Aches and pains are a natural part of life, especially as you get older. But for many people, the situation is much worse. Sadly, one out of every 100 people will develop rheumatoid arthritis (RA). (1)
Believe it or not, this type of arthritis affects 1.3 to 1.5 million Americans, and patients have a higher risk of cardiovascular disease and lymphoma.
Fortunately, there are plenty of natural treatments to help reduce symptoms and get you back on your feet. But before we jump into treatments, let’s learn a little bit more about what causes RA.
By the time you finish this article, you should have a solid understanding of how to overcome it.
Rheumatoid Arthritis Quick Facts
- RA affects the whole body, including the joints, nerves, blood vessels, and heart
- By and large, it’s a chronic disease.
- The symptoms are mostly caused by inflammation.
- Rheumatoid arthritis patients have a significantly higher risk of a heart attack.
- Symptoms often start between the ages of 30 and 60.
- A family history of RA increases the risk.
- On the whole, women are three times more likely to have rheumatoid arthritis. (2)
- Between one and three percent of women will develop RA at some point.
- Roughly 75 percent of RA patients are women.
- On average, men get RA later in life than women.
- 52/5 million Americans have some form of arthritis.
- Children can develop RA, but it’s uncommon.
- Unfortunately, there is no “cure” for RA.
- However, you can treat symptoms with healthy lifestyle choices.
What Is Rheumatoid Arthritis?
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic autoimmune disease. In general, with autoimmune diseases like RA the immune system attacks healthy cells. As a result, RA causes stiffness, swelling, and pain in the joints. On top of that, the disease limits movement and range of motion. Overall, rheumatoid arthritis is generally more severe than osteoarthritis, which is easier to control.
What Causes Rheumatoid Arthritis?
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is caused by inflammation when the immune system attacks the body. When it comes down to it, RA leads to chronic joint inflammation.
Why does the immune system attack the body? In a nutshell, the immune system gets confused and thinks that healthy cells are part of a disease.
RA risk factors include:
- Poor diet: Not surprisingly, eating inflammatory foods like sugar, refined carbohydrates, and fried food. (3)
- Allergies: Similarly, food allergies can trigger inflammation.
- Poor gut health: When the lining of the gut is damaged, inflammation can enter the bloodstream. This condition is called leaky gut syndrome: a condition also makes it difficult to absorb nutrients.
- Toxicity: Exposure to environmental toxins, like air pollution and plastics, can cause hormone imbalances.
- Smoking: This shouldn’t come as a surprise, but tobacco and marijuana smoke promote inflammation.
- Genetic factors: Some people are more likely to develop RA because of family history.
- Obesity: In the long run, obesity increases the risk of RA, especially if it starts at a young age.
- In the end, any of these factors can trigger destructive chemicals to attack joint tissue. Over time, these chemicals wear down the cartilage that cushions the joints.
Rheumatoid Arthritis Signs and Symptoms
It’s true that everyone experiences pain and inflammation from time to time, but rheumatoid arthritis is different. For instance, the pain from RA lasts years and usually affects both sides of the body equally. Similarly, if both feet and both hands hurt all the time, it’s a sign that you may have RA.
Common signs of rheumatoid arthritis:
- Joint pain is the main sign of rheumatoid arthritis. Ultimately, the knees, hands, ankles, wrists, and feet are the most affected.
- Joint swelling that lasts for six weeks or more.
- Joint inflammation, tenderness, heat, and redness.
- Muscle aches
- Muscle fatigue
- Morning stiffness that lasts for at least 30 minutes
- Trouble walking, climbing stairs, bending over, and moving normally.
- Loss of appetite
Not surprisingly, symptoms are worse when inflammation levels are high. As a result, the only way to manage rheumatoid arthritis is to reduce inflammation.
In the long run, most RA patients have “flare-ups” where symptoms suddenly get worse. After a while, inflammation can be controlled, but it’s only a matter of time before it returns.
How To Tell If a Flare-Up Is Coming
How can you tell when a flare-up is on its way?
At first, the beginning of a flare-up is similar to the “crummy” feeling you get when you have a fever or infection.
