By Dr. Mercola
If you or someone you know has rheumatoid arthritis (RA), you'll want to watch this video. In it, Sarah Allen, who is a former patient of mine, shares how she put rheumatoid arthritis into remission, and it's a remarkable success story.
Rheumatoid arthritis was a passion of mine while I was still in active practice. I treated over 3,000 patients with this disease. I estimate 80 to 85 percent of them experienced significant recovery, if not remission, like Sarah did.
I ran into Sarah after giving a presentation recently in Orlando, where she happened to be in attendance. After talking to her, I decided we needed to share her important story as it would provide hope for so many who struggle with this disease.
She first came to see me in August of 2003. Even though she was only 28 years old at the time, she'd been experiencing symptoms of RA for about three or four years.
"I thought I was very healthy,' she says. 'I was young. I was a competitive triathlete. I believed I had a pretty good diet. So, I didn't really understand why I was experiencing so much pain in my fingers and in my feet.
I had migrating pain, and a lot of tendonitis issues all throughout my body. It took the Western doctors a long time to diagnose me. It took about three years going to different doctors before they knew what was wrong.
It didn't show in my blood; I didn't have the RA factor, and my C-reactive protein (CRP) levels were normal. But it showed up on an X-ray.'"
Hallmark Signs of RA
One of the hallmark symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis is pain in your hands and/or feet. It tends to affect the proximal joints more so than the distal ones, i.e. the joints closest to your palm, for example, opposed to the joints further out in the fingers.
So, if you have pain there, especially if it's symmetrical (affecting the same joints on both hands or feet), then almost by definition you have rheumatoid arthritis or an RA variant. It really doesn't matter what the blood work shows.
RA is far less common than osteoarthritis, or degenerative joint disease, which is not as crippling. It's actually easy to treat degenerative arthritis if you understand the components of a healthy lifestyle.
Rheumatoid arthritis is a far more complex disease. It's an autoimmune disease; your body is destroying itself, and it can be terminal — some people have even been known to commit suicide from the crippling pain.
It's quite notable that less than one percent of people with the disease have a spontaneous remission. Some disability occurs in 50 to 70 percent of people within five years after onset of the disease, and half will stop working within 10 years.
RA Is Typically Treated with Toxic Drugs
Traditional care also doesn't have a lot of good hope for RA sufferers. All they do is ameliorate or treat the symptoms — typically using highly toxic drugs, including prednisone, methotrexate, and drugs that interfere with tumor necrosis factor, like Enbrel.
This is why I'm so passionate about spreading this information because as Sarah can attest, there's an alternative, and this drug-free strategy really works. You don't have to suffer needlessly in a conventional treatment model.
Once diagnosed, Sarah went to a well-known rheumatologist in Milwaukee who told her she needed to stop running, or risk becoming permanently disabled. He prescribed a low-dose of methotrexate, which is actually an anti-cancer drug.
While it can be effective, the complications and the side-effects are atrocious. Sarah had to check her liver status every month, and even though she was only on a low dosage for about three months, she started losing some of her hair.
A rheumatology researcher at the Mayo Clinic whom she went to see told her to keep taking the drug, but expect it to shave 15 to 20 years off her life...
"I was really afraid of what that drug was going to do to my body,' Sarah says. 'The physical therapist who recommended I get tested for RA said there was a lot I can do naturally. So I read a lot of books about rheumatoid arthritis and different alternative treatments.
I read there's a possibility of it being connected with an infection, and that a low dose of antibiotics was being prescribed. I then came across your name in a book. I looked you up, found you in Chicago, and made an appointment.'"
Dr. Brown's Protocol
The book she's referring to is The Road Back: Rheumatoid Arthritis, its Cause and its Treatment, written by Dr. Thomas McPherson Brown and Henry Scammell. Dr. Brown was a well-respected board-certified rheumatologist (he passed away in 1989), but he was a rebel.
