By Dr. Mercola
Do your joints ache when a storm is coming? Do you feel like a walking, talking weather prediction station? You may be convinced your arthritic pain is worse when the barometric pressure falls, but many researchers have developed headaches trying to prove this with science.
The vast majority of studies have failed to establish a scientific connection between changing weather patterns and rheumatoid arthritis symptoms.
Despite its lack of scientific support, both arthritis sufferers and rheumatologists insist there is a great deal of clinical support for this phenomenon, citing widespread reports of weather-induced pain flare-ups.
More than 60 percent of osteoarthritis patients report that their symptoms vary with weather conditions.1 Fibromyalgia patients have also reported weather-related fluctuations in pain although, as with arthritis, scientific evidence is elusive.2, 3
Well, clinicians and patients may now be vindicated! A few recent scientific studies have begun to offer some "mild support" for what patients and physicians have reported for decades—weather may indeed be a factor in arthritis pain.
The video above will provide you with a first hand account of a remarkable success story. Sarah Allen, a former patient of mine, shares how she put her arthritis into remission. I encourage you to take the time to listen to her story and share it with your loved ones who may find it beneficial.
Weather May Influence Arthritis Symptoms After All
Dutch researchers tracked pain levels of hip osteoarthritis sufferers over the course of two years, and then went back and matched their symptoms against daily weather records.
They found that the participants' aches and pains indeed were a little bit worse and joints a bit stiffer when humidity and barometric pressure levels rose, although the changes were certainly not dramatic.4
Pain scores worsened by one point for each 10 percent increase in humidity. Function scores worsened by one point for each 10 hectopascals (0.29 of an inch) increase in barometric pressure.
These changes were too small to be considered "clinically relevant," but this doesn't mean that the pain was not real. Other recent European studies have shown similar findings, but the changes are all subtle; maybe this is the reason science has failed to demonstrate this connection until now.
How Can Atmospheric Pressure Cause Joint Pain?
Dr. Fotios Koumpouras, the rheumatologist interviewed in the featured video, mentions another recent European study finding a connection between temperature, barometric pressure, and joint pain.
He theorizes that, as barometric pressure falls (like before and during a storm), the pressure inside your joints changes, which may impact your nerve endings around those joints:5
"The ligaments contain these very specialized receptors, and they are stretch receptors. These stretch receptors, particularly in joints that may have arthritis, could be hypersensitive. And small changes in pressure, atmospheric pressure, may in fact allow these receptors to fire."
Even small changes in pressure may cause these receptors to fire, which you may experience as an increase in pain. However, this is not the only theory in circulation.
Mood and daily activity may also be factors. It's possible that your pain threshold drops during cold, rainy weather, because environmental conditions can definitely affect your mood. When it's cold, many people are less likely to go outside and get the exercise that normally keeps arthritis pain in check.6
Another factor could be the placebo effect (or "nocebo" effect7). That is, if you expect your pain to be worse when the weather changes, then it very well may be. After all, the pain-weather "phenomenon" is commonly accepted as truth, at least in Western culture.
The Weather Channel even provides a map called "Aches and Pains Index" to forecast how severe your pain should be on any given day.8 (If you are a highly suggestible person, perhaps you should avoid going there!)
Now that we've spent some time mucking around in the gray areas of science with respect to arthritis pain, let's take a look at what we KNOW works in terms of pain relief for arthritis sufferers.
Two Kinds of Arthritis—and Both Can Be Painful
There are two types of arthritis: osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. The only thing they have in common is that they are both characterized by pain, inflammation, stiffness, and swelling of the joints—but they are very different diseases, with different causes and presentations.
Here are the principal differences:
✓ Osteoarthritis (OA): OA, or degenerative arthritis (degenerative joint disease), typically occurs in older individuals, but can also follow repetitive stress or acute trauma.
OA usually affects the distal joints, or the joints at the end of your fingers and toes, not the middle ones. Additionally, OA is not symmetrical, so typically you may have it in just one joint, or on one hand or foot but not the other.
✓ Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA): Much more serious than OA, RA is an autoimmune disease that causes your immune system to attack the tissues that line your joints. RA can occur at any age, but fortunately, juvenile RA is relatively rare.
RA tends to be bilateral and symmetrical. RA also affects your middle joints and is associated with joint deformities, especially your hands and fingers. People do die from RA so it's not to be treated lightly.9
Arthritis Drugs Are Some of the Most Dangerous in Medicine
Due to the fact that both OA and RA involve joint pain and inflammation, they share common treatment modalities. Anti-inflammatory drug approaches such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) and analgesics, like Tylenol, are typically used for both types of arthritis.
The problem with these drug approaches is that regular, chronic use of arthritis drugs can result in liver or kidney damage. Use of analgesics is a very common cause of kidney disease in the United States (analgesic nephropathy).
Acetaminophen is actually the No.1 cause of acute liver failure! Still, pain control is an important aspect of treating RA. Because of its severity, rheumatoid arthritis is often treated aggressively with some of the most dangerous drugs on the market.
A relatively recent class of RA drugs are the TNF-alpha inhibitors, also termed "biologic" drugs. While these drugs are enthusiastically promoted by the medical and pharmaceutical industry, there are still concerns about their safety. Potentially serious side effects include infection and cancer. A safety analysis was performed on three TNF-alpha inhibitors: Humira, Enbrel, and Remicade.