On top of that, you may notice redness and swelling in the joints and severe morning stiffness.
In general, flare-ups can be unpredictable and often happen after stressful events. (4) In fact, the “trigger” event can be physical (intense exercise) or emotional (stressful situation).
What Causes Rheumatoid Arthritis Symptoms?
Overall, the loss of joint cartilage due to inflammation is responsible for a lot of RA’s symptoms. As a result of cartilage loss, the space between the joints shrinks. In the end, the surrounding tissues may begin to rub together and swell.
With a healthy joint, the synovial fluid provides lubrication. In contrast, a joint with inflammation has thicker synovial fluid and more friction.
Rheumatoid Arthritis Long-Term Complications
When rheumatoid arthritis is managed well, only the joints are affected.
However, if rheumatoid arthritis goes untreated, more serious complications may develop. Over time, RA can damage nerves and blood vessels. Beyond that, it can also cause hormonal changes that affect the entire body.
Common complications of rheumatoid arthritis include:
Small lumps of tissue can develop under the skin around the joints.
Heart problems due to inflamed blood vessels and decreased circulation.
Nerve damage occurs when the nerve cells don’t get enough blood flow.
Higher risk of stroke
Increased chance of heart disease
Lung scarring and other lung damage
Low blood cell count
Feeling tired all the time
Ulcers near the nailbeds
Changes in appetite
Carpal tunnel syndrome
All things considered, roughly 15 percent of RA patients develop issues like heart disease, kidney problems, and eye conditions. (5)
How to Treat Rheumatoid Arthritis Naturally
To be sure, catching rheumatoid arthritis early reduces the chance of needing surgery. Likewise, early detection decreases the risk of serious long-term complications. Oftentimes, doctors give patients medications like painkillers, Advil, Tylenol, corticosteroids, powerful anti-inflammatories, and biologics to treat RA. Unfortunately, many of these medications come with harmful side effects. According to several recent studies, the long-term effectiveness of these drugs has been far from satisfactory. (6)
Most RA patients get a lot of benefits from natural treatments like diet, nutrition, and exercise. Instead of relying solely on medications, be proactive about reducing inflammation with healthy choices.
Here are some ways to treat rheumatoid arthritis naturally:
Eat Anti-Inflammatory Foods
Luckily, there are tons of foods that help with rheumatoid arthritis. Some of them are packed with antioxidants, like fruits and vegetables. Other foods, like bone broth, protect the body from inflammation by healing the gut. Similarly, omega-3 foods, like wild-caught fish, are great for inflammation in general.
With this in mind, it’s also important to stop eating trigger foods, but more on this later…
1. Omega-3 Foods
Omega-3s are fatty acids that reduce inflammation, and several studies suggest that they can help treat autoimmune diseases.
Here are the best sources of omega-3s:
As you can see, many kinds of fish are high in omega-3s. Just make sure to stick to wild-caught fish., as farmed fish is inflammatory and contains fewer nutrients.
Flaxseeds, walnuts, and chia seeds are also high in omega-3s, but they can also cause inflammation in some people.
2. Bone Broth
No rheumatoid arthritis treatment plan would be complete without bone broth. In particular, bone broth treats rheumatoid arthritis by strengthening the digestive system. Bone broth has remarkable healing powers because it’s loaded with collagen, which is packed with amino acids that repair damaged tissues.
3. Fruits and Vegetables
Fruits and vegetables are full of antioxidants and other nutrients that reduce inflammation, especially papaya and pineapple. Another key point is that these fruits contain enzymes that reduce inflammation and help digest food. (7)
According to some studies, an enzyme in pineapple (bromelain) has pain-relieving effects. (8) For this reason, some RA patients take bromelain as a supplement.
Rheumatoid Arthritis Foods to Avoid
It’s also important to avoid foods that cause inflammation. This includes foods like sugar, hydrogenated/trans fats, dairy, gluten, refined carbohydrates, synthetic ingredients (food coloring), junk food, and other common allergens.
Here’s a list of foods to avoid if you have rheumatoid arthritis:
- Omega-6 fatty acids: Most people eat too many inflammatory omega-6 foods, like canola, corn, cottonseed, and soybean oil.
