By Dr. Mercola
Drugs — when taken as prescribed — kill more than 106,000 Americans each year,1 and the death toll from overdosing on painkillers is now greater than both car accidents and death from illegal drug use.
As noted in a recent New York Times article,2 "drug overdosese are driving up the death rate of young white adults in the United States to levels not seen since the end of the AIDS epidemic more than two decades ago."
Between 1999 and 2014, the rate of drug overdose deaths for Caucasians between the ages of 25 and 34 rose by 500 percent. The overdose rate for 35 to 44-year olds tripled.
And while these rates include both illegal and prescription drugs, the latter FAR exceed the former. It's a sad fact that the cornerstone of modern medicine — drugs — is also a major killer of patients.
Rheumatoid Arthritis Medication Implicated in Glenn Frey's Death
As you may have heard, Glenn Frey, co-founder and front man of the popular band Eagles, recently died from complications from rheumatoid arthritis (RA), acute ulcerative colitis and pneumonia.3 He was 67.
According to band manager Irving Azoff, Frey's rheumatoid arthritis medication played a role in his untimely death. Azoff told reporters:4,5,6
"The colitis and pneumonia were side effects from all the meds. He died from complications of [ulcerative colitis] after being treated with drugs for his rheumatoid arthritis which he had for over 15 years."
Indeed, the drugs commonly prescribed for RA are among the most dangerous on the market.
These include prednisone, TNF-alpha inhibitors (sold under brand names such as Humira, Enbrel, and Remicade. Side effects of these drugs include infection and an increased risk for cancer), and harsh anti-cancer drugs like methotrexate.
Chronic use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and analgesics like Tylenol can also result in life-threatening liver and/or kidney damage. Acetaminophen is actually the number one cause of acute liver failure in the U.S.
Your Diet and Lifestyle Can Significantly Improve or Worsen Your Condition
It's tragic that conventional medicine doesn't promote lifestyle changes before drugs for this condition, considering the severe side effects of the drugs. While I was still in medical practice, I treated about 3,000 RA cases — far more than most general practitioners will ever see.
Approximately 80 percent of them were able to achieve significant improvement or complete remission. Last year I had the pleasure of interviewing a former patient of mine, Sarah Allen, who put her RA into remission after following my nutritional and lifestyle recommendations for two years.
Success stories like Sarah's reveal that there IS hope for RA sufferers beyond toxic drug treatments. But it requires dedication to an overall healthy lifestyle. I find it supremely unfortunate that so many people are completely unaware of the fact that lifestyle changes can go a long way in the treatment of RA.
Hallmark Signs of RA
RA affects about 1 percent of the world's population. Some level of disability occurs in 50 to 70 percent of people within 5 years after onset of the disease, and half will stop working within 10 years.
Unlike the far more common degenerative joint disease osteoarthritis (OA or DJD), it can lead to crippling and painful joint deformities and, as mentioned, can be fatal. Women tend to be disproportionally affected by the disease.
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.
At the root of RA you find chronic inflammation — a side effect of a diet too high in processed fructose and other sugars. So while less than 1 percent of people with RA experience spontaneous remission, that does not mean the disease cannot be successfully treated.
RA Sufferers Must Cut Down on Sugars
If you have RA (or any other chronic ailment rooted in inflammation, such as diabetes, heart disease, and cancer, just to name a few), addressing your diet is an important first step to facilitate healing. Eating a diet of REAL FOOD (ideally organic) is one of the most important first steps to help suppress painful inflammation. Processed foods and sugary (including artificially sweetened) beverages should be avoided as much as possible.
Eliminating grains, especially gluten-containing ones, can also be helpful. This may be particularly true if you have certain genetic factors. Those of Scottish-Irish decent, as well as those with a family history of autoimmune problems such as multiple sclerosis (MS) and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), may be at higher risk of wheat and gluten intolerance.
That said, most grains, fructose and other sugars feed inflammation regardless of your genetic disposition, and you need to be very careful about NOT adding fuel to that fire. A 2014 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition7 specifically links RA with soda consumption.
