Ask Me Anything - Alternative Remedies

Has anyone had good results by limiting certain foods?

Kelly Mack:
Some people have experienced changes in their RA by adjusting their diet, but there is no cure-all or scientific consensus that works for everyone. Some patients find that certain foods worsen their RA symptoms and trying eliminations helps them to identify and avoid these foods. However, this is not effective for all patients and there is a great variety among what people experience as far as nutrition and RA symptoms. Generally, health care professionals recommend a healthy balanced diet to maintain the best health with RA. It’s important not to make diet changes without consulting your doctor and talking with a nutritionist if you wish to explore these options so that you stay safe and avoid possible interactions or trouble related to your medications and RA treatment plan.

Tamara Haag:
Like seemingly everything related to Rheumatoid Arthritis, the impact of food choices on disease activity tends to vary from person to person. Some of our community members have found that eliminating meat and dairy, gluten, nightshades, and/or refined sugar has caused significant improvement of their symptoms. Others report that eliminating those same foods did not have a noticeable impact on disease activity. Therefore, just as with medications and exercise, discovering whether avoiding certain foods are helpful is a process of trial and error. This page contains many articles about nutrition and RA.

Has anyone found exercise that you can stand to do that helps?

Kelly Mack:
Yes, exercise can really help people with RA to feel better and maintain joint health. I’m a believer that experimentation works and that people need to find activity they enjoy and also that your rheumatologist approves. Personally, I really like yoga and gentle stretches for my joints and have found adaptive classes to be helpful. I also enjoy some exercises with weights to help with my strength, walking, and going to the pool. The benefit of exercising in the pool is that the water both supports the joints and offers gentle resistance to build strength. My doctor knows about these activities and encourages me to do as much as possible while also keeping in mind not to overdo it and risk joint pain or muscle strain.

Tamara Haag:
Exercise and Rheumatoid Arthritis can be one of those RA catch-22s: researchers have found that moderate exercise can decrease RA symptoms, but the pain of those symptoms can make it very difficult to exercise. Therefore, finding an activity that is as comfortable as possible is essential in finding an exercise regimen that someone with RA can stick with.

Personally, I have found the best exercises to be swimming, yoga, walking, and cycling. Swimming is by far my preferred mode of exercise, as the water supports my joints and I can choose between sticking to gentle movements in the water on bad days to getting a lot of laps in on a good day. However, access to a pool, which can be expensive, time-consuming, and require the effort of getting from the car to the locker room to the pool, keeps me from swimming as much as I'd like.

Therefore, walking and yoga are my go-to exercises. If I'm having a hard time I may just do a few simple yoga postures for 5-10 minutes, as even this can loosen my muscles and reduce how much additional strain tight muscles put on my joints. If I'm having a good day, I may attend a yoga class or do a longer 20-30 minute session on my own. I did take yoga classes with instructors who helped me determine the best postures to do when various joints hurt before I began practicing on my own. Therefore, those new to yoga would be advised to learn under the supervision of a qualified instructor. For cardiovascular exercise I like to go for walks, and have various routes in my neighborhood that I can choose depending on whether I want to get in 15 minutes or a longer walk.

I also enjoy cycling, but only when my knees and wrists aren't too swollen. I do find holding the handlebars puts strain on my wrists, so I am very selective about when I cycle.

With all of these exercises, I have found that moderation is key. It is far better to do five minutes of exercise than nothing. On the flip side, pushing myself to overexertion can lead to an increase of RA symptoms. Finding the right balance is one more of those RA conundrums that I feel I am constantly tweaking, but it does make a very positive impact on my symptoms when I’m able to stay active.

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