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Read part 1 of this post on rheumatoid arthritis here for more information on what rheumatoid arthritis is.
Treatment of RA
While there is no cure for rheumatoid arthritis, there are many options for treatment and management. The most common treatments for RA include medications to reduce inflammation, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), steroids, and immunosuppressants. In severe cases, surgery to repair the joints may be necessary. As medications and surgeries can come with unwanted side effects, it is desirable to pursue natural methods of symptom relief.
Physical therapy can be a great help to those suffering from RA. Exercises can help keep joints flexible, and some RA patients actually find relief from being active. Gentle exercises such as tai chi and walking can be extremely beneficial, but it is important not to push the body too hard, especially during a flare of painful symptoms.
The most important thing one can do to manage RA, however, is to reduce the lifestyle factors that can contribute to its onset, such as a heavy toxin load and food sensitivities. People come into contact with many chemicals every day, often without even knowing it. These chemicals build up in the body, and the immune system must constantly be fighting off these toxic invaders. Quitting smoking and wearing a mask and protective clothing when working with chemicals should be a high priority. Unfortunately, many everyday items, such as hygiene and cleaning supplies, are also full of chemicals that are harmful to the immune system. The best way to avoid these is to use homemade products from natural ingredients and to reduce consumption and waste. See “Further Reading” for resources to get started.
Another common factor in autoimmune disease that is unknown to many is diet. As it turns out, the majority of the immune system resides in the gut. An unknown food sensitivity can cause “leaky gut syndrome,” where gaps develop in the lining of the small intestine. Food particles are able to pass through the gut and into the blood stream before they are fully broken down. The body sees these particles as invaders and attacks. This attack can cause general inflammation, or trigger focused inflammation against the body in the form of an autoimmune disease. This occurs because the site on the particles where antibodies attach may be too similar to a site on cells in the body.
Eating a healthy diet, free of processed foods and artificial additives is important for anyone with an autoimmune disease, as many additives in food can contribute to the toxic chemical load mentioned earlier. However, it is also extremely common for patients to discover a sensitivity to foods that they have been eating their whole life. While gluten is the most well known, there are many foods that one can be sensitive to. The best way to discern this is to undergo an elimination diet.
In an elimination diet, the patient eliminates many foods that may be causing inflammation, such as gluten, dairy, eggs, peanuts, nightshades, and all processed foods. Some people find they do even better when eliminating all grains, legumes, and nuts, an elimination diet known as the paleo autoimmune protocol. While eliminating these foods, the patient should also focus on consuming gut-healing foods, such as broth, organ meats, and probiotics through fermented foods. Eventually, the patient may begin adding foods back in one by one and looking for a reaction. If adding a food back in is met with inflammation, it is likely that there was a sensitivity to that food.
While an elimination diet is best done under the supervision of a doctor, there are many books, such as those listed under “Further Reading,” that detail such a diet, as well as provide meal plans and recipes. Many patients find immense relief and even complete recovery from their symptoms after finding and eliminating foods they are sensitive to.
As mentioned previously, in addition to gender and genetic background, lifestyle factors play a very large role in the development of RA and most other autoimmune diseases. Those who already have an autoimmune disease are more likely to develop further conditions, and those who have relatives with autoimmune disease may be particularly concerned with their chances of developing the disease. Reducing the number of negative factors in one’s lifestyle is the best way to prevent or delay the onset of autoimmunity. While this reduction may not be one hundred percent effective, reducing risk factors will greatly improve one’s chances of staving off the disease.
The best course of action is to follow the procedure outlined under treatment. Eliminating exposure to toxins, improving nutrition, and discovering any food sensitivities are the best ways to increase overall health.
Every year, more research is done regarding autoimmune diseases, and every year, science is able to do more to help the patient. Rheumatoid arthritis is no different. As RA is able to be detected earlier and treated more effectively, it is possible to live longer and happier lives in spite of the condition.
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