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Complementary and Alternative Medicine in Rheumatoid Arthritis

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An alternative to popping pills that provides the same benefits as the pills is being felt. Alternative medical approaches are available in rheumatoid arthritis. Read below to learn more.

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Anshul Varshney

Published At April 13, 2023
Reviewed AtMarch 22, 2024

Introduction

Taking medications on a daily basis for a prolonged period of time is tiresome, to begin with. An alternative that can benefit as much as medicines with the added benefit of zero side effects sounds too good to be true. However, this is a possibility for certain diseases, and rheumatoid arthritis is one such disease.

What Is Rheumatoid Arthritis?

Arthritis is commonly understood as a disease that makes movements difficult for the elderly. Rheumatoid arthritis is much more than that. It is an autoimmune disease, where the body’s immune system attacks one's own cells and tissues. It affects the lining present in the joints of the bones, causing swelling, which subsequently causes bone erosions and deformities. It affects more than one joint simultaneously. In some instances, it affects the entire body, including the skin and eyes, as well as major organs such as the heart and lungs.

What Are the Symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis?

Individuals experience stiff, painful joints that are usually swollen and warm to the touch. Rare instances of fever and tiredness may also be experienced. Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder, there are times when the symptoms are silent (remission - no pain or swelling) and also times when the symptoms intensify (flare- extreme pain and swelling).

What Is the Treatment for Rheumatoid Arthritis?

The doctor prescribes medications after a physical assessment, depending on the severity of the symptoms and the duration since the onset of symptoms.

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (for example Ibuprofen), corticosteroids (for example Prednisolone), disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs- for example Methotrexate), and biologicals (a new line of DMARDs-for example: Adalimumab) are some of the medications prescribed to relieve the pain and inflammation associated with rheumatoid arthritis.

Rheumatoid arthritis cannot be cured permanently, so these drugs need to be consumed regularly for the rest of one's life to gain relief for a suffering individual. Unfortunately, these drugs have severe side effects with prolonged use. This is where complementary and alternative medicine in rheumatoid arthritis comes into play. Alternative therapeutics are implemented to ease daily movements for an extended period without the risk of side effects.

What Is the Complementary and Alternative Medicine for Rheumatoid Arthritis?

Complementary and alternative medicine for rheumatoid arthritis includes a variety of modalities such as yoga and meditation, Tai chi, acupuncture, diet, and dietary supplements.

Does Yoga Help Rheumatoid Arthritis?

As the disease progresses, rheumatoid arthritis affects all joints of the body. The condition of the body can be best judged by the doctor after the examination. On the doctor’s advice, informing the yoga instructor in detail about the condition is important. Studies have shown certain poses and stretches of yoga do relieve the stiffness and pain related to arthritis, but this has to be done under strict supervision.

Yoga is known to help improve the quality of life for an individual too. For individuals diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, yoga can help with improved flexibility and functionality of the joints, as well as helps calm and relax, which directly benefits the body's overall healing.

Does Meditation Help Rheumatoid Arthritis?

Rheumatoid arthritis takes a toll on the mental health of an individual due to the limitations that may be put on them due to the condition. These mental disturbances can be controlled with the help of meditation. There are various mediation techniques. Some of them that have been shown to help with arthritis are as follows:

  • Yoga Breathing Exercises: This technique concentrates on breathing. Sit in a comfortable, relaxed position and inhale, hold for four seconds, and then exhale, hold for four seconds and this is repeated for two minutes.

  • Transcendental Meditation: Helps the wandering mind to focus. A mantra or phrase is chanted while one sits with eyes closed and comfortably for fifteen to twenty minutes twice a day.

  • Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction: This is a technique that accepts the present, acknowledges it, and lets it go. When an arthritic individual is in pain, the individual is taught to accept pain as a part of himself and that it is ok to feel it, and let go.

Does Tai Chi Help Rheumatoid Arthritis?

Tai chi is a form of Chinese martial art that involves low-impact, slow-motion exercises that relax the muscles, do not require extreme bending of joints, and do not stretch the connective tissues. All of this is beneficial for an individual suffering from arthritis. Studies have shown that practicing Tai Chi can help improve flexibility, muscle strength, and mood. However, no relevant studies prove that Tai Chi relieves pain and swelling from arthritis. An individual may practice Tai Chi on a doctor’s advice and under the supervision of a trained professional for the other benefits that Tai Chi offers.

Does Acupuncture Help Rheumatoid Arthritis?

Acupuncture is a practice where an acupuncturist uses fine needles at the body’s pressure points to help relax the muscles of the area. Studies have shown that acupuncture helps relieve pain but not necessarily the inflammation of rheumatoid arthritis. It has been shown to have beneficial effects when done along with medications.

Which Diet Is Good for Rheumatoid Arthritis?

Food cannot cure rheumatoid arthritis, but a change in diet can help reduce and control inflammation and other symptoms of the disease. Individuals with rheumatoid arthritis should have a well-balanced, nutrient-rich diet for better health and well-being.

  • Mediterranean Diet - Mediterranean diet includes fruits, vegetables, healthy fats, grains, and fish which are rich in antioxidants and chemicals that help reduce inflammation in the body. Studies have shown that individuals with rheumatoid arthritis benefit from relief from symptoms as well as the overall well-being of the body by following a Mediterranean diet.

  • Intermittent Fasting - Some studies have shown that intermittent fasting provided some relief with symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. The exact reason for this effect is not known, however, it is assumed that it could be because of the elimination of certain allergens in the food normally consumed that may cause inflammation in the body.

  • Vegan or Vegetarian - Studies have shown that individuals on a vegan (no animal products or dairy) or a vegetarian (no eggs) diet experienced a decrease in the intensity of pain, stiffness, flares of disease, and inflammation. However beneficial it has proven to be, individuals do not tolerate the diet well for a prolonged period to show long-standing benefits.

  • Dietary Supplements for Rheumatoid Arthritis

  • Fish Oil - It is a rich source of omega-3 essential fatty acids which have anti-inflammatory properties. Individuals who included fish oil in their diet had a decreased intensity of pain, tenderness, and stiffness. However, fish oil may interfere with clotting mechanisms; hence, should be used only on the doctor’s advice.

  • Borage Seed Oil - Borage seed oil is a plant-based oil that has been shown to help reduce joint swelling and tenderness if taken along with a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug. Prolonged use may have adverse effects on the liver; hence, must be used on a doctor’s advice and cautiously.

Conclusion

Rheumatoid arthritis does not have a permanent cure. Complementary and alternative medicine has a very broad range of options. The measures help ease the pain, relax muscles, and reduce swelling and tenderness. In addition, studies have shown that it benefits stressed individuals as well. However, care must be taken to follow complementary and alternative measures only on the advice of the doctor to avoid complications to one’s health.

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Dr. Anshul Varshney
Dr. Anshul Varshney

Internal Medicine

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joint painrheumatoid arthritis
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