Learning to Live With RA

At the time that I was diagnosed with RA in late 1993 the disease had not set in with the vengeance that it would soon show. I saw a rheumatologist because I had started waking up with achy joints and I had a family history. Then there was the low grade fever, the nausea and weight loss, the bottomless fatigue, and the hours of morning stiffness that I had endured for several months but which I didn’t then connect with the achy joints.

Every morning I took a couple of aspirin and it all went away, except for the endless fatigue, until the next day when I’d start over again.

The lab results jolted me out of my bubble and into reality. According to secrets discovered in my blood, I was very sick. My RH Factor, regarded as a sure indicator of the severity of Rheumatoid Arthritis, was one of the highest my doctor had ever seen, she told me later. The pity that I saw in her eyes that day chilled me far more than the diagnosis had. It told me that I was destined for a rapid deterioration and disability.

After I recovered my equilibrium I decided that I would beg to differ with the unspoken fate handed to me that day by the medical staff. I was well aware of the power of the mind-body connection, the findings of scientists like Candace Pert, and the classic work by Frederick Bailes. I knew that many persons with RA changed their diet, healed themselves and wrote about it. I immediately began meditating, visualizing healing and keeping a journal of everything I ate.

Meditation is another subject we’ll get to later. For now let me just say that it makes all things possible. I convinced myself -literally- that I was destined to heal and I did. Your mind works with you, whether your thoughts are good or bad. I believe that the power that lies within each of us is nearly unimaginable. Spooky, I know, but that’s what I’ve lived.

So, I put myself into remission. And then I abandoned everything I had done to get myself there.

Well, gee. I was well again wasn’t I?

By the time the disorder reasserted itself three months later, I had a found a pill that made me feel back to normal without any effort. And if a pill will do it, I figured I didn’t have to do any more work. I began taking methotrexate and felt wonderful and relieved, like I had found my cure and dodged a bullet.

I knew that the drug worked by interfering with the function of the immune system, meaning that I was inviting into my body the infection and disease that our God-given gift to good health, the immune system, was designed to prevent, but it was a price I was willing to pay to feel good again. And not having to work at it.

The MTX miracle lasted about 6 months before I had to increase the dose because my tolerance had increased, the pain and swelling were back, and the dosage I was taking was no longer effective. For the next several years I continued to up the dose, continuously getting lab work done to test liver enzymes, until my doctor felt that it was no longer safe to increase the dose again.

I was given the option of taking other drugs, like plaquenil, which my research told me would be of little or no value.

I had just run head first into the limits of the medical/drug establishment’s ability to handle a chronic disease.

Bummer. I was on my own again.

But this time I was ready and resolved.

Before I had assigned methotrexate the job of handling my health, I had gathered as much information as I could find on the way other people had dealt with the disease. Now, I dusted it off, updated it and began again.

Over and over again, in personal stories (anecdotal evidence) and in the research journals in the medical library where I worked, I came across the same solution: people changed their diet and greatly reduced the impact of RA. I was surprised to find that the idea that RA was a food sensitivity disease was not something new. In fact, surrounded by a mountain of research studies, books and personal stories, it seemed as though I was the last to find out.

The idea was not new to my rheumatologist. She told me it wouldn’t work.

I kept a journal of everything I ate, included fewer items in my diet and began selectively, intuitively, eliminating foods. Sure enough, I got better. Slowly but surely my health returned, drug free. I had created the miracle that I hadn’t been able to find in drugs.

The first item banished from my diet was saturated fat. No more hamburgers, steaks, butter or ice cream for me. I knew I was going to get well.

Next came foods with cultures. Yogurt, sour cream and blue cheese became part of my past.

The food that I had the most trouble eliminating was orange juice, a staple in my diet at that time. But anything with more than a minuscule amount of citric acid sent me over the edge, so key lime pie, lemonade and orange sherbet were out. But, citric acid is used as a preservative in many, many processed foods. In the grocery store I became an obsessive label-reader and bought carefully to exclude troublesome ingredients.

I never said it was easy, but as my dietary choices shrank I felt better and better, got healthier and lost weight. And there were still numerous choices left for dinner. Chicken, fish, eggs, most vegetables including potatoes and tomatoes, many fruits, beans, corn, bread, cake, cookies. I was hardly in danger of starving.

Limiting my diet was a small price to pay to regain my health. It was like a miracle, and it is available to everyone.

7 comments to Learning to Live With RA

  • Robin

    Trigger foods and healthy foods are reflective of the INDIVIDUAL. I control my RA symptoms through diet, but what diet works for me won’t necessarily work for you. You must find out what foods trigger your RA. Finding out what foods trigger someone else might be interesting, but you must do your own private investigation!

    • Robin

      I meant for my comments to be a response to Mihaela. She seemed to want a magic diet that suits everybody. I know the moderator is not suggesting such a thing, and was only reporting what worked individually. I suspect I pressed the wrong button.

  • Joyce

    Hello, I came across your website by accident, but so glad I did. I have been modifying my diet since my diagnosis in 2010. I went to a rheumatologist 3 years ago, a 5 hour drive from my hometown, and literally cried the entire way home when she told me my only choice was MTX. I wasn’t buying it, no way was I going to take a nasty drug whereby I had to get blood work done monthly. I am feeling very well this last year with the dietary changes (still need to work on a few things….), with minimal pain and fatigue, however I still have a lot of inflammation in my hands, wrists, and knees. I am wondering if you still have some inflammation or none at all? I wasn’t sure if you tackled the inflammation in a different way, or if that eventually will reduce & it just takes longer….I know everyone is different, but wondered your experience. Thank you so much!

  • Susan

    Great Site, excellent information!

    If only the doctors would start helping people understand the obvious. You are what you eat! Unfortunately because each of us are unique, what is right for one person may be completely wrong for another and that is why it’s so difficult to tell another person exactly what they should or shouldn’t eat. The key to wellness is testing, recording and believing you can be well….the belief is important, without it you won’t keep on trying.

    One thing you don’t mention and that’s the important is the value of Vitamin D…….For myself it’s so important that if that one little thing is left out I wouldn’t have had the amazing success I’ve had.

    Oh, and congradulations to you for outsmarting the medical profession by controlling your health without becoming dependent on toxic medications.

    But even more impressive, that you are sharing with the world this valueable information.

  • David F.

    I too am on MTX and have had R/A now for about 3 years. The first year I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s and R/A. I too had disabling pain, knee braces and many other symptoms. Now through the use of Prednisone for about 6 mos then MTX I got to where I could run again and jump up and down. About 6 mos ago my Rheumetologist was recommending Biologics and I said NO WAY! Since then I have been working with the diet seriously, but with one flaw REPETITION. If I was only only eatiing 6 foods, then I would eat only those foods every day. This was based on a series of food allergy tests run by a local renowned Naturopath. I have had increased activity in my hands to where it is deforming them and it weighs on me daily. I have enjoyed reading this information and am finding that people’s opinions differ so much in this arena. I have decided to put together the 4 day rotation plan as my latest approach.

    • How is it going? RA is such a complex allergic disorder that we need a support group of our own. Control IS possible without taking your life into your hands with biologics.

  • Mihaela

    Hi there! Well, I am on MTX and I would like to try changing my diet too. Can you post more detais about these changes? Like what about the famous “nightshade” veggies (eggplant, pepper, etc) including tomatos, so I was kind of surprise to hear that tomato was okay for you. Thanks for your help, very good blog indeed.

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