He didn't agree with the use of prednisone, which was the standard of care for RA in the '40s and '50s. He believed RA was an infection caused by mycoplasmas, so he used the antibiotic tetracycline instead.
Eventually, he modified his treatment to more potent discriminating forms of tetracycline, such as minocycline. Dr. Brown ultimately helped bring over 10,000 patients into remission. I first saw his work in a 20/20 special done shortly before he died in 1989, and it really inspired me. I decided to study his work, began using his protocol on RA patients in my practice, and was really impressed with the results. Eventually I modified the protocol to the point where I abandoned antibiotics altogether.
When I first saw Sarah, we discussed her diet, and I suggested there might be a genetic influence (hereditary) involved as she's Scottish-Irish. Many of her family members also had autoimmune problems, including multiple sclerosis (MS) and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Her genetic background suggested she may have an intolerance of wheat and gluten.
"You said I should eliminate that out of my diet as well as processed foods and sugar. You also did a metabolic typing. I did a very thorough questionnaire about how I metabolize food, about my energy levels, and about the stress in my life.
Along with my blood type, I was given a very special protocol of which foods would help me heal... I did a lot of vegetable juicing, which really helped me. I juiced probably 48 ounces a day of green juice.
I also ate a lot of organic grass-fed beef, ostrich, bison, free-range chicken and raw dairy. You even recommended raw eggs and raw egg yolks. Because I was in Wisconsin, I found an organic farm close to me. I got most of my meat, raw milk and my eggs from there. I bought all my fresh vegetables from local farmers markets. I got to know area farmers and learn about their farming practices.
I would buy a variety of vegetables and meats from them because I knew how they grew their food and raised their animals. I even used to meet the ostrich farmer in a parking lot across from the co-op where she used to sell her meats and buy it direct at a lower price. I also incorporated a lot of probiotics in my diet, and increased my vitamin D levels. Instead of suppressing my immune system with drugs to control my disease, I was using food to redesign my immune system and make it as strong as possible.
Apart from diet, the other important issue you advised me to address was the level of stress in my life. At that time, I was a teacher, new and passionate about the field. I worked very long hours, beyond what was healthy. Additionally, I dedicated several hours per week to triathlon training, and had some emotional stress in my life is well.
Dr. Mercola emphasized how stress and emotions impact immunity and now that I am studying Eastern medicine I have learned it is one of the primary causes of disease. I still question whether it was the amount of work and stress in my life which triggered the onset of my disease.
After I began seeing Dr. Mercola, I cut back on the amount I was working and doing, and made more time for rest and enjoyment. Dr. Mercola also taught me Emotional Freedom Technique, a method of tapping along traditional energetic acupuncture meridians to help relieve emotional issues. I began incorporating EFT into my daily life, which was a simple and time-effective method to help me better deal with everyday stress and anxiety.
The Importance of Vitamin D
Vitamin D is a really important component. It stimulates 200 to 300 anti-microbial peptides that are even more powerful than antibiotics, which help improve and regulate your immune system and fight infections. Sarah, as many others with RA, noticed her symptoms were at their worst during the winter, and would often dissipate during the summer. This is what you call a giant clue that vitamin D is at work...
Invariably, unless you're aggressively addressing your vitamin D level with sun exposure or supplementation, your blood levels of vitamin D will drop to dangerously low levels sometime in January, February, or March, when sun exposure is at its lowest. Optimizing your vitamin D is extremely important, I typically recommend RA sufferers to get their levels checked every month, in order to fine-tune the dosage they're taking.
Essentially, if you're using a supplement, you need to take whatever dosage is required to reach and maintain a therapeutic level of 50 to70 ng/ml. Nourishing your gut microbiome is another important component. In addition to eating more fermented foods, it's equally important to cut out sugar from your diet as it will feed pathogenic microbes and decimate your immune system, leaving you susceptible to autoimmune diseases of all kinds.
