Tag Archives: Rheumatoid Arthritis

Hot and Bothered

Old iron kettle on the fire

Generally, feeling hot and bothered is a good thing – when we’re talking about love and certain areas of our anatomy. But when other parts of your body are going up in flames, it seems to have the opposite effect on us. Both situations can land you between the sheets, but that’s where the similarities end.

 

When your body is taken over by inflammation, it can not only be debilitating, it can raise your risk for heart disease, diabetes, some cancers, and is at the source of autoimmune disease and many other chronic conditions.

And when almost one-half of all Americans (and fully 50% of our children) live with some type of chronic health condition, it is time for us to take notice and put some energy towards addressing the root cause of the issue. 

The good news is that one of the most powerful attacks we have against inflammation is our diet. There is a growing understanding around the role food plays in chronic inflammation and I haven’t heard anyone sum up this relationship better than Dr. Andrew Weil, one of the leading authorities on Integrative Medicine:

“It is becoming increasingly clear that a host of illnesses – including heart disease, many cancers and Alzheimer’s disease – are influenced in large part by chronic inflammation. This is a process in which the immune system becomes off balance, and persists unnecessarily in its efforts to repair the body and repel pathogens. The prolonged process results in damage to healthy tissue as well. Stress, lack of exercise, genetic predisposition and other lifestyle factors can all promote inflammation, but poor diet is perhaps the main contributor, and the ideal place to begin addressing inflammation.”

Inflammation Exposed

Inflammation can play a positive role in our health as the primary defense mechanism against acute conditions – like when a fever fights off an infection, or when blood rushes to a sprained ankle to help heal the tissue. However, when your immune system is disrupted, it puts itself unnecessarily on constant defense, sending inflammation continually rippling throughout your body. In this state, it’s working against you instead of for you by launching a targeted attack on your own cells and tissues.

So what causes this disruption in your immune system and changes it from your internal watchdog to your worst enemy? Well, it could be a number of things…and those things can come together in any combination to create the perfect storm.

Maybe you don’t have any existing issues, consider yourself healthy, and aren’t aware of the cumulative effect of eating processed foods, more sugar than you think, a diet containing allergens, chemicals, and additives, and exposure to environmental toxins. Whether you realize it or not – these can become toxic to your system, and can trigger a shift from good health to poor.  Or maybe you have an existing autoimmune or other chronic disease (or simply a genetic predisposition to one). If that’s the case, new research confirms that you very likely have a disruption of your digestive tract that is making it all too easy for harmful ingredients to enter your system. This is known as intestinal hyperpermeability, or more commonly, having a “leaky gut”. (We will go into much more detail on this later.) I admit, it’s not a sexy topic, but it’s a necessary one.

The kicker is that if you are not [yet] in deep with a specific condition, you might blindly attribute your symptoms to life in general. Those mood swings, that steadfast muffin top, persistent headaches and our low energy level are all just accepted as a part of the insanity called life. Unless we make changes – and start to feel better as a result – we don’t realize how crappy we felt in the first place.

I was one of those people even before the onset of my rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Sure, I have migraines, and I get a lot of sinus infections. Yeah, I’ve taken a few courses of anti-depressants. Do I get gas? Well sometimes – but who doesn’t? And I just blame my husband anyway.  But what I found is that when I modified what I was putting into my body, I couldn’t believe the difference. It took me finally feeling better to realize I’d been painfully apathetic – literally and figuratively.

Working From the Outside In

The common thought process, especially with exclusive exposure to Western medicine ideals, is that management of this inflammation is through quick fix anti-inflammatory medications like NSAIDS (Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs) – think ibuprofen or naproxen (Aleve) or more powerful anti-inflammatories and immune suppressants that come with serious side-effects. However, this plan of attack not only misses the true cause of the inflammation, but these drugs actually exacerbate the problem by making it easier for toxins and food you can’t tolerate to get into your system –  i.e., your gut becomes even leakier.

So, if you were wondering what the hell all of this has to do with what we eat…here’s the point: The path away from inflammation and towards your happy place is through your digestive system.

We’ll get into much more detail on this later, but for right now, just know this. There are many foods our bodies may react negatively to, and there are chemicals added to other foods that our bodies have no idea how to handle. So to keep the confusion and adverse reactions at bay, we need to tidy up what goes in.

Healing Through Diet

This clean way of eating, especially as it relates to avoiding food sensitivities, is commonly known as an anti-inflammatory diet or an elimination diet. There are other specialty diets that address very specific non-tolerated substances that can be very effective as well.

