Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis is an inflammatory progressive disease that affects the joints, especially the hands, wrists, feet and knees. The inflammation makes the joints stiff, swollen, painful and sometimes misshapen. Rheumatoid arthritis is a disease in which the immune system attacks healthy tissue in the joints and it can potentially lead to irreversible joint destruction and disability.


  • Joints are painful, stiff and swollen, especially in the morning. The pain may be so severe as to dramatically interfere with the sufferer's quality of life
  • The initial onset of the disease is usually gradual, but occasionally may be quite sudden
  • Joints may become disfigured or misshapen
  • Fatigue, muscle weakness, weight loss, poor appetite and anaemia may also occur
  • Multiple joints tend to be affected simultaneously
  • Women are three times more likely to be affected than men
  • Symptoms typically develop at 25-50 years of age
  • Juvenile arthritis is a similar condition that affects children and teenagers


  • Rheumatoid arthritis is one of a group of conditions known as autoimmune disorders, in which the immune system attacks the body's own tissue - in this case the tissues targeted are the synovial membranes of the joints. The cause is unknown
  • Heredity factors may increase the risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis
  • Rheumatoid arthritis is more common in people who smoke, eat a poor diet, have a lower economic status or are affected by mental health issues, and these factors may also contribute to symptom severity
  • From a naturopathic perspective, inadequate digestion of protein and other foodstuffs, food intolerance, an imbalance of the bacteria that colonise the bowel, and immune issues may all contribute to the development of rheumatoid arthritis

Nutritional & Herbal Support

  • The anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil and salmon oil can help provide support with the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, including pain, swelling and tenderness. Because omega-3s are needed in large quantities to be effective, many people find it beneficial to take fish oil supplements in addition to including several serves of oily fish in their diets every week
  • New Zealand green lipped mussels have been used by Maori for the treatment of arthritis for many years, and in clinical studies, have demonstrated an ability to help with arthritis pain and improve joint function. The recommended daily dose is 50-100 mg of green lipped mussel oil, taken twice daily for at least eight weeks
  • Celery seeds are traditionally taken for rheumatic or arthritic joints and may work by promoting the excretion of the waste products that contribute to irritation and inflammation of the joints
  • Research suggests that people with rheumatoid arthritis tend to have lower levels of several nutrients than other people, including key antioxidants. Take a high potency multivitamin tablet that's been specially formulated to contain a broad spectrum of nutrients, including vitamins A, B5 (pantothenic acid), B6, C and E, and the minerals zinc, copper, manganese and selenium
  • To improve digestion in rheumatoid arthritis, take a broad-spectrum digestive enzyme supplement
  • Taking probiotic supplements such as Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus plantarum and Bifidobacterium longum helps restore the balance of intestinal bacteria. Oligofructose (sometimes called fructo-oligosaccharides) can be taken at the same time as probiotics to encourage and support re-colonisation by the friendly bacteria

Diet & Lifestyle advice

  • Rheumatoid arthritis is a complex condition that requires professional treatment. There is no cure for rheumatoid arthritis, however there are things you can do to help manage and reduce the pain, swelling and Fatigue
  • Exercise helps keep arthritic joints moving and improves the strength of the muscles and ligaments around them. It also improves pain management, helps you achieve and maintain a healthy body weight (which relieves pressure on the joints), and enhances circulation (and therefore nourishment) of the joints. However, it's important that your exercise program doesn't aggravate your arthritis. Don't exercise joints that are inflamed or painful, as doing so may worsen the tissue damage. Gentle forms of exercise, such as walking, tai chi, swimming and aquarobics are suitable options; talk to your doctor or physio about an exercise program that's specially tailored to your individual needs
  • Adequate rest is also important, but don't avoid activity altogether, or your joints may become stiffer and your muscles weaker
  • Eat plenty of whole grains, fresh fruit and vegetables, and high quality proteins. Oily fish such as salmon, tuna and sardines are an excellent choice because they are rich in omega-3 fatty acids
  • Increasing your omega-3 intake at the same time that you decrease your consumption of saturated fats (from animal products) and trans fats (used in the production of some margarines, take away foods and baked goods) may be particularly beneficial
  • Ensure your diet contains generous helpings of fresh foods that are rich in vitamin C and flavonoids, including citrus fruit, berries, and onions. Turmeric is also beneficial, as it has anti-inflammatory properties
  • Work with your doctor or healthcare professional to identify any allergens that may be contributing to your problem
  • Many natural therapists encourage those who suffer from arthritis to avoid tomatoes, capsicum, chilli, potatoes, eggplant and other foods from the nightshade family of vegetables, believing that they promote inflammation. Although this is controversial, it's worthwhile trying; many sufferers report that avoiding these foods helps manage their symptoms
  • Learn and practice meditation or relaxation techniques in order to improve your ability to cope with Stress and manage your pain. Hypnotherapy, acupuncture, osteopathy or chiropractic treatment may also be beneficial for some people
  • Use heat packs to warm up stiff joints and muscles, or ice packs to relieve acute episodes of pain and inflammation
  • Many people benefit from devices that modify household appliances for ease of use by arthritis sufferers. Talk to your doctor or physio for more information

If symptoms persist consult your healthcare professional. Information provided is of a general nature and should not replace that of your healthcare professional.

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