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An Integrative Approach

Acupuncture. Supplements. Restrictive diets. Do any of these things really work to improve RA inflammation? There’s a lot of confusing information out there, mostly on the Internet, that claims they work–and that they don’t. What can a person trust and believe?

I’ve tried some alternative treatments for my RA in the past, although a bit lazily and half-heartedly. Maybe at the time I wasn’t fed up yet with having to choke down more and more pills, or exhausted from nearly constant, relentless flares in my feet and ankles. I don’t know. What I do know is that I’m pretty fed up right now. My RA does whatever the heck it feels like doing, and I need to regain control. I desperately want to be in less pain, get off prednisone, lose weight, and be healthy–or as healthy as possible.

A couple of weeks ago I had an appointment at an integrative medicine clinic in South Minneapolis–one of the rare few that exist in the Twin Cities. Months earlier a friend recommended this clinic, after we had several long chats about alternative treatments for health problems. She was encouraging about the clinic, having heard good things about it from her doctor and doing research herself. Trusting her opinion, and looking for something new to tackle my disease, I began making phone calls and got sucked into the lengthy process of getting a consultation appointment.

I needed to try a different approach to managing my disease and my health. Simply put, I was sick of being sick all the time. I also didn’t want to add more drugs to my already long list of powerful prescription medications that could even be making my health worse. Trying alternative therapies again seemed like a good idea, but this time I would make sure to diligently follow the doctor’s advice. I knew that nothing would work if I couldn’t find the discipline to do what I was supposed to do.

Plus, eating healthier, exercising, getting enough good sleep, practicing meditation and mindfulness, and replenishing depleted vitamins and minerals certainly couldn’t hurt me. Those were all things I should’ve been doing anyway, yet my coffee, carbs, and night-owl habits kept getting in the way. Scheduling time and mustering up energy to go exercise was also a difficult habit to form and sustain. But, as a firm believer in a person’s ability to start over and become successful at making changes, I was willing to try again. I had to.

My appointment at the clinic went well, and the provider spent over 1.5 hours with me, which seems incredible in today’s world of 10-15 minute meetings with curt, harried physicians. We went over my medical history, as well as discussing things about my personal life and lifestyle. She asked why I wanted to be treated at the clinic and I answered, “I want help getting my RA under better control. I want to be a lot healthier and I don’t want more prescription drugs thrown at me in order to achieve that.”

She agreed with my answer and then went on to describe two changes I should make right away that involved diet and supplements. I had already changed my diet drastically earlier in April: no gluten, no caffeine, no refined sugar, no processed or fake foods, more fruits and vegetables. These restrictions weren’t easy to stick with, especially since I was a self-diagnosed coffee/carbs/sugar addict. I felt pretty good about the willpower I had managed to hold onto until she threw me for a loop.

“You should be a vegetarian,” she said. “You need to cut out all dairy, red meat, and all meat preferably except for fish.”

What? No dairy? In place of gluten and the sugary carbs I loved so much, I had been chowing down on cheese every day. Lots of cheese. I love cheese! No meat? I wasn’t a big beef eater, but I did often enjoy turkey or chicken. And eggs! She also warned against eggs. Hard-boiled eggs, scrambled eggs, omelets–I thought the protein and the omega-3s were helping me, not contributing to more inflammation.

I sighed. “Why vegetarian?” I asked. “What’s wrong with meat?”

She explained that most people have an excess of omega-6 fatty acids compared to omega-3 fatty acids (found in fish and fish oil), and that food with too much omega-6s can make inflammation worse in people with RA. This is also the reason she wanted me to start taking fish oil capsules of around 1,000 mg three times daily–to help balance the omega-6/omega 3 ratio and to fight against inflammation. Foods to stay away from that are high in omega-6 fatty acids include: food oils (palm, soybean, corn, sunflower, vegetable), poultry, pork, beef (all meat, basically), eggs, and nuts, to name a few.

I sighed again. And started fantasizing about cheeseburgers.

Probably noticing the disappointed look on my face, the doctor relented and said, “Well, to start, if you have to eat eggs, make sure they’re rich in omega-3 acids.” She also told me that until I get used to eating fish (does sushi every once in a while count?), I could have a little bit of chicken. But really it was best to totally cut out meat, and certainly red meat.

“What about gluten?” I asked. The doctor replied that going gluten-free wasn’t necessary unless I had an allergy or a sensitivity to it. But if I wanted to keep cutting it out from my diet, I was welcome to continue doing it. Ok, sure, why not?

