The human body is a complex, interconnected system, and a dysfunction in one location can present issues in a completely different area on the body. Supporting the basic foundations of health, such as digestion, is often overlooked in traditional medicine. If our basic body system is unhealthy it can cause progressive problems in other areas. For example, rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease that typically presents as joint inflammation.
However, through my experience in treating patients, I believe an underlying root cause of this disease is bowel and digestion dysfunction.
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) can begin as a small pain that increases over time to be a much larger problem. In other cases, patients simply wake up with it one day. Common symptoms are inflammation, pain, and morning stiffness of the small joints in hands, feet, wrists, and ankles. The medical tests used to diagnose RA are rheumatoid factor, anti-nuclear antibody, and ESR. X-rays are also performed to determine any changes in bone formation. Medications for RA are typically immunosuppressant, chemotherapy, and anti-inflammatory agents. While useful, these tests and medications do not constitute restorative medicine, and do not treat the underlying root cause of the disease.
Autoimmune diseases often start with digestive dysfunction. If there is dysfunction within the bowels or digestion, lymph glands, which produce our white blood cells, can be affected. In autoimmune diseases, our white blood cells attack our own body (synovial joint fluid in the case of rheumatoid arthritis) so it is not surprising to know that GI dysfunction can lead to autoimmune issues. In the case of RA, treating the GI tract as a first line approach is important to begin restoration of the whole body.
Treating the digestive system to alleviate the symptoms and progression of RA begins with a whole food (primarily vegetarian) and gluten-free diet. RA tends to be more prevalent in western society with processed-food diets. In addition, certain supplements help restore GI health such as digestive enzymes, probiotics, and herbs with healing, anti-inflammatory, and mucilaginous properties. These supplements assist in rebuilding healthy GI tissue to ultimately renew the digestion processes. The course of therapy for GI improvement can take anywhere from 4 to 6 months, and progression is monitored by tests and changes in symptoms.
After beginning treatment for GI health, other therapies may be accessed for RA including: natural anti-inflammatories, anti-oxidants, specific vitamin and mineral protocols, and essential fatty acids. Improving GI function is important before introducing supplements the body can’t process. As with any chronic illness, balancing adrenal and thyroid hormones, eliminating food allergies, detoxifying heavy metals, and optimizing sleep, energy, and exercise patterns, is part of a complete and necessary treatment plan.
In my experience, treating RA from the root cause and giving the body time to restore with natural therapies will ultimately alleviate pain, preserve the body from further changes, and manage the patient in a way that makes sense for long term health and wellness. Although medications are useful and can provide significant pain relief, long term use is not ideal. Rheumatoid Arthritis is a disease whose progression can be halted with the appropriate naturopathic support.
Dr. Shannon Sinsheimer is a Naturopathic Doctor at Optimal Health Center in Palm Desert and can be reached at (760) 568-2598.