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3 Ways to Manage Rheumatoid Arthritis

I’ve been coping with rheumatoid arthritis for five years now, and it keeps getting worse. Is there anything I can do that might help?

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Zoltan Rona, MDPhoto: Thinkstock

Zoltan Rona, MD

Rheumatoid arthritis is an auto­immune disorder that damages and deforms joints, especially those in the hands and feet. The disease can range from mild (resulting in some stiffness and joint pain) to severe (affecting mobility and significantly limiting joint function). The joint damage caused by rheumatoid arthritis is the result of toxins called free radicals, which are unstable molec­ules possessing unpaired electrons. The unpaired electrons seek out other molec­ules in the joints, creating inflammation. 

One defence against free radicals is antioxidants (including lycopene, beta carotene, zinc, selenium, and vitamins A, C and E), which are contained in many fruits and vegetables, and can prevent the damage. Most fruits and vegetables are also alkaline-forming, which means they neutralize the acidity in your body and protect you from inflammation. Meats, dairy, gluten, sugar and refined carbohydrates are acid-forming and free-radical-generating. Get a food-sensitivity test to help sort out which foods might be worsening your arthritis. 

Use strong anti-inflammatory supplements like serrapeptase (an enzyme derived from silkworms) and curcumin (from turmeric), which are just as effective as prescription corticoster­oids. Vitamin D with omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil is also a powerful anti-inflammatory combo. 

Dr. Zoltan Rona (@drzoltanrona) practises complementary medicine in Toronto, edits The Encyclopedia of Natural Healing and is the author of the bestseller Return to the Joy of Health.

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Julie Daniluk, Nutritionist

Julie Daniluk, Nutritionist

Avoid foods you’re allergic to, as they will exacerbate your immune system’s attack on your joints; instead, consume nutrients that help rebuild cartilage. Grains that contain gluten, including wheat, barley, spelt, Kamut, rye and potentially oats, and potatoes can increase rheumatoid arthritis pain. 

Anti-inflammatory foods such as fatty fish reduce joint swelling. Adding avocados, hemp hearts, chia and ground flaxseeds to your daily diet will help, too. Consider taking a sustainable fish oil, which is rich in a type of omega-3 fatty acid called EPA that has been shown to suppress inflammation in people suffering from rheumatoid arthritis. Research suggests that ginger root also has the potential to reduce an outbreak. Red radishes, orange yams and dark-green veggies are rich in vitamin C and other antioxidants that dampen inflammation, and a study in the Journal of Nutrition showed that eating berries daily can also help.

Toronto-based certified nutritionist Julie Daniluk (@JulieDanilukco-hosts the reality cooking show Healthy Gourmet on the Oprah Winfrey Network and is the author of Meals That Heal Inflammation.

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Amanda Vogel, Fitness Instructor

Amanda Vogel, Fitness Instructor

Although rheumatoid arthritis makes exercise painful at times, staying active can ultimately improve joint swelling and stiffness. One reason is that it helps reverse any muscle-mass loss caused by inactivity. Exercise also helps you maintain a healthy weight (taking pressure off your joints) and improves strength in the muscles surrounding your joints, creating better stability. 

Since rheumatoid arthritis is known to be a risk factor for heart disease, work out to ensure cardiovascular health. Aim for at least 30 minutes of aerobic exercise, done all at once or in 10-minute spurts, five days a week. Low- or no-impact activities, like walking or cycling, are good choices. For strength training, be sure to work all major muscles at least twice a week. Gentle stretching is good, but avoid overdoing it if your joints are unstable. Check with your doctor before getting started; you may need more rest sometimes, especially when you have flare-ups.

Amanda Vogel (@amandavogel), MA human kinetics, is a Vancouver-based certified fitness instruct-or and author of numerous books, including Baby Boot Camp: The New Mom’s 9-Minute Fitness Solution.