Hmm. All of this was so confusing. I thought gluten makes inflammation and RA worse, doesn’t it? I’ve read many articles preaching against the evils of gluten for people with inflammatory conditions. Are those wrong? Is my new doctor wrong? I don’t know who to believe anymore.

I figured that since she’s the integrative medicine specialist at a reputable clinic that takes ages to get into, I better follow her advice and see what happens. My new diet of no dairy, no meat, no eggs, and the other “no-nos” I was already trying to eliminate was going to be hard. Really hard. I was going to starve trying to live off of twigs and berries and celery sticks! However I also really need to lose weight, so I guess there’s that.

One last diet change the doctor suggested was to try fasting, such as 12-hour fasts for at least a week. At least a week?! This also sounded unrealistically difficult to do and stick with, however I was intrigued at the idea. I’ve heard stories from other people with RA who tried fasting and their pain and swelling got a lot better. It’s worth a try. Or, um, maybe worth a thought for now.

At the end of my appointment I left the exam room and headed over to the lab where six vials of my blood were drawn to see if any of my levels were off, or if I was deficient in vitamins or minerals. I was curious to see what the results would be; I wouldn’t be surprised if at least something was out of whack.

After I finished getting lab work done, I pushed open the front doors of the clinic and stepped out into the bright sunlight and walked through the parking lot to my car. The appointment was long and tiring and a bit overwhelming. I felt positive though, and excited at the thought that maybe this would be the thing to finally give me significant and long-term relief, and in a healthy way.

I slowly climbed into the car, with stiff knees and throbbing ankles, and I fantasized about throwing my bottles of prednisone out the window and then running over them repeatedly. I knew that would be foolish though, because completely overhauling my diet and my life was going to require time and patience–and a lot of sacrifice.

Oh, the sacrifices. There will be many sacrifices sticking to this treatment plan. But if never having another juicy, delicious cheeseburger again could mean being pain-free–that’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The RheumatoidArthritis.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Comments

  • LibbyRa
    3 years ago

    Angela….I support your going with this approach. A year ago about now I began with a functional medicine doctor. Supplements mostly, monitoring what I eat….I went the Wheat Belly, Total Health approach. I found I’m really carb sensitive as well. He recommended ridding the night shades too. I did VERY well with stalls along the way. I wanted to lose weight, maybe eliminate some of my medications (I’m T2d, have fibro along with the RA) if possible. By the 1st of June (2016) I was at the lowest weight I’d been in many years with much/much more to go. I’d lost approx. 60 lbs or so, which was monumental for me. THEN I went into a flare in my shoulders and more….making the story short I also experienced vertigo and my bp went all over the place. I stayed in the hospital 2 days while heart tests were done (it was fine) but the vertigo has been relentless. I’m going to O.T. presently and that’s helping the flare pain and the dizziness. This Sat. I have an app’t with a new functional medicine doctor. This one can write scripts. He promotes Low Dose Naltrexone for the RA…I’m yet to begin the full protocol. I’ve done some research on it and it’s promising for many autoimmune issues. I think I could eliminate meat somewhat, though not fully. I know it’s a mind-set and would be hard for this upper/midwestern-raised gal…with meat and potatoes being a life-long staple. In the past month of not feeling well my eating has taken a back-seat to what I had been doing. I know my carb in-take has risen and I know I’ve gained some lbs. Once I feel more “myself” I can get back on track. As an aside to this my primary and I had a conversation last week where she told me she’d been reading that a healthy gut is key to our well-being! I could have told her that 3 yrs ago. This is slowly catching on. Our local paper, this week, even had a large article on functional/integrative medicine in our area and how it’s growing. Time will tell how well I will do…I’ll keep you all updated. We didn’t get sick over-night and we won’t get well over-night!

  • Lisaleena1
    3 years ago

    You are an adult and can do as you please and I hope you feel better and what you do helps.
    I would strongly recomend visiting sciencebasedmedicine.org
    And look up integrated medicine.
    Good luck

  • Angela Lundberg author
    3 years ago

    Hello,

    I’m a bit confused about your comment, as it seems like a veiled attempt to tell me that…integrative medicine is quackery? Is that what you were trying to say and point out? Yes, I am an adult and I do hope that changing my diet helps my RA and my health. While I’m not a scientist or a doctor, there is a clear connection between diet and physical (and mental) health, I would argue. I’m also working with knowledgeable medically-trained doctors as well as doing my own research about this.

  • lynne
    3 years ago

    I have been off
    rd meds for 4 years and have been following a diet of no red meats,gluten,added sugar,and processed foods.
    I do eat lots of veggies,fresh fruits and fish,chicken and turkey.
    I do eat whole grains and a few eggs here and there.
    My Rd is doing ok with no swelling,limited pain and try to stay as active as possible.
    So,needless to say,I do believe diet plays a very important part of handling this disease.
    Hope this helps!

