Ask The Doctor: Painful Joints - Rheumatoid Arthritis

Question: I am a 40 year old female who has been recently diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. For some time now I have just not felt well. I wake up virtually every morning with stiffness in many of my joints. I often feel fatigued in the day, and even occasionally feel as though I have a slight fever. For the past year I have taken a lot of Advil and other pain medicine with very little relief. Now my rheumatologist wants to start me on Methotrexate. I am worried about taking this drug and wonder whether there are any alternatives.

Answer: This is a very good question, and one that is asked by many people in a situations similar to yours. Recently, I had two new patients diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis who have done very well on my “program.” Specifically, by changing their diets and using the natural medicines I will discuss, within six weeks they have felt well enough to avoid taking Methotrexate, a dangerous immunosuppressive drug. They have been able to get off all their pain and anti-inflammatory medicine, and they are virtually pain-free except for some residual stiffness in the mornings. As a confirmation that the treatment is effective, their sedimentation rate (a marker for the level of inflammation in the body) has dropped by over 40 percent. I hope that as time goes by, even more improvement will be seen.

To briefly go over the theory for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis I would like to make the following points. First, rheumatoid arthritis is an example of an inflammatory disease that has an autoimmune aetiology. This means, that in some people their body’s immune system becomes over reactive and starts “digesting” its own tissue–in this case the cartilage that cushions the joints. Why this reaction against one’s own tissue develops has been the subject of intense scrutiny, debate and research for many years. Some think the process is initiated by an infectious agent, such as a viral or bacterial infection. Others point to food allergens, such as milk proteins, as the agents that incite the immune system to overreact. Once set in motion, this immune overreaction can become truly destructive and leave the patient crippled, even confined to a wheel chair.

For me, the key to a successful therapy of rheumatoid arthritis comes from understanding the picture of the illness as a whole. Viewed metaphorically, every person with rheumatoid arthritis has two phenomena at work. The first concerns a malfunction of the inflammation process. In “normal” inflammations, such as a cold or the flu, the fever guides the inflammation to its successful conclusion. In rheumatoid arthritis, there is inflammation but without the fever as its guide, thus successful resolution is never reached. The fire of inflammation, which normally “cleanses” the body through eliminations of pus and mucus, is reduced to a smoldering, never-ending, cold, wet fire. In traditional holistic medicine, agents that increased the warmth of the body, in particular of the joints, were used to treat this smoldering disease. One of these “heating” agents was the application of bee stings directly over the joint, which dramatically increase the warmth of the joints. Herbs like cayenne and ginger, which provide a more gentle warming of the body and the joints, were also used. In the realm of diet, good fats are the food type that provides the most warmth as evidenced by the high caloric (heat-producing) value of fats as opposed to proteins or carbohydrates.

The second metaphor that helps in understanding rheumatoid arthritis is that the experience of having this condition is often described as having wet, cold, achy joints. It is as though the normal circulation of the fluids has been slowed, and the joint fluids build up, forming effusions that gradually erode the cushiony layers between the joints.

I liken this process to what happened to me one year after I cut down a large old willow tree from my yard. The tree was making our house overly dark. The next year, just as my neighbor predicted, from early spring our entire basement was flooded with cold stagnant water. It was as though the willow tree outside our house had regulated the fluid balance in our local ecosystem, taking excessive water out of the ground, and recirculating it through the air. It struck me as no accident that traditional healers, when faced with a similar situation in their patients, looked to the willow bark to help re-enliven and recirculate their fluids. Later on it was discovered that willow bark contains salicylic acid, the precursor of aspirin, the standard for all medicines used for pain and inflammation reduction. Using willow bark extract, however, is not at all the same as using chemical aspirin. Aspirin relieves the pain temporarily and does nothing for the underlying fluid congestion and lack of warmth. Willow bark, in contrast, gradually helps the fluids to recirculate as it relieves the pain and helps restore a sense of warmth.

So there is the foundation of the therapy: a diet rich in good fats with only about 70 grams (less than 1/2 cup) of carbohydrate food per day, similar to that suggested in Nourishing Traditions and The Schwarzbein Principle. If possible, include raw cream and butter as they contain an anti-stiffness factor that is destroyed by pasteurization. Use Betachol from Standard Process, 1 tablet, three times per day as an extra source of this anti-stiffness factor. Then use herbal extracts both internally and topically that have a warming effect. The best is Boswellia complex from Mediherb which contains ginger, tumeric, celery root and the wonderful remedy called Boswellia. Boswellia is actually a resin, used in Ayurvedic medicine and known to Westerners through its appearance in the story of the birth of the Christ child as Frankincense. This herbal resin (the oily part of the plant) was given by the wise men to symbolize the bringing of the warmth of the child in the depths of the cold winter. Its intent was literally to drive out the cold from painful and stiff joints and replace it with the feeling of warmth, movement and flexibility. Numerous scientific studies have confirmed the remarkable “anti-inflammatory” effect of Boswellia extracts. Initially, I use 1 tablet three times per day. And finally, I use Saligesic, a willow bark extract from Mediherb 1 tablet, two or three times per day as long as there is pain.

Consistently, I have found that this treatment is very effective for not only the acute pain of rheumatoid arthritis, but also for gradually restoring the underlying imbalance of the patient, so that they can once again enjoy freedom of movement and real health.