Natural Rheumatoid Arthritis Treatments for Long-Term Relief
Living with rheumatoid arthritis can be a daily struggle, with the constant pain and inflammation taking a toll on both physical and mental well-being. While traditional treatments such as medication and physical therapy can provide some relief, many individuals are seeking a more holistic approach to managing their symptoms.
I have seen natural rheumatoid arthritis treatments offer a promising alternative to medications for my patients. The goal in my functional medicine practice is to address the root causes of the condition rather than just alleviate the symptoms. From dietary changes and herbal remedies, to stress reduction techniques and alternative therapies, these holistic treatments for rheumatoid arthritis can provide long-term relief and improve overall quality of life.
In this article, I will explore the various natural treatments available, their effectiveness, and how they can be integrated into a comprehensive management plan for rheumatoid arthritis. Whether you’re looking for additional support alongside your current treatment or seeking alternative options, use these natural options to make informed decisions on your journey to lasting relief.
Understanding Rheumatoid Arthritis
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic autoimmune disease that primarily affects the joints. Unlike osteoarthritis, which is caused by wear and tear on the joints, RA occurs when the immune system mistakenly attacks the body’s own tissues, leading to inflammation in the joints. This inflammation can cause pain, stiffness, swelling, and a decrease in joint function. RA can also affect other parts of the body, including the skin, eyes, and organs.
Women are more commonly affected by RA than men, and the disease often begins between the ages of 30 and 50. Early diagnosis and treatment are crucial for managing the symptoms of RA and preventing long-term joint damage.
Conventional Treatments for Rheumatoid Arthritis
Conventional treatments for rheumatoid arthritis typically involve a combination of medication, physical therapy, and lifestyle modifications. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are commonly used to reduce pain and inflammation in the joints. Examples are ibuprofen, naproxen, and celecoxib (Celebrex). Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) are prescribed to slow down the progression of RA and prevent joint damage. Some DMARDs are biologic response modifiers, such as etanercept (Enbrel), adalimumab (Humira), or infliximab (Remicade). They target specific components of the immune system. Other DMARDs for rheumatoid arthritis are non-biologic, such as methotrexate or sulfasalazine.
Physical therapy plays a crucial role in managing rheumatoid arthritis by improving joint mobility, strength, and flexibility. Therapists may use techniques such as heat or cold therapy, splints, and exercises tailored to the individual’s needs. Additionally, lifestyle modifications such as maintaining a healthy weight, quitting smoking, and managing stress can help reduce the severity of symptoms and improve overall well-being.
Limitations and Side Effects of Conventional Rheumatoid Arthritis Treatments
While conventional treatments can provide relief for many individuals with rheumatoid arthritis, they are not without limitations and potential side effects. NSAIDs, for example, can cause gastrointestinal problems, such as stomach ulcers and bleeding. DMARDs and biologic response modifiers may weaken the immune system, making individuals more susceptible to infections. Long-term use of these medications may also increase the risk of liver and kidney damage.
Furthermore, some individuals may not experience significant improvement in their symptoms. For example, DMARDs don’t work in 20% to 30% of patients. In some cases, rheumatoid arthritis patients may be unable to tolerate the side effects of these medications. This is where natural rheumatoid arthritis treatments can offer an alternative approach, addressing the underlying causes of the condition and focusing on the body’s natural healing abilities.
Natural Rheumatoid Arthritis Remedies
Holistic treatments for rheumatoid arthritis recognize that the body is a complex system, and imbalances in one area can affect the overall well-being. By taking a holistic approach, individuals can address the root causes of their symptoms and promote healing from within. This approach considers not only the physical aspects of the disease but also the emotional, mental, and spiritual well-being of the individual.
At the Caplan Health Institute, we like to go deeper and find the root cause of the root cause. For example, if food sensitivities are causing your RA flare ups, then we go in search of what’s causing the food sensitivities in the first place. It’s not enough to just say you have food sensitivities and tell you not to eat those foods. It could be you’re not digesting well, it could be you’re having microbiome problems and leaky gut, it could be from other factors, so we’d better address those triggers at the same time as identifying the food sensitivities.
