Alternative holistic treatments for rheumatoid arthritis

by Nathan Wei, MD, FACP, FACR

Nathan Wei is a nationally known board-certified rheumatologist and author of the Second Opinion Arthritis Treatment Kit. It's available exclusively at this website... not available in stores.

Click here: Second Opinion Arthritis Treatment Kit

Rheumatoid arthritis is systemic, autoimmune form of arthritis where a genetically predisposed individual comes into contact with an environmental trigger that causes immune system overactivity.

This sets up a cycle of perpetual inflammation that causes destruction of cartilage, bone, joint lining, and possibly internal organs.

Medical progress in the last 10 years has made it possible for most patients to achieve remission. While it is tempting to speculate that an entirely holistic approach may be effective for rheumatoid arthritis, it is probably disingenuous. A complementary approach using both conventional as well as alternative therapies may be effective.

A recent study found that hydrotherapy is particularly beneficial for arthritis sufferers. One hundred thirty-nine patients with chronic rheumatoid arthritis were randomly assigned to receive hydrotherapy, seated immersion, land exercise, or progressive relaxation.

Patients attended 30-minute sessions twice weekly for 4 weeks. Physical and psychological measures were completed before and after intervention, and again at a 3-month follow-up.

The results showed that all patients improved physically and emotionally, as assessed by the Arthritis Impact Measurement Scales 2 questionnaire. The patients' belief that their pain was controlled by chance happenings decreased, signifying not just improvement in their condition but also in their belief to be able to manage their symptoms.

However the data revealed that the hydrotherapy patients showed significantly greater improvement in joint tenderness and in knee range of movement (women only) than the other patients. And at the follow-up measurement, the hydrotherapy patients maintained the improvement in emotional and psychological state.

The report concluded that although all patients experienced some benefit, "hydrotherapy produced the greatest improvements", and the researchers stated that there is clear evidence of the benefits of hydrotherapy for arthritis sufferers to support the continued use of this therapy as an effective adjunct treatment.

Hall J; Skevington SM; Maddison PJ; Chapman K A randomized and controlled trial of hydrotherapy in rheumatoid arthritis.Arthritis Care Res (UNITED STATES) Jun 1996, 9 (3) p206-15

Researchers at the Glasgow homeoopathic Hospital U.K. demonstrated in a small-scale controlled study that homeopathy may be beneficial for patients who have rheumatoid arthritis.

Twenty-three patients with rheumatoid arthritis were given conventional treatment using anti-inflammatory medications together with a homeopathy preparation (which was individually prescribed by an attending homeopathic physician). They were then compared with a similar group of twenty-three patients who received the same conventional anti-inflammatory medications but with an inert placebo homeopathic preparation.

The results revealed that the patients receiving homeopathic remedies in addition to conventional treatment showed a significant improvement in subjective pain, movement (articular index), stiffness and grip strength, whereas there was no significant change in the patients who received the anti-inflammatory drugs with placebo.

Gibson R.G.; Gibson S.L.M.; MacNeil! AD.; Buchanan W.W. Homoeopathic therapy in rheumatoid arthritis: Evaluation by double-blind clinical therapeutic trial. British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, 1980, 9/5 (453-459)

Another study suggested that the homeopathic preparation Rheumaselect could help rheumatoid arthritis.

Gaus W, Wiesenauer M, Aktuel Rheumatol, 1993; 18: 159-62

Czechoslovakian researchers have investigated the therapeutic effects of three different physical therapies (whirlpool bath, low/high air pressure massage with a vasotrain device and mud paste bags from the GDR) in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis.

The patients’ pain and limited foot movement were evaluated before and after treatment, and a statistical evaluation of the analgesic effect of the different physiotherapy remedies was performed. A statistically significant reduction of pain was observed and the patients noted significantly better improvement in mobility after whirlpool bath and mud paste treatment.

Svarcova J.; Hofia T.; Kouba A.; Trnavsky K.; Zvarova J. IS DURCH UNTERSCHIEDLICHE PHYSIOTHERAPIEMITTEL. KONTROLLIERTE KLINISCHE STUDIE. Wiss. orschungsinstitut fur Rheumatologie, Na Slupi c. 4, 128 50 Praha Czecho-slovakia Z. PHYSIOTHER. (Germany, Democratic Republic), 1990, 42/2 (109-112)

Acupuncture has traditionally been employed to treat many diseases, including arthritis. There is little doubt that acupuncture is effective for some people with this condition. The theory is acupuncture works through energy channels in the body. Treatment has been shown to cause the brain release of endorphines and encephalins (natural pain killers). There is some evidence also, that acupuncture has immunomodulatory effects.

There are several scientific studies suggesting that acupuncture can be very helpful in the treatment of arthritis. For instance, a recent study in Russia (1) found that 73% of patients suffering from ankylosing spondylitis benefited from acupuncture treatment. When acupuncture was combined with UV light treatment the response rate increased to 93%.

In another study, 54 Rheumatoid Arthritis sufferers were given acupuncture (warm needling) with Zhuifengsu (a chinese herb) The effectiveness rate was found to be 100%. (2)

A study of auriculo-electropuncture (AEP) - treatment of points on the ear - by a double blind method was conducted in Russia with 16 arthritis patients. Not only did they all feel better as a result of the treatment but they all showed "statistically significant" improvement in "blood samples." (3)

The scientific validity of these uncontrolled studies is suspect.

