Blog Section

Natural Therapies for Rheumatoid Arthritis and Other Chronic Inflammatory Conditions

Natural Therapies for Rheumatoid Arthritis and Other Chronic Inflammatory Conditions
Renata Trister DO
Chronic inflammatory conditions are affecting a growing number of people, especially in “Western/developed” countries. Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is one of these chronic inflammatory illnesses. Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease in which your body’s immune system – which protects your health by attacking foreign substances like bacteria and viruses – mistakenly attacks your joints. The abnormal immune response causes inflammation that can damage joints and organs, such as the heart. The body mistakenly attacks its own tissue as if it is an invading pathogen. Although one true cause of RA has not been identified, multiple factors such as infection, genetics and immune dysfunction may contribute to the development of this condition.
Rheumatoid arthritis typically affects the small joints in your hands and feet. Unlike the wear-and-tear damage of osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis affects the lining of your joints, causing redness; warmth and painful swelling that can eventually result in bone erosion and joint deformity. Research suggests that one possible underlying cause of this disease may be an autoimmune reaction to antigens originating from the intestinal tract. An antigen is any substance that causes your immune system to produce antibodies against it. An antigen may be a foreign substance from the environment such as chemicals, bacteria, viruses, pollen and certain “inflammatory foods”. Antigens may also be formed within the body, as with bacterial toxins or tissue cells. Exposure to these antigens and “inflammatory” foods can increase the activity of the intestinal immune system. These reactions can then cause systemic inflammation that is associated with a variety of chronic diseases. Many people are intolerant to the proteins in foods such as wheat and dairy (or fats found in corn or peanut oil), and this can initiate an inflammatory cascade that starts in the gut but can have far-reaching, systemic effects consequences.
Elimination diet or anti-inflammatory diet program can reduce exposure to these “inflammatory foods”. This can thereby reduce immune system stimulation and help improve symptoms in some patients with RA. The most common examples of inflammatory foods are dairy, wheat, trans fats and refined carbohydrates. Furthermore adding certain natural foods and substances can help to protect joint tissues and relieve RA symptoms by controlling inflammation, reducing the associated free radical damage, and supporting the integrity of the intestinal tract.
Modulating the Inflammatory Response Naturally
The anti-inflammation diet is comprised of healthy, wholesome, unprocessed foods.
Anti-inflammatory fats are a cornerstone of this diet. Foods high in omega-3 fatty acids, such as wild salmon, sardines, herring, anchovies, flaxseed, hempseed and walnuts. In addition, other anti-inflammatory fats include extra-virgin olive oil, avocado oil, flaxseed oil, hempseed oil and walnut oil. Omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids are essential nutrients as well as precursors to both inflammatory and anti-inflammatory molecules. A balanced consumption of each group helps maintain a healthy balance of these molecules. Unfortunately, the consumption of omega-6 fatty acids far outweighs that of omega-3 in the standard American diet, which can result in an overproduction of inflammatory molecules. In RA patients, supplementation with fish oils (omega-3) has resulted in a reduction of pro-inflammatory molecules approaching 90%, and at least 11 double blind, placebo-controlled studies have shown beneficial clinical effects.
Fruits and vegetables are high in inflammation-reducing antioxidants. Fruits and vegetables high antioxidants are important, especially onions, garlic, peppers and dark leafy greens, These are high in inflammation-fighting carotenoids, vitamin K and vitamin E.
Herbs and spices include compounds to fight inflammation. Turmeric, oregano, rosemary, ginger and green tea contain bioflavonoids and polyphenols that reduce inflammation and limit free radical production. Some of the most potent anti-inflammatory vegetables are peppers and the spices derived from them, such as cayenne pepper. All chili peppers include capsaicin (the hotter the pepper, the more capsaicin it has), which is a potent inhibitor of substance P, a neuropeptide associated with inflammatory processes.
Niacinamide & N-acetylcysteine (NAC) Niacinamide has been shown to be effective in relieving symptoms of RA and osteoarthritis in both human and animal models. Niacinamide inhibits the synthesis of a pro-inflammatory molecule that plays a decisive role during the development of RA. NAC also stimulates the synthesis of glutathione, a principal defense within the body against free radicals.
The Role of Free Radicals and Antioxidants
The excessive free radical production associated with immune overreaction and inflammation is an area of concern in RA and similar conditions. Free radical damage may be responsible for the degradation in the rheumatoid joint. Therefore, vitamins E and C and superoxide dismutase may be beneficial in reducing free radical injury to joint tissues. Vitamin E supplementation at levels from 200-600 IU per day can also provide some pain relief in RA patients, and vitamin C supplementation is needed for collagen production.
Gut Ecology
Alterations in the bowel flora and its activities are now believed to be contributing factors to many chronic and degenerative diseases. Irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and ankylosing spondylitis have all been linked to alterations in the intestinal microflora. The intestinal dysbiosis hypothesis suggests a number of factors associated with modern Western living have a detrimental impact on the microflora of the gastrointestinal tract. Factors such as antibiotics, psychological and physical stress, and certain dietary components have been found to contribute to intestinal dysbiosis. Substances that support the proper intestinal flora include probiotics and prebiotics.
Probiotics Bifidobacterium lactis and Lactobacillus acidophilus are two common species of “friendly” bacteria. These microorganisms help with digestion and offer protection from harmful bacteria, just as the existing “good” bacteria in your body already do. Supplementation with these friendly bacteria may support healthy gut ecology and keep undesirable bacteria in check.
Prebiotics are nondigestible carbohydrates that act as food for probiotics. When probiotics and prebiotics are combined, they form a synbiotic. Fermented foods are considered synbiotic because they contain live bacteria and the fuel they need to thrive.
Nutritional Support of Gut Integrity
Above and beyond sustaining healthy gut ecology, supporting the structure and function of the intestinal lining is critical for proper barrier function and intestinal health.
L-Glutamine is an essential amino acid that is anti-inflammatory and necessary for the growth and repair of your intestinal lining. L-glutamine acts a protector and coats your cell walls, acting as a repellent to irritants.
Deglycyrrhizinized Licorice (DGL) is an extract of licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra). DGL enhances the resistance of the gastric mucosa against the eroding action of bile, promotes growth of cells that line the stomach, and enhances protective mucus production and secretion.
Aloe Vera (Aloe barbadensis) helps in healing of the epithelial cells of the gastrointestinal lining. Aloe has been shown to reduce inflammation.
The integrity and health of the gastrointestinal system plays a significant role in modulating RA and other chronic inflammatory conditions. Taking the above steps can attenuate symptoms of RA and improve quality of life.