Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease that is increasing at alarming rates. In the U.S., roughly 1.5 million people have this debilitating inflammatory disease, which is costing over $19 billion per year in direct healthcare costs and indirect economic costs due to low productivity, absenteeism, and lost wages.
How does RA work? What triggers RA to cause pain?
RA occurs when the body attacks the thin membrane surrounding the joints, mistaking them as foreign invaders. Fluid and immune complexes build up in the joints, which ends up causing severe pain.
Typically, immune complexes filter out of your blood, but when there is a build-up, these tend to nest into different joints. This ultimately causes local inflammation and tissue damage, which leads to pain and swelling – characteristics of RA.
RA tends to start in the small joints such as hands, fingers, and toes. It can then migrate and progress to larger joints, like the knees, ankles, hips, and wrists.
Studies show that new cases of RA are typically two-to-three times higher in women than men. And if someone in your family has RA, the chances are strong that you may develop this autoimmune disease in your lifetime.
Other factors that can increase your risk of RA include:
- Age – RA can develop at any age, but it mostly affects women between the ages of 40 and 60 years old.
- Environmental toxins
What Are the Long-Term Impacts of RA?
If not properly treated, RA can cause severe pain, which can lead to disability and premature death.
People with RA are more susceptible to developing chronic diseases, such as heart disease and diabetes. Also, individuals who are obese and suffer from RA have a greater risk of developing heart disease factors such as high cholesterol and high blood pressure.
Work is also significantly impacted by those who suffer from RA. Many people with RA simply cannot perform the same job functions they were once used to doing with ease.
Typical signs of RA can include:
- Joint pain and swelling
- Joint tenderness and stiffness
- Unexpected weight loss
- Urinary tract infections
- Stiff bumps or nodules under the skin
How to Treat RA
Conventional treatment focuses on suppression of the disease by prescribing anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), such as Advil or Motrin. Once these NSAIDS are no longer effective, steroids, such as Prednisone are often prescribed.
The use of steroid medications are not a long-term strategy and additional medications are needed frequently such as Methotrexate, Plaquenil, and Remicade. These medications address the inflammation but not the underlying cause, and over time become less effective in managing the pain.
To properly teat RA, you need to get to the root cause. Once you know what is triggering the inflammatory conditions, then you can begin a game plan to overcome this disease naturally. A functional medicine doctor can help you in these areas.
When you work with a trusted functional medicine doctor, he or she will look at several things that may be triggering the pain. In many cases, patients can be caught by surprise as to what may be the cause, as these often can be associated with:
Many people are gluten intolerant and don’t even know it. Also, what many people do not know is that gluten, which can wreak havoc on your gut, is in just about everything! From the food you eat, the supplements you take, the products you use, chances are it has gluten.
Gluten is not the same gluten that our ancestors were exposed to. Today, gluten is modified and hybridized, which can lead to a leaky gut. With a leaky gut, gluten enters your bloodstream and confuses your immune system by accidentally attacking your joints and other organs – a process known as molecular mimicry.
Toxic molds produce mycotoxins, which are volatile organic compounds (VOC’s) that can be found in both living and working environments. These VOC’s are not only toxic, but they can also trigger inflammatory conditions associated with RA.
A heavy metal such as mercury is capable of altering and damaging cells and bodily tissues. When these cells become damaged, your immune system can mistakenly identify them as foreign invaders. Studies do show that people who are exposed to higher mercury have a greater risk of developing an autoimmune disease.
Biotoxins and the Need for Detoxification
Your body has systems that regulate digestion, respiration, brain function and flexibility of joints. These systems can be disrupted by harmful biotoxins such as mold, fungi, bacteria, heavy metals, harmful chemical agents, and food preservatives.
Proper detoxification is key to removing these harmful substances. As your body goes through the detoxification process, not only can you replace damaged cells, tissues and organs, but you can also stimulate your liver, enhance blood circulation, and refuel your body with proper nutrients.
Not sure what qualifies as a harmful toxin? This article will walk you through what some of those agents are and how to begin the process of detoxification.
While rates of RA continue to skyrocket, there is hope to overcome this painful inflammatory disorder. By working with a trusted functional medicine doctor, you will be able to take the proper steps to naturally overcome this harmful disease without the need of relying on NSAIDS. But the first step is to find out what is causing your RA, which your functional medicine doctor can also help you figure out.
Meet Dr. Neil Spiegel
For over 20 years in osteopathic medicine, Dr. Spiegel has applied traditional and alternative methods to diagnose and treat his patients. He has a special interest in caring for patients with acute and chronic musculoskeletal and neurologic pain syndromes. Dr. Spiegel has received numerous professional and volunteerism honors including Top Doctor Survey Awards and the State of Maryland Volunteer Service Award. He also serves on the Board of Directors of a free clinic serving the uninsured in Montgomery County, Maryland.