Eliminating substances/foods that are not tolerated is a recommended – and highly effective – treatment for many conditions involving chronic inflammation and/or autoimmune conditions including: RA, fibromyalgia, osteoarthritis, lupus and other autoimmune diseases; heart disease and diabetes as well as skin conditions such as acne, eczema and signs of aging (to name a few).

If you read last week’s blog, you’ll remember that eating clean to be lean not only decreases inflammation, it helps you avoid insulin resistance. To refresh, insulin resistance leads to fat storage and possibly obesity. If that’s not a reason to eliminate foods you can’t tolerate, I’m not sure what is.

In upcoming posts, we’ll discuss:

  • what the substances are that have the potential to cause so much harm
  • how and why they bring on the inflammation
  • how to avoid them and what satisfying substitutes to introduce so you don’t bitterly dive head first into a bag of Cheetos

and

  • what you can do to heal your underlying issues so that you can enjoy many of these items again

As a final note – in case you’re still not buying in to the importance of addressing the negative side of being hot and bothered – I’ll share this quote from Dr. Mark Hyman. He doesn’t sugar the donuts when he states in regard to inflammation:

“..this fire in your heart causes heart disease, in our fat cells causes obesity, in the whole body causes cancer, in the eyes causes blindness, and, when this fire spreads to your brain, it can cause depression, dementia, autism, ADHD, Alzheimer’s, forgetfulness and a host of other problems.”

Wow, right? No question – inflammation has the potential to light your whole damn body on fire! It can be destructive and for some, downright deadly…and there’s zero promise of a relaxing afterglow.

So how about you skip the pain and irritation and go right to bliss – every day. Keep reading to find out how.


References

  1. Chronic Diseases and Health Promotion.”Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 09 May 2014. Web. 13 Jan. 2015.
  2. Cleave, J. Van, S. L. Gortmaker, and J. M. Perrin. “Dynamics of Obesity and Chronic Health Conditions Among Children and Youth.”JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association 7 (2010): 623-30. Web. 12 Jan. 2015.
  3. Weil, Andrew. “Anti-Inflammatory Diet & Pyramid.” Anti-Inflammatory Diet. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Nov. 2008.
  4. Challem, Jack. The Inflammation Syndrome: The Complete Nutritional Program to Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease, Arthritis, Diabetes, Allergies and Asthma. Hoboken, NJ: J. Wiley, 2003.
  5. Fasano, Alessio. “Leaky Gut and Autoimmune Diseases.”Clinical Reviews in Allergy & Immunology 1 (2012): 71-78. Web.
  6. Podas T, Nightingale JM, Oldham R, Roy S, Sheehan NJ, Mayberry JF. Is rheumatoid arthritis a disease that starts in the intestine? A pilot study comparing an elemental diet with oral prednisolone. Postgrad Med J. 2007 Feb;83(976):128-31.
  7. Rana, J. S., M. Nieuwdorp, J. W. Jukema, and J. J. P. Kastelein. “Cardiovascular Metabolic Syndrome: an Interplay Of, Obesity, Inflammation, Diabetes and Coronary Heart Disease.” Diabetes, Obesity and Metabolism 9.3 (2007): 218-32. Web. 2 Jan. 2015.
  8. Hyman, Mark. The UltraMind Solution: Fix Your Broken Brain by Healing Your Body First: The Simple Way to Defeat Depression, Overcome Anxiety and Sharpen Your Mind. New York: Scribner, 2008.

 

There Has To Be a Better Way

I remember sitting on my couch Googling “rheumatoid arthritis” the day my blood work confirmed my diagnosis.  The first statistic that came racing to my eye was from a Johns Hopkins study, “sixty percent of people with rheumatoid arthritis will be unable to work 10 years after disease onset.” Come again? Not be able to work? I am glued to a chair in front of a computer screen or in meetings most of the day. In 10 years, I won’t be able to do that? The tears started to flow. I was just 32 years old with a 6-week old baby girl.

Prior to this, I would have been considered an extremely healthy gal – a dietitian by trade, a competitive athlete, an avid booty shaker. Now I was faced with a chronic, autoimmune disease without reliable indicators to predict how quickly it would progress. I was scared and devastated, with the countdown to debilitation ticking loudly in my head. I woke every morning with my body on fire, feeling like I had a never-ending flu, and I was so tired I couldn’t get out of bed. My knuckles were so swollen that I couldn’t get my wedding ring on and my wrists and hands were in so much pain that I couldn’t hold my daughter to breastfeed (forcing me to form a borderline inappropriate relationship with my breast pump).