In order to find the root cause of the root cause, we order a series of tests. These include:
• A stool test to check for overgrowth of bacteria in the gut.
• Food sensitivity test or elimination diet
• A saliva cortisol test to find out the state of a patient’s adrenals (also known as the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis or HPA axis), since stress tends to go hand in hand with increased inflammation.
• Lymphocyte MAP, a test that looks at the different types of white blood cells to see if your immune system is more dominant in one state or another so we know which herbs to use to support balance in the immune system.
• General blood work to measure hormone levels as well as kidney and liver function.
Rheumatoid Arthritis Diet
Diet and nutrition play a crucial role in managing rheumatoid arthritis. Food could be playing a role in rheumatoid arthritis in a number of different ways. If you’re eating the wrong foods it could be creating nutrient deficiencies. Hidden food sensitivities could be creating an inflammatory response in your system and you don’t even realize it. Eating lots of sugary foods and carbs could be creating blood sugar and insulin spikes, which cause insulin resistance. High insulin can then increase inflammation, trigger pain, and set off an immune system cascade that causes joint destruction.
People with RA will have more problems with certain types of foods. When you have a positive rheumatoid factor (the blood marker used to diagnose RA), you can potentially have more problems with nightshades like tomatoes and eggplants. People with RA also often react to foods like beans, lentils, peas, soybeans, peanuts, and whole-grain wheat, which contain lectins, compounds that are hard to break down in the gut and interfere with the absorption of some nutrients. We look at those foods more specifically in RA patients than in people with other autoimmune diseases.
In addition to these dietary recommendations, staying hydrated, limiting alcohol consumption, and maintaining a healthy weight are important for managing rheumatoid arthritis.
Exercise Even When You Don’t Feel Like It
When people have joint pain, they typically move less and that further worsens the pain and inflammation of the joints. A sedentary life or avoiding movement due to pain can contribute to more pain and more inflammation, which further exacerbates that immune imbalance, triggering joint destruction and even more pain.
Yet, exercise is an essential component of a functional medicine approach to managing rheumatoid arthritis. Regular exercise can help reduce joint pain and stiffness, improve joint function, and strengthen the muscles around the joints. It can also promote weight management and enhance overall cardiovascular health.
Low-impact exercises, such as walking, swimming, cycling, and tai chi, are generally well-tolerated by individuals with rheumatoid arthritis. These activities help maintain joint flexibility and range of motion without putting excessive stress on the joints. Strength training exercises, using light weights or resistance bands, can help improve muscle strength and provide additional support to the joints.
I also recommend that RA patients use kinesiology tape as a way to help them move better so they can get the exercise they need while decreasing the pain. Kinesiology tape is a therapeutic tape applied strategically to trouble spots on the body to provide support and reduce pain and swelling.
Best Supplements for Rheumatoid Arthritis
If you’re wondering what supplements are good for rheumatoid arthritis, here are some of the RA supplements we often use in clinical practice. I personalize rheumatoid arthritis supplements for each of my patients, based on test results, clinical history, and other factors.
Cannabidiol (CBD) reduced synovitis (inflammation of the joint lining) in an animal model of RA. In another animal study, CBD oil improved clinical symptoms of RA and reduced signs of disease activity. A human study using CBD in patients with different types of arthritis found that CBD use led to an 83% improvement in pain, a 66% improvement in physical function, and 66% better sleep quality. In this study, the greatest improvements were seen in osteoarthritis, although RA patients did experience some joint pain relief from the CBD. In our clinical practice, we have noticed similar improvements in joint pain.
