Treatment alternatives

After my recent bad experience with Prednisone (Touch and Go), I have been giving a lot of consideration to alternative treatments and therapies for RA. Medications are wonderful when they work as they are meant to, but the lists of side effects with approved RA drugs are long and frightening. Probably the best of these treatments are the biologic medications - they work in two-thirds of patients, and slow or halt the progression of the disease. The problem is their cost. A year's worth of treatment with Enbrel or Humira could cost as much as $40,000. Health insurance may pay a portion of this cost, but because the expense is so great, most insurance companies require that all other treatment options be exhausted before approving biologics.

Plaquenil isn't working well for me - I've been taking it since January and haven't experienced much beneficial change. I am reluctant to try Methotrexate because of it's side effects, which include hepatotoxicity, chronic hepatitis, cirrhosis, and lymphoproliferative disorders, in addition to the run of the mill problems like gastrointestinal distress, bleeding, and hair loss. I will never willingly take Prednisone again - I'd much rather be in severe physical pain than in that deep, emotional distress. Pain medications are fine supplements to a treatment program, but they do nothing for the root cause of the issues. NSAIDs are also useful, but cause stomach bleeding and heart problems when used at high strengths over the long term.

I've started experimenting with foods and supplements as a way to help manage my RA. I do not expect a miraculous cure from these changes, but if I can find a way to lower my inflammation levels naturally, then hurray for me, right? Here's what I'm doing so far. I've been cooking from whole foods, for the most part. I have cut out refined flours and sugars. I don't eat a lot of grain, but when I do, it's whole grain. I am avoiding gluten but have not gone truly gluten-free. I am eating a lot of vegetables, and some fruits like grapes, watermelon, and strawberries. When I eat fruits that contain more fructose, I'm combining that with nuts or some other fiber-filled food choice. I am still eating dairy, but not as much. No milk. Some cheese, especially goat cheese or sheep-milk cheese. I am using flax-seed as a way to increase my Omega-3 consumption. I may start taking fish oil, but I detest it for a multitude of reasons. I eat lean meats like chicken and trimmed pork, and only have lean cuts of beef occasionally. I am eating more fish and seafood. If I do have a desert, or a sweet treat, I make sure to combine it with other foods that slow the absorption of the sugar, because I've noticed that anytime I eat cookies or pasta, I have a flare the next day. I take vitamin D supplements because my level is chronically low, and I also take turmeric for its anti-inflammatory properties. I haven't been doing this for very long. A few days at most. I woke up stiff and tired this morning, but both the achiness and the fatigue wore off much more quickly than usual. I hope that continues to be the case.

Back in 2006, I had a range of terrible health problems. They included a rapid heart-beat, premature ventricular contractions, all-over aching, hypertension, anxiety attacks, high cholesterol and triglycerides. The doctor I saw at that time prescribed multiple medications to treat these issues. The more meds I took, the worse I felt. And the anxiety was worsened, too. Finally, I told the doctor that I was stopping all treatment except the blood pressure medication. I told him I would modify my cholesterol and the other problems with diet and exercise. Since I weighed almost three hundred pounds at that time, he laughed and said, "I doubt it." I asked him to give me six weeks. When I went back to see him, I had lost eighteen pounds and my triglycerides were a couple of points shy of 100. My cholesterol had lowered significantly, and my anxiety was greatly reduced. Within six more months I had lost a total of fifty-five pounds, and all my levels were normal. I did that by eating the way I described above, and getting thirty minutes of exercise each day. In all, I lost 130 pounds. As long as I continued to eat carefully and move more, I felt great. But stress and life intervened, and I started turning to convenience foods again about four years ago. During that time, I've gained a total of about fifty pounds that I had lost. In the last two months, I have managed to lose twenty pounds. Some of that has been due to illness, depression, and stomach problems caused by my medications. But the rest of it has been from eating mindfully and walking each day. I will continue this experiment for the next two months and see how I feel. I hope to see significant reductions in my inflammatory markers on my next blood test. Time will tell. I'll keep you posted.


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