I indulged in a pretty elaborate pity party while the words of my demoralizing Rheumatologist (“you should feel lucky you’re not in a wheelchair”) rang loudly in my head. But my baby girl and my off-the-charts Type-A personality quickly motivated me to find the answers I needed to beat this thing. Answers other than long-term steroids and immunosuppressant medications, I mean. Their laundry lists of side effects include glaucoma, osteoporosis, weight gain, mood swings and increased infection risk. Reading them almost made the rheumatoid arthritis (RA) sound pretty good. In what universe does RA + steroids = vibrant health? Was I really supposed to fill up on medication and feel like a puffer fish, or else be in debilitating pain? These were my only options??

After an underwhelming experience with Western medicine, I explored Eastern medicine options and in doing so, learned about the havoc food sensitivities can wreak on your system, as well as the principles of an anti-inflammatory diet. What should be concerning (for us all!) is that I’m a former registered dietitian with the American Dietetic Association, I have a bachelor’s degree in Nutrition and a master’s degree (also in Nutrition)…and this came as headline news to me.

Anti-inflammatory diet? Never heard of it.

Eliminate gluten if you don’t have Celiac Disease? Can’t be.

The function of your immune system is largely based on the effectiveness of your digestive system. Huh?

Eliminate toxins that can come from non-organic foods and artificial sweeteners, preservatives and additives? That’s a load of alternative health crap.

Isn’t it all about calories in/calories out? Counting your fat grams and carbs? We’re told to eat low-fat dairy and whole grains and we’ll all ride off into the optimal health, tight booty sunset. Right? Wrong. The apple cart was turned over and my REAL education was about to begin.

The first obstacle after fully educating myself was what the hell am I supposed to eat? I used my education (and desperation) to wade through all the questions, and nutritional guidelines, and how many different words companies are allowed to use in an ingredients list so that they don’t have to say “milk” (there are a lot). I’ve stood in that aisle at the grocery store thinking I’m making an easy, smart decision about a food item, only to read beyond the “Gluten-Free!” label to find it’s jam-packed with soy, sugar or corn – all three of which are also not good for my RA. Eventually, I found the short list of foods that did make me feel better, and I ate them in every possible combination to avoid boredom, while I researched what else I could add in. I even went so far as to start my own food company – Clean Cravings – and in the process developed a unique perspective on the allergy-free, gluten-free, natural food industry. I kept my mind and my eyes open, and I realized that the new foods I was putting into my body weren’t just good for kicking some rheumatoid arthritis ass, they were good for my ass (and my whole being).

Over 50 million Americans suffer from an autoimmune disease – with numbers on the rise – and over 30 million Americans suffer from some type of food sensitivity. However, our current health system is doing society a huge disservice. Eliminating inflammatory foods plays a huge role in managing autoimmune and other chronic conditions, and that fact is being largely ignored. Guidelines on treatment for RA from the CDC website, states “…there is no cure for RA, but new effective drugs are increasingly available to treat the disease and prevent deformed joints. In addition to medications and surgery, good self-management, including exercise, are known to reduce pain and disability.”

This is as good as it gets? Dulling the pain, going under the knife, and going for a walk (if I can even move by then) is my best approach? How are we missing the elephant in the room here? Not a single mention of nutrition. That’s why I’m here. That’s why this message is needed. People don’t know! They either aren’t being told about the power behind these progressive dietary changes, or they aren’t getting the fine print. There is so much to learn about the ramifications of food sensitivities and how the quality of our food can help. However, it is confusing and overwhelming.

My purpose is to teach ways to eat clean, feel great, and not hate it along the way. This site and my services are about demystifying clean eating. They are about helping people find a way to a night out with friends that doesn’t leave them feeling like a stuffed sausage. About helping people discover ways to recognize symptoms (whether obvious or obtuse), then alleviate them and crush cravings. Ultimately, it is about learning how to let go of the calorie counter and the fat gram obsession, and how to hold on tight to a fist full of delicious, whole, organic food.


 

  1. Ruffing, Victoria, and Clifton Bingham, III. “Rheumatoid Arthritis Signs and Symptoms.” Arthritis Information. Johns Hopkins Medicine, n.d. Web. 10 Oct. 2013.
  2. “Autoimmune Statistics.” AARDA. American Autoimmune Related Disease Association, n.d. Web. 11 Nov. 2013.
  3. “Rheumatoid Arthritis.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 19 Nov. 2012. Web. 12 Nov. 2013.