammatory effect; one to two capsules twice a day.
- Use anti-inflammatory herbs. Ginger and turmeric are particularly effective. You can continue to take these herbs indefinitely.
- Experiment with traditional Chinese medicine, Ayurvedic medicine, homeopathy, Native American medicine, and healers.
- Try long-term fasting in a facility staffed by experienced health professionals. For additional information on fasting, check out www.dmoz.org.
- Investigate apitherapy (bee-sting treatment); a local bee keeper should be able to advise you.
Andrew Weil, M.D.