- Dr. Nadia Mawji, ND
Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune condition involving chronic inflammation of the joints and is a systemic connective tissue disorder (Araki et al 2016). Symptoms of RA include: joint stiffness particularly worse in the morning, joint inflammation (red & hot & swollen joints) leading to severe joint pain and fatigue. We know that genetics play a considerable role in acquiring any form of autoimmune disease, but autoimmune conditions can also be acquired. At times, RA becomes so far progressed that medical doctors may recommend biologic medications such as DMARDs (disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs) to help modulate inflammation and reduce pain symptoms, which is necessary and important to help with the improvement of quality of life at that stage.
Once you are aware that you are pre-disposed genetically, why not try and prevent progression? If you are getting early symptoms, why not start now to prevent progression? Research is showing us that environmental factors such as lifestyle can also be contributing to the inflammatory nature of RA. Today we will briefly touch on a few aspects to consider if you or someone you know has RA.
Research is showing that the food we eat may aggravate RA. This is because our diet affects systemic inflammation this is what propagates autoimmune tendency. Dietary interventions can help with modulating the immune response and is affordable for clinicians and patients. The food we consume can be a foundational basis upon which RA can be managed. Did you know that almost 80% of our immune system is in our gut? Wow, right?! This means that the food we eat affects our immune system. Ani-inflammatory diets have been studied and shown to reduce inflammation, decrease synovial infiltration of immune cells, reduce inflammation in the synovial membrane, and reduce the progression of RA (Khanna et al 2017).
Another aspect that often goes overlooked is one’s history of infection. Viral infections are now being closely associated with autoimmune conditions. The interesting thing about viruses is that although they may pass that phase of producing acute symptoms (say from a cold, cold sores, or shingles, etc), viruses can linger in various parts of the body (joints, nerves, etc) for long time periods, without causing any issues. High periods of stress (physiological and/or mental emotional) can trigger immune cells to cause a “flare up” and this can in turn activate immune responses. Autoimmune conditions in general are a result of “loss of immunological tolerance to self-antigens”, which means that in a way, the immune system begins to over-exert an immune response on itself (Anaya et al 2013). RA is one of those conditions that can be propagated by chronic viral infection, scientifically known as “host-guest interaction” (Anaya et al 2013).
A hot topic in the immune field right now is Omega-3. Omega-3 is known for its ability to help shift from pro-inflammatory and to promote anti-inflammatory pathways in the body. In RA and in other autoimmune conditions, omega-3 has been shown time and time again to help reduce inflammation and even reduce prevalence of auto-antibodies in autoimmune conditions, such as RA (Gan et al 2017). Remember, omega-3 is also found in fish and can also be utilized as a dietary source. The Mediterranean diet, which is high in omega-3 has also been shown to be beneficial for patients with RA and other autoimmune conditions, because of its higher omega-3 content.
Rheumatoid arthritis is a complex condition. Appropriate blood work, assessment and information will be run by your doctor. If required, patients may also be referred to a rheumatologist for further investigation. There is a lot that integrative medicine can do to help prevent and manage rheumatoid arthritis. There is also a time and place for medications such as DMARDs and your specialist will be able to guide you.
Your naturopathic doctor trained in chronic immune disease will be able to provide a plan that is safe for you and that does not interact with any conventional therapies you may be on. The above information is outlined for information purposes only. Please see your medical provider to determine if any of the above-discussed items is appropriate for you, prior to beginning them.
Please book in for an introductory 15 minute consult to find out if naturopathic medicine can help you optimize your health.
Anaya et al 2013. Infection and autoimmune diseases. Autoimmunity: From Bench to Bedside. Chapter 19 of textbook.
Araki et al. 2016. The mechanisms underlying chronic inflammation in rheumatoid arthritis from the perspective of and epigenetic landscape. Journal of immunology research. Published online.
Demoruelle et al. 2014. When and where does inflammation begin in rheumatoid arthritis? Current Opinion in Rhuematology. 26(1): 26-71
Khanna et al. 2017. Managing rheumatoid arthritis with dietary interventions. Frontiers in Nutritions. 4 (52): Published online.
Skocyzynska et al. 2018. The role of diet in rheumatoid arthritis. Journal of Rheumatology. 56(4): 259-267.