Turmeric or Curcumin
RA joint pain patients often benefit from turmeric or its active compound curcumin, and we find that it’s a great choice for a rheumatoid arthritis supplement. Curcumin has anti-inflammatory properties and may help reduce joint pain and stiffness in individuals with rheumatoid arthritis. A review of medical studies found that curcumin improved RA symptoms and reduced inflammation in animals and humans with RA. Most of the studies in that review were animal studies, but the one human study showed that curcumin significantly improved morning stiffness, walking time, and joint swelling in rheumatoid arthritis patients. Again, our patients have been getting the same results in clinical practice
RA patients that have gut issues, such as leaky gut, will benefit from using immunoglobulins, which will help them have less immune reactions. Immunoglobulins help to counteract allergens and the immune response to them. These are especially beneficial for someone with many food sensitivities and the accompanying inflammatory responses. Immunoglobulins may also benefit a person with gut microbial overgrowth, as they help to remove pathogens and toxins from the gastrointestinal tract.
The gut microbiota is often altered in people with RA. Patients with this autoimmune disease often have higher levels of the gut bacteria Klebsiella, Escherichia, Eisenbergiella and Flavobacterium, while healthy controls have higher levels of Fusicatenibacter, Megamonas, and Enterococcus.
However, we don’t use probiotics at the beginning of treatment in every RA patient. If a stool test reveals that there’s bacterial overgrowth in the patient’s gut, we first use natural antimicrobials to balance the gut microbiota before beginning probiotics.
Omega-3 Fish Oil
Fish oil supplements, rich in omega-3 fatty acids, reduce inflammation in the body. They may improve symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, such as joint pain and morning stiffness. In people with RA, I recommend a starting dose of 2 – 4 grams of omega-3s/day. Most people taking an over-the-counter omega-3 supplement are not getting anywhere near my recommended dose. People with severe joint pain may need to boost their intake to 3 – 6 grams/day, maxing out at 10 grams if necessary.
Can Stress Cause Rheumatoid Arthritis?
Stress is one of the most important psychological causes of rheumatoid arthritis. The mind-body connection plays a significant role in managing rheumatoid arthritis. Stress, anxiety, and depression can worsen symptoms and contribute to disease flares. Mind-body therapies, such as meditation, yoga, and deep breathing exercises, can help reduce stress, promote relaxation, and improve overall well-being.
Meditation involves focusing the mind and achieving a state of deep relaxation. It has been shown to reduce pain, decrease inflammation, and improve mood in individuals with rheumatoid arthritis. Guided meditation apps or classes can provide guidance for beginners.
Yoga combines physical postures, breathing exercises, and meditation to promote strength, flexibility, and relaxation. It can help improve joint mobility, reduce pain, and enhance overall quality of life. Modified yoga poses, tailored to the individual’s abilities, are recommended for individuals with rheumatoid arthritis.
Deep breathing exercises, such as diaphragmatic breathing or belly breathing, can help activate the body’s relaxation response. They can be practiced anytime, anywhere, and can be particularly beneficial during times of increased stress or pain.
Acupuncture and Rheumatoid Arthritis
This traditional Chinese medicine technique involves inserting thin needles into specific points on the body. It is believed to restore the flow of energy, or qi, and promote healing. Acupuncture may reduce pain and improve joint function in individuals with rheumatoid arthritis, although not every study has found a benefit.
Find the Best Rheumatoid Arthritis Treatments with Our Guidance
As a functional medicine provider specializing in RA and other autoimmune diseases, I can create a personalized natural treatment plan for you based on your specific symptoms, lifestyle, preferences, and goals.
It begins with a free 15-minute discovery consultation where we will listen to your health concerns and offer suggestions about the path we can follow to provide relief for your RA. If you come on board as a patient, I can order the right tests and develop a personalized treatment plan that aims to reduce your RA triggers. I’ll recommend the best natural rheumatoid arthritis treatments for you, including a combination of dietary changes, exercise routines, natural rheumatoid arthritis supplements, mind-body therapies, and other holistic approaches. Regular monitoring and adjustments may be necessary to ensure the plan is effective and meets your changing needs.
The result? You can say goodbye to swollen, stiff, painful joints. You’ll get around with more comfort and ease and delight in your higher energy levels and motivation.