"I learned how to ferment my own vegetables and dairy products. I made my own kombucha, yogurt, cultured butters, milk kefir and coconut kefir. It took almost two years to get my system in balance, but right away, I noticed a difference. In about two weeks my cravings for wheat, breads, and sugar diminished...You did a live cell analysis before and after the diet. My live cell analysis showed I had leaky gut and digestive proteins in my bloodstream.
I came back three months after being very strict with the diet. I felt better; I'd lost about 10 pounds. I had so much more energy and felt lighter. But when they did the live cell analysis and showed me on the screen that my blood cells were perfectly round, strong, and healthy — when I saw that my blood completely changed — that's when I really believed that food was medicine...
I was able to resume my regular activities... I was able to return to racing. That year, after following your protocol for about a year, I actually won an entire triathlon... So I went from being told I'd never run again to winning a race. Slowly, slowly the symptoms diminished. After two years of being very strict [with my diet], my symptoms went to complete remission, and they've stayed that way. It's been over 10 years.
I still work out. Right now, I train Brazilian capoeira, which incorporates martial arts, dance, and acrobatics. I'm still able to do gymnastics. I can still do back flips at age 43. I still run occasionally. I still swim and bike. I do yoga and cross-country skiing when I'm in the north. So, I'm very active and very healthy. In fact, I feel that by you helping me, it really extended my life. I feel much younger than my age."
There IS Hope for RA Patients
I don't see patients anymore so this is not an encouragement for people to see me — in fact, you can't. But I'm committed to sharing this type of information, and hope to inspire not just patients, but also other physicians to adopt these strategies. It can quite literally change (and save) lives. It can also help other autoimmune diseases like multiple sclerosis and inflammatory bowel disease, which have a similar disease process.
I'm really grateful Sarah decided to give me an update and share her story. I rarely have the opportunity to get feedback from people whom I've treated in the past, so it was a delight to hear how well she's doing. I also thought it would be a powerful inspiration to many others, to see that there is hope; there are alternatives to toxic drugs, and it really can work. Sarah's recovery is a powerful testimony to the self-healing ability of your body, provided you give it what it needs, and support it with a healthy lifestyle.
"If I would've just listened to the Western doctors, and stayed the course, where I would be today? I hate to imagine it,' Sarah says. 'But even when I told the doctor [about my improvement], he almost acted disappointed or angry that I dared try that method.
He said he wanted me to stay on methotrexate, and he still didn't believe in diet even though it worked for me. I went to another rheumatologist later just to check how I was doing. She said, 'That disease is going to come back in 10 to 12 years, and just explode in your body possibly.' She recommended I also stay on the drugs even though I was completely symptom free!'"
Many don't have the courage to do what Sarah did. They're either stuck in the conventional paradigm, or they're afraid to go against their doctor's "orders," or they can't or don't want to spend the extra money. Even though I was a practicing DO — hardly out of the norm of convention — Sarah's insurance company refused to pay for any of my tests or treatment visits. She went so far as to appeal her insurance's denial of reimbursement, but all they would pay for was the drug she was initially prescribed.
She ended up spending about $2,000-3,000 out of pocket at the time. But after a couple of years she never had to see me again. Nor did she need to continue seeing other specialists, or take a toxic drug for the rest of her life — which by the way was virtually guaranteed to be cut short by a decade or two. So overall, it was certainly money well spent.
"It was an investment," Sarah says. "To buy the foods that I needed to buy, I had to spend a little bit more money. I also spent a lot of time in my kitchen (about 2 -3 hours/day), but it was definitely worth it. It really changed my life. I grew really close to food. I look at it as magic.
If you look at it from an Eastern perspective, our bodies are microcosms of the universe and our universe provides us with all that is necessary to heal. There is energy or chi in food that builds and moves the energy and blood in our bodies to promote balance and health. Food is so powerful, I think it's one of the most important gifts we have in life."
