Chemicals that Contribute to Inflammation in Rheumatoid Arthritis
Last updated: May 2022
Once I discovered that inflammation was the root of all evil within the rheumatoid arthritis world, I decided that for my own health and the health of my family, I would do my best to limit my exposure to things that increase the inflammation that I’m already fighting in my body.
There are so many chemicals, many that are in products we use every single day, that produce an inflammatory response within our bodies. These are the chemicals that contribute to inflammation with rheumatoid arthritis.
Taking back some control
There are so many things outside of our control such as insurance requirements, medication efficacy, and flare triggers. So it is my hope to try and take back some control. I can control the products I choose to buy and the types of foods I choose to eat. The key is to make informed and educated choices. But, that does take a little digging to get to the bottom of chemicals that contribute to inflammation with rheumatoid arthritis.
To be clear, I’m not a scientist
I want to be clear here from the start: I’m not a scientist by any stretch of the imagination. I’m certainly not what some may describe as a “hippie” or “crunchy” momma either. However, I do believe in balancing knowledge with practicality as well as taking all information with a grain of salt and more than a touch of common sense.
In addition, please know that I have access to the same information that everyone has. I’ve made it my business, especially in recent years since my daughter’s additional JIA (juvenile idiopathic arthritis) diagnosis, to really learn, study, and understand how inflammation works in our RA ridden bodies.
Finding research on chemicals and inflammation
Researching the information about chemicals, pollutants, allergens, and how they all work within the human body is widely disputed. Not to mention the difficulty in wading through the scientific jargon and study results alone. There aren’t many examples of clear-cut evidence or obviously direct correlations.
Sometimes, research takes a little digging and a practiced eye for finding reliable and unbiased information that is also from a reputable source. Companies have their own agendas and interests which is their priority. Often vague language and complex scientific data are difficult to decipher. The research takes quite a bit of time and a keen eye for details. Sadly, there is no “one-stop-shop” for the information we really need.
Quick facts on RA inflammation
So let’s review some facts here. Rheumatoid arthritis can (and often does) attack organs in addition to joints. What is your body’s largest organ? You got it, your skin. We wash our skin, slather on lotions and potions, creams, and chemicals.
And what is one of your body’s first “alert systems” for your immune system? Right again, your skin cells. Your skin cells alert your body to unknown chemicals and are the primary barrier between your body and the outside world. So if your skin is already on “high alert,” it is ready and willing to get your already overactive immune system fighting even more.
What are some chemicals that contribute to inflammation?
Endocrine disruptors and hormones
According to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIH), endocrine disruptors are, “natural or human-made chemicals that may mimic or interfere with the body’s hormones, known as the endocrine system.”1
Once you start messing with hormone levels, the body begins a rapid-fire response of the autoimmune system. Endocrine disruptors are found in everything from food preservatives and bottles to detergents, hair dyes, and even toys.2 They can also be found in the environment, chemicals in our foods, and the products we use.
A life of increased risk
I’m not going to lie. As soon as I uncovered that little gem, a bit of the momma bear in me sort of took over. Simply by being my biological children, they are already at an increased risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis and a whole host of other autoimmune conditions. Then once you start adding increased risk on top of increased risk (simply because of the products we choose to use or the food we choose to eat) then before you know it, their fate might as well already be sealed.
What if, simply by making some different choices, I could actually decrease their risk? Would I do it? Absolutely, and without a doubt.
Food allergens and additives
For example, carrageenan is a food additive used to thicken some types of foods we eat and drink such as salad dressings and milk. Allergens and additives such as this exist in many of the foods we consume so they can sit on the shelves longer or simply add more textural appeal. While some of the more detrimental effects of these additives (such as carrageenan) are still being debated among the scientific community, I still find myself circling back to my original question, is it worth the risk?
Air pollution, environmental chemicals, and chemical compounds
Bisphenol A (BPA), asbestos, and mercury are all linked to increased risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis and autoimmune disease.3 These are likely common words you’ve heard before. After all, no one goes home and says, “I’d like a nice bowl of asbestos for dinner tonight.” However, many of them are more prevalent in our environment than we’d like to think. And there are certainly more out there than you likely are aware of.
There is everything from pesticides that keep our crops growing to the antibiotics that we take to fight infections which can all lead to increased inflammation responses in the body. There is a commonly used chemical compound found in products such as shampoos and body washes called sodium lauryl sulfate that can also contribute to inflammation levels in our body, especially since we are already prone to inflammation anyway.
Why are these chemicals regularly used?
I know what you are thinking, what the heck-a-doodle!?! How can these potentially harmful things continue to be out there, and continue to be used regularly in products and food without any regard for the potential safety and health concerns?
Well, for many people, these chemicals and additives aren’t necessarily a problem. Normally functioning human bodies fight off these nuisances while the average human is none the wiser. But not us. Nope. For those of us with overactive immune systems, all it takes is a tiny spark, and soon our bodies are raging inflammation infernos.
This list is not exhaustive
The list of known “toxins” is lengthy and widely unregulated, mostly (I believe) due to the fact that for the majority of the population, it isn’t a problem. Money talks and the whole foundation of the biggest economy in the world is through selling products and services that are produced cheaply and sold for the biggest profit, which leaves it to us, just the average person with autoimmune conditions, to do our own research and protect ourselves and our families the best we possibly can.
Increasing awareness on the topic
Are there dangers lurking around every corner and in every product? No, I personally don’t necessarily believe so. However, I do believe that we need to be more aware of what is in the products we use, the air we breathe, and the food we consume. Over the years, too many times, general safety has been cast aside in favor of profit and convenience.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of the chemicals that contribute to inflammation in rheumatoid arthritis. And I certainly don’t say any of this to scare anyone. Rather I simply want to make you aware of the connection between what we put in, on, and around our body and how our body in turn can respond in an inflammatory way, resulting in worsening symptoms and increased disease activity.
Do your own research and stay informed
Ultimately, when it comes down to it, I want to urge you to do your own research. Look at the products you use and the foods you eat. Explore all of the studies that have been completed so far and evaluate their sources. That way, the next time you order a product online or pick something up off the shelves, you will be better informed about the choices you make for yourself and your family.
I want to urge you to be informed and make whatever choices you are most comfortable with. We are all part of the same rheumatoid arthritis family, and I truly believe that it is our duty to look out for each other and others with autoimmune conditions.
Did you know rheumatologist Dr. Donica Baker is answering community questions?
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