Treating rheumatoid arthritis with alternative medicine

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

Information from the Arthritis Foundation

Several alternative (complementary) therapies may play a useful role in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis, but the safety and effectiveness of most of these therapies are still uncertain.

Alternative therapies are attractive because they are perceived to be safe and natural and because conventional therapies may have limited effectiveness and substantial side effects. However, many alternative therapies are marketed with unproven claims, and certain alternative therapies have even been shown to be harmful.

People with rheumatoid arthritis who are considering alternative therapies should discuss these therapies with their doctors first. Furthermore, alternative therapies that have proven benefits should only be used to complement, not replace, conventional medical treatment.

Ayervedic and Chinese medicine- these two schools of medicine emphasize a healthy life style and the use of herbs. Some people with rheumatoid arthritis may find these modalities to be helpful. These remedies should be used in conjunction with conventional medicine to attain the best results. It is important to keep your physician apprised of everything you take.

Exercise — Recent studies suggest that exercise is both safe and beneficial in people with rheumatoid arthritis. Regular exercise can build endurance and strength, preserve muscle and normal joint motion, minimize bone loss, and improve pain control. Exercise may also have psychological and social benefits.

Several different kinds of exercises are beneficial, including range of motion exercises to preserve and restore joint motion; exercises to increase strength, such as weight lifting and isometrics; and exercises to increase endurance, such as walking, dancing, swimming, and cycling.

Recent studies have also found that aerobic exercise (the type of exercise that increases heart rate and breathing rate for sustained periods of time) also has substantial benefits and does not worsen arthritis. Endorphin production is particularly useful for pain relief.

Exercise programs for people with rheumatoid arthritis should be designed by a physical therapist and should be tailored to the severity of the condition, a person's body build, and a person's former activity level. Exercise should never cause increased pain and should never push the joints past their normal range of motion.

Foods and diets — There is little evidence that food allergies or sensitivities cause or worsen rheumatoid arthritis in most people. However, some people may notice that their symptoms improve when they fast or eliminate certain foods from their diet, suggesting that an allergy or sensitivity is contributing to arthritis. For most people with rheumatoid arthritis, a healthy, balanced diet is a sensible component of the treatment plan. Testing for possible food allergies is another suggestion. IgG food allergies may play a role in some forms of arthritis. Anti-oxidant foods and other foods that contain anti-inflammatory properties have not been studied extensively.

Fish oils and plant oils — Substances found in fish oils and plant oils (such as primrose oil and flaxseed oil) can suppress immune and inflammatory responses. These oils have been shown to modestly reduce symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis in some people. Diets that include plant oils, particularly olive and rape-seed oil, instead of animal fat may be of some benefit and may also reduce the risk of coronary heart disease.

Vitamins, minerals, and other supplements — Some people with rheumatoid arthritis have a slight improvement in symptoms when they take copper, zinc, vitamin B, or the amino acid L-histidine. In contrast, studies suggest that vitamin C does not relieve symptoms in people with rheumatoid arthritis.

Hydrotherapy — Hydrotherapy has been shown to improve symptoms in people with rheumatoid arthritis. Warm water exercise is soothing and helpful for maintaining range of motion.

Venom — Although venom from stinging insects reduces inflammatory and immune responses in the laboratory setting, there is a paucity of evidence that venom is of benefit in treating rheumatoid arthritis. Nonetheless, there are anecdotal accounts of people getting better.

Hyperbaric oxygen and topical dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO) — Studies have found that neither hyperbaric oxygen nor topical DMSO has any benefits in people with rheumatoid arthritis.

Laser therapy, homeopathy, and biofeedback — Preliminary studies suggest that laser therapy, homeopathy, and biofeedback may improve the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis in some people.

Acupuncture — Studies have found that acupuncture probably does not reduce symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. It is helpful to a degree for osteoarthritis.

Magnets — Studies have found that magnets are not effective for relieving joint pain. Placebo responses are fairly impressive.

S-Adenosylmethionine (SAM-E) — Preliminary studies suggest that SAM-E may reduce the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. However, this supplement needs to be monitored in people with rheumatoid arthritis who take methotrexate.

Yoga- has been found to be effective for both pain control as well as range of motion for RA patents.

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