  • TinaLarsen
    3 years ago

    Fantastic! Go very well doing this Angela! You are totally right about the hardest thing being sticking to it. I also had a complete reboot of my diet and my RA has gone very quiet with only the ACPA number in the red at my last appointment which is practically remission. The weight loss was awesome and I am cautiously optimistic. The main thing is that it takes commitment and it takes time. It also takes heaps of nerve. I really look forward to reading how you go. My reboot started with about a 2 day fast that was really all about juicing veges and then the next 10 or so days adding some cooked foods such as quinoa, sweet potato, buckwheat. Then adding more and more as things settled down. But absolutely no acidic foods, meat and diary. Chicken? I roasted a chook last night and really enjoyed it. But it will probably be a month before that urge comes back! And nuts? I can do nuts fine. But yeh, each to their own. Good luck!

  • Wren moderator
    3 years ago

    That sounds really tough to me, Angela. Probably all healthy, but maybe it would work better for you if you dropped things out of your diet bit by bit, slowly, so you could get used to the different diet, try new recipes, etc. And fasting–maybe try to make your overnight sleep hours the largest part of the 12. Get up to a healthy breakfast and eat your largest meal in the mid-late afternoon, then no more food during the evening. Presto! Fasting for the day covered.
    Wishing you the best, always. 🙂

  • Angela Lundberg author
    3 years ago

    It is really tough! And maybe I’m trying to do too many things all at once, actually. Although I do feel that I need to be strict about not eating ANY animal products to see if the diet will actually help. Only eating a little bit or eating something one day and not the next won’t work, I don’t think. However I think I can probably be a little more relaxed with the gluten-free thing while I’m trying to get used to this vegan+fish thing. Regarding the fasting…yes, being organized about a good sleep schedule (which is hard for me) would help. I also always have had major problems with nighttime eating and snacking. Sigh. I know I can overcome that though if I really set my mind to it!

  • Kathi Brill
    3 years ago

    Oh my I think that would have been the shortest appointment ever! I am sorry to hear that you too are living like me and so many others. I have found most “fixes” don’t work, and I have found only one thing that does seem to make me better.. margaritas.. no well no.. it is really Montmorency cherries, dried from Sam’s club, Walmart , I eat 10 a day at one sitting, I did it for gout which it made a positive change on. I tried pill form and it didn’t seem to help so I get unsweetened cherries dryed in a bag for under 10.00 and it lasts for a month or longer. If you eat more than 10-12 plan on having a colonoscopy since you’ll be all prepped! after a while of eating them you will get used to the cherries and it won’t have the same effect. At this time of year I eat cherries from the grocery all day long. Yes it does help I noticed after a few weeks I was taking less pain meds. I have the bag by my computer so I don’t forget every day 10-12 pieces. try and let me know how it is for you! Kathi758@yahoo.com

  • Angela Lundberg author
    3 years ago

    Hi Kathi,
    Thank you for your comment! Haha…margaritas make me better too. Mmm, I want one right now! I’m very cautious and skeptical of a lot of the “fixes” out there. But I have read a lot of things about how giving up all animal products can help people with RA. Eating healthier (whole foods, not processed junk, etc) can’t hurt me anyway. I’m pretty desperate to get off of prednisone so I’m going to give this a good try. Being patient and not feeling deprived are tough though.

  • OK Red
    3 years ago

    Yes, I would love to see the follow up on this-so is the fasting for the whole week? and then do you repeat it at a given interval?

  • Angela Lundberg author
    3 years ago

    Yes, my practitioner said to fast for at least a week, 12 hours which includes sleeping during the night. I have to try doing it again because, er, I did it two days and then fell off the wagon. I really want to see if it works though. And I do plan to follow up on all of this!

  • LillianKar
    3 years ago

    Hope for the best! It does sound like the Raw Diet .. Please do share the results.

  • Angela Lundberg author
    3 years ago

    Also, what exactly is the raw diet? I’ve heard about it a lot but I haven’t actually looked into it much.

  • Angela Lundberg author
    3 years ago

    Thank you! I will!

  • Brenda Gordon
    3 years ago

    Angela, I am so intrigued by your story. I hope you share more about this new way of living and I hope it provides the results we all seek!

  • Angela Lundberg author
    3 years ago

    Thank you Brenda! I hope it provides good results too. I’ll definitely be writing more about this. 🙂

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