Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid Arthritis Care and Management

Navigating rheumatoid arthritis (RA) disease care and management can be complicated, especially if you are doing it on your own. Understanding the symptoms you or a loved one are experiencing and getting to the root cause of what may be triggering them, be it diet, lifestyle, or genetics, can help you improve quality of life with RA. Combining nutrient-dense foods with supportive lifestyle habits, proper medications and regenerative therapies can support overall health with this autoimmune disease.

In this article, we’ll go over several care options, both conventional and holistic, to help manage your symptoms. Understanding how to care for yourself or a loved one, getting to the root cause of symptoms, and making educated decisions to slow disease progression and any potential complications can be empowering. Maybe you’ve wondered if there is a cure for RA or toyed with the idea of learning how to weave conventional therapies and holistic efforts together for the ultimate care plan. Let’s explore how to care and manage rheumatoid arthritis together. 

Conventional Treatment

Conventional treatment for RA involves using medications to reduce joint swelling, pain, and inflammation. Some may also slow down disease progression. Any drug has the potential to cause mild to severe side effects, but finding the right medication may help manage symptoms and reduce bad days. Conventional drug treatments for RA may include:

  • non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs): These drugs target pain and inflammation and include ibuprofen, naproxen, aleve, and COX-2 inhibitors such as celecoxib (Celebrex). Side effects may include irritation of the stomach, heart problems, and damage to the kidneys. 
  • corticosteroids: These drugs include prednisone and and cortisone to reduce pain and inflammation. Side effects may include bone thinning, weight gain, and diabetes.
  • disease modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs): This category of drugs actually slows down disease progression by targeting the immune system. DMARDs may be prescribed in combination with corticosteroids for better efficacy. Side effects may include liver damage and lung infections. 

(Source, Source)

In addition to medications, other conventional non-drug treatments include:

  • physical and occupational therapy: Movement is important with RA to avoid loss of function. Working with a physical or occupational therapist to incorporate safe movement into your routine can increase strength and endurance, while restoring range of motion and flexibility. A therapist can help you learn how to perform daily tasks such as dressing, cooking, and cleaning safely, while protecting your joints and reducing pain. 
  • surgery: Sometimes surgery may be necessary to repair function to joints that have been severely damaged. Surgery may also be offered to control pain if medication is not working. 

(Source, Source)

Nutrition

A nutrient-dense diet offers holistic support to the person with rheumatoid arthritis. Are you regularly consuming foods rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants? Having an anti-inflammatory, nutrient-rich diet can help fill in dietary gaps and restore gut health, both factors that can affect RA symptoms. (Source

Did you know that the gut microbiome influences the development and progression of RA? Consuming antioxidant-rich, colorful fruits and veggies, healthy fats, high quality proteins, and probiotics from fermented foods can improve the gut flora. To reduce inflammation, avoid refined carbohydrates and processed foods laden with sugar, and minimize dairy. (Source

Anti-Inflammatory Foods

The following anti-inflammatory foods may be useful in managing inflammation from RA:

  • green and black tea
  • mushrooms
  • citrus fruits
  • organ meats
  • diverse and colorful fruits and vegetables
  • turmeric
  • ginger
  • spirulina

(Source, Source)

Healthy Fats

Regularly consuming healthy fats high in omega-3 fatty acids can help manage RA symptoms by decreasing inflammation. These high-fat healthy foods may include:

  • fatty fish, such as salmon, mackerel, sardines, and anchovies
  • walnuts
  • olive oil
  • nuts and seeds

(Source)

Foods To Avoid

Avoiding foods that trigger inflammation may help minimize and manage symptoms by not only reducing inflammation overall, but also balancing the gut bacteria to maintain a healthy microbiome. Processed foods that include gluten, dairy, and refined sugars may aggravate inflammatory symptoms by stimulating an autoimmune response. To manage RA symptoms more effectively, try to steer clear of the following foods:

  • nightshades: potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant
  • red meat
  • dairy products
  • eggs
  • sugary drinks such as soda and juices
  • processed and refined foods made with white flour
  • candy
  • fried foods
  • margarine
  • processed meats: hot dogs and sausages
  • coffee in excess
  • alcohol

(Source, Source)

Gut Health

Research has shown that diminished microbial diversity in the gut can influence the onset and progression of RA. A diverse microbiome that flourishes from consumption of an array of colorful fruits and veggies, anti-inflammatory foods, herbs and spices, and healthy fats, makes for a healthy and robust immune system.