- Sugar: Some sugar is okay, but too much can wreak havoc on your digestive system. Sugar increases inflammation and can trigger RA flare-ups. Plus, a high-sugar diet can cause hormone imbalances.
- Artificial sweeteners: Avoid artificial sweeteners like aspartame, saccharin, sucralose, and sorbitol.
- MSG: Mono-sodium glutamate (MSG) is a common ingredient in dressings, fast food, canned soup, deli meats, and Chinese food.
- Hydrogenated/trans fats: Deep-fried foods, fast food, coffee creamers, shelf-stable baked goods, and margarine are loaded with inflammatory oils.
- Gluten: Gluten is a group of proteins found in wheat, rye, and barley products. Unfortunately, it tends to cause inflammation in people with RA. Avoid bread, bagels, pancakes, most cereals, and other flour products. (9)
Not surprisingly, people with rheumatoid arthritis are often sensitive to foods that other people are not. Nightshades are a group of vegetables and fruits that can aggravate RA symptoms. These include white potatoes, peppers (bell, jalapeno, habanero, etc), paprika, eggplant, and tobacco.
Get The Right Amount of Exercise
It can be hard to fight through the pain, but it’s important to stay active. And for many RA patients, joint pain tends to get worse with inactivity. However, with the right amount of exercise, you can reduce stiffness and improve range of motion.
The best activities for people with RA are:
Weight lifting (not too much)
With this in mind, the best workout schedule combines strength training with aerobic activity. Just make sure to get plenty of rest in between workouts. When it comes to recovery, stretching and yoga can reduce inflammation.
Activities That Reduce Stress
Try to do as many stress-reducing activities as you can.
Here are a few easy habits to incorporate into your weekly routine:
- Go for a short hike. The sights and sounds of nature are particularly effective at reducing stress and anxiety.
- Meditation reduces anxiety, balances hormones, and decreases the cortisol.
- Believe it or not, deep breathing stimulates the vagus nerve, which reduces stress and balances hormones.
In the end, take time to do the things that relax you. If it makes you breathe a sigh of relief, it’s fair game.
Sleep is when the body repairs damage and reduces inflammation, and it’s a point often overlooked. Never forget that without quality sleep your whole body can suffer.
Here are some tips for getting a better night’s sleep:
- Make a point to go to bed at the same time every night.
- Similarly, wake up at the same time every morning.
- Don’t watch T.V. or use the computer/phone too close to bedtime.
- On the same note, avoid eating too close to bedtime.
- While you’re at it, create a bedtime routine that helps wind you down for the night.
- Take magnesium supplements in the evening. Believe it or not, magnesium calms brain activity and reduces anxiety.
- Eat one teaspoon of raw honey before bed. It has the right type of sugar to support melatonin production.
The brain needs deep sleep to remove cellular waste, and poor sleep can cause hormonal imbalances.
Frankincense Essential Oil (Boswellia)
Frankincense oil, also known as Boswellia, is a powerful anti-inflammatory. For the best pain relief, add several drops of frankincense to coconut oil and rub it into the painful joint area. In fact, the extract provides pain relief similar to Advil and Tylenol, and it also helps regulate the immune system in people autoimmune disorders. (10)
Supplements for Rheumatoid Arthritis
As many as 75% of people with RA have a vitamin D deficiency. On the whole, taking vitamin D supplements can reduce symptoms and reduce flare-ups. On a similar note, try to get outside as often as you can and soak up the sun.
- Ginger contains chemicals that reduce pain and inflammation, and it’s also great for gut health and blood circulation.
- Turmeric contains a compound called curcumin that reduces inflammation. Believe it or not, curcumin is one of the most powerful natural anti-inflammatories for reducing pain, tenderness, and swelling.
- Probiotics are living bacteria that reduce RA symptoms by strengthening the gut lining and protecting the body from inflammation.
By living a healthy lifestyle and fueling your body with the right nutrients, you may be able to reverse rheumatoid arthritis. To get the best treatment for your RA, contact us at Complete Care Health Centers and see one of our providers today.