It was concluded that, when it comes to your significant risk of death from taking them, there is no difference among the three; they're all equally dangerous.
Arthritis pain can be quite severe and typically, most benefit from some form of pharmacologic relief while waiting for the natural therapies to kick in. So if you chose to use a drug, you'll want to be sure to use the safest drugs and only when necessary, with the ultimate goal of managing your pain without medications. Some of the safest pain drugs are the non-acetylated salicylates, such as salsalate, sodium salicylate, and magnesium salicylate (i.e. Salflex, Disalcid, or Trilisate).
Not only do pharmaceutical agents have a range of potential side effects, but they merely suppress symptoms without doing anything to address the underlying cause. Targeting the cause of the problem is a much more effective approach for achieving long-lasting relief.
Therefore, the remainder of this article will focus on treating arthritis effectively with "tried and true" natural approaches that are scientifically sound and that address the cause of the problem, with special emphasis on the management of RA.
First, Address Your Diet
Rheumatoid arthritis affects 1.5 million Americans. The majority are women, and the prevalence in women appears to be on the rise. I have personally treated more than 3,000 patients with rheumatoid arthritis in my practice, which is well over 10 times the number a typical family physician would treat in his or her entire career—so I have a fair amount of experience here.
My rheumatoid arthritis treatment protocol has helped thousands of RA patients go into remission, and one of the key factors is dietary modification.
I cannot emphasize strongly enough the importance of this aspect of the program—it is an essential component of my RA protocol. Following these general guidelines alone will go a long way toward dramatically reducing your chronic inflammation, whether it's from RA or another inflammation-based disease:
- Eliminate sugar/fructose and most grains (this automatically means avoiding virtually all processed foods)
- Optimize your gut flora by consuming naturally fermented vegetables; work your way up to 4 to 6 ounces per day of fermented veggies
- Consume whole, unprocessed high-quality foods, organic and locally-grown if possible
- Eat a large portion of your food raw
- Get plenty of high-quality animal-based omega-3 fats, such as krill oil
Key Elements of My RA Treatment Protocol
For many years, I followed the Brown Protocol, originally developed by rheumatologist Thomas Brown. Over the years, I have modified his program, making changes to it based on new information provided by modern science, as well as my experience in natural medicine. Using this approach, 60 to 90 percent of my patients experienced improvement. You can review my complete RA treatment protocol here, but I have outlined many key components in the table that follows:
Key Components of My RA Treatment Protocol
✓ Low Dose Naltrexone (LDN)
Naltrexone is a pharmacologically active opioid antagonist, conventionally used to treat drug and alcohol addiction.
However, in very small doses, it is inexpensive, non-toxic, and has immunomodulating properties widely reported by physicians as effective in getting people off of dangerous arthritis medications
A powerful anti-inflammatory antioxidant with very powerful pain control properties.
In one study, RA sufferers experienced a 35 percent improvement in pain levels, as well as a 40 percent improvement in their ability to perform daily activities, after only eight weeks on astaxanthin.
Astaxanthin at 4 mg per day is particularly useful for anyone placed on prednisone because it offers potent protection against cataracts and age-related macular degeneration.
✓ Vitamin D
Vitamin D deficiency is strongly associated with the development of RA. Ideally, you'll want to get regular and appropriate sun exposure (alternatively, use a safe tanning bed or take an oral D3 supplement) and closely monitor your levels to assure you maintain your level within the therapeutic range of 50-70 ng/ml year-round
Regular exercise is critical if you want to prevent functional decline from arthritis. RA can lead to diminished muscle mass and reduced strength that can be as debilitating as the physical damage to your joints.
Just be careful not to overdo it, and take care with inflamed joints, icing them when necessary before and after exercise.
Your program should include a range of activities, including weight training, high intensity exercises, cardio, stretching, and core work.
Walking and swimming are also excellent (if you have access to a chlorine-free pool), as are practices like yoga and tai chi.
Drug-Free Relief from Pain and Inflammation
✓ Curcumin (Turmeric)
Curcumin has been shown to be effective against acute and chronic pain and is best known for its potent anti-inflammatory properties; inhibits inflammatory enzymes and blocks inflammation pathways; shown to influence more than 700 genes
Also known as boswellin or "Indian frankincense," boswellia is another herb I've found to be particularly useful against arthritic pain and inflammation
Exhibits anti-inflammatory properties and can offer pain relief. Fresh ginger works well steeped in boiling water as a tea or grated into vegetable juice
Lingering emotional trauma is pervasive in people with RA. One of my favorite tools for addressing this is EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique), which has been described as "acupuncture without needles."
Although EFT is something you can learn to do yourself in the comfort of your own home, you may want to employ the help of a well-trained professional
If you have OA or RA, implementing some basic lifestyle changes can help quell the inflammation that causes your joints to become achy, stiff, or swollen. Whether you're an arthritis sufferer whose pain and stiffness fluctuates with the season or among the bunch who must manage troublesome symptoms 365 days a year, the guidelines I've shared have a very good chance of helping you to feel better. I know this because I've treated thousands of arthritis sufferers, just like you!
Drugs for rheumatoid arthritis are among the most dangerous drugs prescribed and may cause more problems than they solve, so the sooner you can incorporate more natural treatments and reduce your reliance on pharmaceuticals, the better. If you need to take an analgesic from time to time, this is much less risky than taking them on a daily basis. And in time, you may improve so much that you will completely leave them behind!