Your gastrointestinal tract provides a home for the largest number of immune cells in your body, and poor gut health means poor immunity. Antibiotic use, stress, smoking, and consuming foods that trigger inflammation can cause an imbalance in gut microbes known as dysbiosis. This imbalance can cause disarray in the immune system, triggering gut inflammation that spreads throughout the body, attacking joints and other organs associated with RA. (Source)

Supplementation

Supplements can be great additions to a nutrient-dense diet and an all-around healthy lifestyle, but it can be tough to sort through all the information out there. Working with a knowledgeable nutritional therapy practitioner could be exactly what you need to manage RA symptoms and reduce flares with supportive supplementation. The following supplements have been researched and proven effective in reducing RA inflammation.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Inflammation is a major factor in autoimmune disorders in general, and omega-3 fatty acids may help to reduce overall inflammation in the body. Omega-3s can be found in food sources such as fish, nuts, seeds, and berries, and may be helpful in reducing inflammation and pain in the joints. Research has shown that consuming omega-3s could potentially reduce the onset of RA in those who are more at risk of developing the disease. Additionally, omega-3s may prevent and reduce the risk of coronary artery disease and stroke. (Source)

Vitamin D

Research regarding vitamin D has shown it is essential for healthy immune function, and low levels of vitamin D have been linked to an increased risk of developing an autoimmune condition such as RA. Vitamin D can be found in foods such as eggs and fatty fish, but many diets don’t provide enough vitamin D to reduce overall inflammation and support immune health, so supplementing with vitamin D may help. Your vitamin D level can be monitored through a simple blood test and it’s important to have your level checked regularly. A health care professional can help you determine how much vitamin D you should take. (Source, Source

Curcumin

Curcumin, the most powerful component of turmeric, has anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and anti-tumor properties. Not only can curcumin provide protection against developing disease, but it can also reduce symptoms from diseases like RA by decreasing inflammatory joint pain and swelling. Studies have shown taking curcumin with black pepper and a healthy fat increases absorption. A steaming mug of golden milk made with coconut milk, turmeric, ginger, black pepper, and cinnamon may be one of the tastiest prescriptions to manage your RA symptoms. (Source, Source)

Probiotics

Probiotics can be beneficial in managing RA symptoms because they improve and maintain gut integrity and aid the overall health and diversity of the microbiome. Specific strains of probiotics that target inflammation, regulate the immune system, and balance gut bacteria in RA include Lactobacillus casei and Lactobacillus acidophilus. Try supplementing or consuming probiotic rich foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi, or kombucha, to name a few. (Source)

Boswellia

Boswellia, also known as frankincense, might be a useful addition to your RA care plan. This herb contains anti-inflammatory properties that target inflammation in joints and tissues, while also reducing cartilage damage. Studies have shown that Boswellia may provide short-term relief of pain, especially in the knees, hips, and hands. Unfortunately, there is some apprehension around Boswellia as it may increase the risk of other drug side effects such as antidepressants, ibuprofen, anti-anxiety medication, and immunosuppressants. In addition, there is some concern that this herb may stimulate the immune system, causing more symptoms and discomfort associated with RA. Be sure to talk with a health care provider before supplementing with Boswellia. (Source)

Lifestyle

Living with a chronic condition like rheumatoid arthritis can be challenging, both physically and emotionally. While changing lifestyle habits alone cannot cure RA, they can support your body to manage and reduce symptoms and prevent autoimmune flare-ups. The following lifestyle factors, when consistently included in a regular routine, can improve quality of life with RA. 