Summary of Crucial Lifestyle Changes if You Have RA
There is no doubt in my mind that the protocol described above is highly effective for the treatment of autoimmune arthritis like rheumatoid arthritis. I strongly encourage anyone with this disease to adopt it. In my experience, conventional rheumatologists have very little to offer except dangerous drugs that only relieve symptoms and do nothing to address the underlying cause of the disease, which continues to ravage your body and cause crippling joint deformities.
In summary, here's a summary of the nutritional principles Sarah implemented, as per my drug-free RA treatment protocol. If you or someone you know or love has rheumatoid arthritis I could not encourage you more strongly to share this article and protocol with them as it might radically change their life as it did for Sarah.
✓ Eat REAL food. Eliminate processed foods, sugar, especially fructose, and most grains. For most people it would be best to limit fruit to small quantities. In my experience, if you're unable to decrease your sugar intake, you're far less likely to improve. Eat unprocessed, high-quality foods; organic, and locally grown if possible.
✓ Get plenty high-quality, animal-based omega-3 fats. Krill oil seems to be particularly helpful as it appears to be a more effective anti-inflammatory preparation than regular fish oil. It's particularly effective if taken concurrently with astaxanthin, which is a potent antioxidant bioflavonoid derived from algae.
✓ Eat your food as close to raw as possible. Vegetable juicing is also highly recommended.
✓ Astaxanthin at 4 mg per day is recommended. It's been shown to effectively reduce pain associated with inflammation. In one study, RA sufferers experienced a 35 percent improvement in pain levels, and a 40 percent improvement in their ability to perform daily activities after receiving astaxanthin for only eight weeks.
It's particularly important for anyone placed on prednisone, which can reduce vision and cause blindness. Astaxanthin offers potent protection against cataracts and age related macular degeneration.
✓ Optimize your vitamin D. Vitamin D deficiency is strongly associated with the development of RA. From my perspective, it is now virtually criminal negligent malpractice to treat a person with RA and not aggressively monitor their vitamin D levels to confirm they're in a therapeutic range of 50-70 ng/ml.
✓ Eat 4 to 6 ounces a day of fermented veggies, which will supply about 10 trillion beneficial bacteria, which is about 10 percent of the population of your gut. The best way to learn how to prepare them properly is to get the GAPS book or listen to my interview with Caroline Barringer.
✓ Incorporate regular exercise into your daily schedule.
✓ If you struggle with RA pain, I would encourage you to try low-dose Naltrexone (LDN). (Sarah did not need it). LDN is inexpensive and non-toxic, and I have a number of physician reports documenting incredible efficacy in getting people off of all their dangerous arthritis meds with it. Although this is a drug and strictly speaking not a natural therapy, it has provided important relief and is FAR safer than the toxic drugs typically used.
Other Natural Pain Relievers
One of the primary problems with RA is controlling pain. If this is not achieved, you can go into a depressive cycle that can clearly worsen your immune system and cause the RA to flare. The goal is to be as comfortable and pain free as possible with the least amount of drugs. In addition to low-dose Naltrexone, which has a good success rate, here are a few other non-toxic dietary supplements that can be helpful for the treatment of RA pain:
Curcumin (turmeric) in particular has been shown to be effective against both acute and chronic pain. Curcumin is most known for its potent anti-inflammatory properties. It has been shown to influence more than 700 genes, and can inhibit both the excessive activity and the synthesis of cyclooxygenase-2 (COX2) and 5-lipoxygenase (5-LOX), as well as other enzymes that have been implicated in inflammation. In experiments on rats, turmeric appeared to block inflammatory pathways associated with rheumatoid arthritis.
A study1 published in April 2012 revealed that a highly bioavailable form of curcumin was more effective in alleviating RA symptoms, including tenderness and swelling of joints, than the NSAID drug Voltaren. Not only that, those who were taking the curcumin only actually experienced the most improvement across the board
Boswellia, also known as boswellin or "Indian frankincense" is another herb I've found to be particularly useful against arthritic inflammation and associated pain
Ginger also has anti-inflammatory properties and can offer pain relief. Fresh ginger works well steeped in boiling water as a tea or grated into vegetable juice