(1) [The combined use of acupuncture and UV irradiation in treating the neurological manifestations of lumbar osteochondrosis] Sochetannoe primenenie akupunktury i oblucheniia UF-luchami v lechenii nevrologicheskikh proiavlenii poiasnichnogo osteokhondroza. Tsarev IuK; Troshina ED Vopr Kurortol Fizioter Lech Fiz Kult (USSR) May-Jun 1991, (3) p25-9,

(2) Effect of acupuncture and point-injection treatment on immunologic function in rheumatoid arthritis. Liu X; Sun L; Xiao J; Yin S; Liu C; Li Q; Li H; Jin B General Hospital of PLA, Beijing. J Tradit Chin Med (CHINA) Sep 1993, 13 (3) p174-8

(3) [Auriculo-electropuncture in rheumatoid arthritis (a double-blind study)] Aurikuloelektropunktura pri revmatoidnom artrite (dvoinoe slepoe ispytanie). Ruchkin IN; Burdeinyi AP Ter Arkh 1987, 59 (12) p26-30

OBJECTIVE: Acupuncture is commonly used by patients with chronic painful musculoskeletal disorders. There are, however, few well-designed studies of its efficacy. This paper describes a randomized placebo-controlled cross-over design to evaluate acupuncture as a useful treatment adjunct in the management of patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA).METHODS: Sixty-four patients were centrally randomized from a hospital-based rheumatology out-patient clinic. Fifty-six patients were suitable for study, all were on second-line therapy and aged 18-75 yr. There had been no change in therapy for the preceding 3 months. Patients who had previous acupuncture, anticoagulation, fear of needles or infection were excluded. Single-point (Liver 3) acupuncture or placebo was given with an intervening 6 week wash-out period. The acupuncturist, patient and statistician were blinded as far as possible. The outcome measures included the inflammatory markers (erythrocyte sedimentation rate and C-reactive protein), visual analogue scale of pain, global patient assessment, 28 swollen and tender joint count, and a general health questionnaire.

RESULTS: The results demonstrated no significant effect of treatment or period and no significant interaction between treatment and period for any outcome variable. No adverse effects were reported.

CONCLUSION: Acupuncture of this type cannot be considered as a useful adjunct to therapy in patients with RA. Possible reasons why this is the case are discussed.

David J, Townsend S, Sathanathan R, Kriss S, Dore CJ Royal Berkshire Hospital NHS Trust, Reading, UK.

Studies have shown that vegetarian diets can be successfully used to treat the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis and other rheumatic diseases. Kjeldsen-Kragh (1991) found that rheumatoid arthritis patients following a vegetarian diet had considerably fewer swollen and tender joints and less stiffness or pain.

One common sense approach I found another naturopathic physician discuss is this...

Consider the possibility of food allergies and/or food sensitivities and undertake an allergy-elimination diet. Among the most common foods that cause sensitivities in people with rheumatoid arthritis are wheat, corn, milk and other dairy products, and beef. A simple blood test like the Immuno blood print can also be useful for evaluating food allergies.

Avoid foods from the nightshade family (potatoes, tomatoes; eggplant, peppers, paprika, cayenne, and tobacco) for a month to see if you find any symptomatic relief. While the data is not entirely clear about this group of foods, there is enough anecdotal evidence to give it a try.

Modify your diet to reduce sugar and other refined carbohydrates, and saturated fat, including red meats. Red meats contain substances that promote inflammation. Increase the amounts of fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grains, In general, a more "primitive" diet seems to be beneficial.

Eliminate as many fats as possible (with the exception of fish oil, see below) including animal and vegetable fats

If your symptoms are severe, try a vegetable juice fast for three or four days, making sure that: the vegetable juices contain no nightshade. Check with your doctor before trying this.

Adopt a regular exercise program as tolerated. Swimming, water exercises, tai chi or yoga are good choices.

Develop a stress reduction program.

In addition to your regular diet, consider taking the following:

• Fish oil: Take 1,000 mg, three times a day. Conversely, increase your consumption of fish
• Boron: 2 mg.
• Evening primrose oil: 1,000 mg. three times a day.
• Selenium: 100 mcg. daily,
• Vitamin C: 2,000 mg. daily.
• Vitamin E: 400 I.U. daily.
• Zinc: 22.5 mg.
• Ginger (powdered form is available at health food stores): 500 mg. three times daily.

Sea cucumber is another remedy that has been claimed to help RA. No one seems to know precisely why sea cucumber works. Sea cucumbers are actually animals that live on reefs. Sea cucumber is available at health food stores in pill form. It is also a staple of Chinese cooking. Some patients have had dramatic results taking sea cucumber. Take one 500-mg. capsule twice a day or use it in your cooking.

A variety of other herbal remedies has also been found to be effective. A rundown can be found elsewhere on this website.

Get more information about alternative holistic treatments for rheumatoid arthritis as well as...

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• And much more...

Click here Second Opinion Arthritis Treatment Kit

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