Movement

Exercising with painful and inflamed joints may seem contradictory, but regular and appropriate movement can actually help decrease joint disability and stiffness. By increasing mobility, flexibility, strength, and function, consistent targeted exercise can be key in supporting rheumatic joints. Low impact movement such as biking, swimming, walking, Pilates, stretching, and yoga, are ideal for building muscle mass and improving heart health and lung function. Regular movement may reduce fatigue and depression, both of which are common in those with RA. Find an enjoyable activity to engage in several times per week, if not daily, and stick with it! (Source)

Stress Management

Living with a disease like RA can cause stress from many different directions: pain, fatigue, lack of movement, medical bills, to name a few, and chronic stress can worsen symptoms. A constant state of stress can weaken the immune system and increase inflammation. Learning to manage stress is crucial to managing symptoms and flares. Practicing relaxation techniques regularly such as meditation, deep breathing, yoga, and journaling may improve your quality of life with RA. It is essential to prioritize self-care and practice healthy coping mechanisms to manage stress regularly and effectively so it does not become a chronic issue. (Source)

Quit Smoking

Smoking can complicate anyone’s health, but smoking with RA can worsen symptoms and increase the risk of developing additional health issues such as heart disease. Studies have shown that smoking increases the risk of developing RA and affects disease severity. Exercising is key to staying flexible and reducing joint stiffness in RA, but smoking may reduce your lung capacity and keep you from being active. Quitting this habit could be one of the most effective ways to care for yourself and manage this disease. (Source, Source)

Recommended Care Team for Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis requires ongoing care and management, and having a knowledgeable and supportive care team in place can greatly improve your quality of life. Although the composition of your RA care team will be unique to you, the following may be integral members of your team. 

Primary Care Provider

Your primary care provider is likely to be the first point of contact once you start noticing symptoms. They may be responsible for diagnosing and monitoring your condition, as well as prescribing medications and managing any coexisting health issues. 

Rheumatologist

A rheumatologist is a specialist in arthritis and diseases of the joints, muscles, and bones, making them an integral part of your care team. They have specialized knowledge and experience in managing conditions like RA and can collaborate with other providers as well. 

Nutritionist or Dietitian

Proper nutrition is crucial for managing RA. A nutritionist or registered dietitian can provide individualized dietary advice that takes into account your specific needs and preferences, as well as identifying and targeting any nutrient deficiencies that may be contributing to your condition. 

Physical/Occupational Therapists

Physical and occupational therapists can show you safe exercises to keep your joints from being stiff and inflexible, while also teaching you how to perform daily activities more effectively and safely. 

Acupuncturist

An acupuncturist may help relieve associated symptoms of RA such as anxiety or pain, with low risk of side effects. (Source)

Naturopath or Functional Medicine Doctor

Naturopathic medicine and functional medicine are two approaches to health care that focus on treating the root cause of health issues rather than just managing symptoms. These two practices have gained popularity in recent years, particularly for chronic conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis. (Source)

Mental Health Practitioner

Living with a chronic condition such as RA can take a toll on your mental health. It is essential to have access to a mental health professional, such as a therapist or psychologist, who can help you cope with the emotional and psychological challenges that may come with managing a chronic illness.

WellTheory’s Perspective and Approach

At WellTheory, we approach chronic illness and autoimmune disease by assessing the individual needs of each member within our community. With high-quality nutritional therapy and lifestyle approaches, we prioritize filling in the gaps in our members’ healing journeys to optimize whole-body health and well-being. This method of collaborative care empowers our members to lead their own health journeys, while our care team guides them in how they can effectively manage their condition.

WellTheory can provide one-on-one support and guidance to help you manage and thrive with rheumatoid arthritis. At WellTheory, we offer functional lab testing that can serve as a valuable tool in your arsenal to provide more insight into the root causes of your symptoms while identifying nutritional deficiencies and imbalances. Lab testing supports our food-first approach and helps us understand your unique needs, so we can tailor and personalize our approach to your autoimmune condition. Bridge conventional medicine and holistic practices in the management of your autoimmune condition with a WellTheory membership. 

The Bottom Line

Utilizing a combination of conventional approaches along with targeted nutrition and lifestyle habits can help manage RA symptoms. Your RA care plan is unique to you and can improve your quality of life by taking into account your disease severity and what works for your body. At WellTheory we approach every member as the individual they are, to support and manage RA with a solid foundation of dietary and lifestyle habits that optimize long term success while living with a chronic illness. 

References

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Cleveland Clinic. (2022, February 18). Rheumatoid arthritis. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/4924-rheumatoid-arthritis

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