The study followed nearly 200,000 women from two Nurses' Health Studies spanning nearly four decades. Information on soda consumption was obtained from a food-frequency questionnaire at baseline and approximately every four years thereafter.
After adjusting for confounding variables, the researchers found that women who drank one or more servings of soda per day had a 63 percent increased risk of developing RA, compared to those who drank less than one serving per month or none at all. And this was independent of other dietary and lifestyle factors.
Glyphosate-Contaminated Foods May Aggravate Inflammation
Aside from breaking down into sugar, most commercial grains are also contaminated with glyphosate — including non-organic wheat — and this agricultural chemical has been implicated in inflammatory conditions by promoting mitochondrial dysfunction. In the video above, Jeffrey Smith interviews Dr. Alex Vasquez, M.D., Ph.D. and Stephanie Seneff, Ph.D. about this.
In addition to producing most of your body's energy in the form of ATP, your mitochondria also participate in cellular signaling, and play an important role in autoimmune inflammation. In a nutshell summary, glyphosate and Roundup (of which glyphosate is an active ingredient) interferes with ATP production and increases oxidative damage in your mitochondria.
How do you avoid glyphosate/Roundup? This broad-spectrum herbicide is one of the most commonly used herbicides in the world, and is liberally doused on both conventional and genetically engineered (GE) crops, although the latter tends to be far more heavily contaminated. In 2007, 1.6 billion pounds of glyphosate was used in the U.S. alone.
Considering its widespread use, about the only way to really avoid it is to eat organically grown foods, as synthetic chemicals are not permitted in organic farming according to the USDA's National Organic Program.
How Gut Microbes Impact Rheumatoid Arthritis
Gut health plays an important role in RA. Sugar feeds pathogenic microorganisms in your gut, and once your intestinal flora becomes unbalanced, you end up with a ripple effect of detrimental health impacts — one of which is immune system dysfunction and out-of-control inflammation. In addition to cutting out sugar from your diet, adding fermented foods and/or taking a high quality probiotic will help nourish healthy gut flora.
Interestingly, there are actually specific types of gut bacteria that correlate with the development of rheumatoid arthritis. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH),8 a gut bacterium called Prevotella copri appears to play a role in the disease. Besides outcompeting several microbes known for their beneficial health effects, DNA sequencing of Prevotella has revealed that it contains genes that specifically correlate with RA.
After analyzing DNA in stool samples from both healthy people and rheumatoid sufferers, researchers discovered the bacterium was present in the intestinal microbiome of 75 percent of those with new-onset, untreated rheumatoid arthritis, compared to only 21 percent of healthy controls. This isn't the first time a microorganism has been linked to the development of RA though.
The late Dr. Thomas McPherson Brown9,10 — a board certified rheumatologist — wrote the book "The Road Back," in which he outlines a treatment approach for RA based on Dr. Sabin's theory that rheumatoid arthritis was caused by a mycoplasma — a type of watery fungus.
While mycoplasma is difficult to eliminate, Dr. Brown found it could be controlled using long-term, low-level doses of the antibiotic tetracycline. Despite the drawbacks of taking antibiotics long-term, his approach still represents a far safer, less toxic alternative to many conventional RA drug regimens.
My own RA treatment regimen was originally based on Dr. Brown's protocol. Over time, I gradually altered his approach, placing the greatest emphasis on dietary modifications and other natural therapies. Eventually, I eliminated antibiotics altogether. You can find a summary of my drug-free RA treatment protocol here.
The Importance of Vitamin D
Vitamin D is another really important component. By stimulating as many as 300 anti-microbial peptides that are even more powerful than antibiotics, vitamin D helps improve and regulate your immune system and fight infections. Many RA sufferers will notice that their symptoms are at their worst during the winter, and often dissipate during the summer. This is a giant clue that vitamin D is at work.
Invariably, unless you're aggressively addressing your vitamin D level with sensible sun exposure and/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.
I typically recommend RA sufferers get their levels checked every month, to help them fine-tune the dosage they're taking. Your ultimate goal is to reach and maintain a therapeutic level of 40 to 60 ng/ml, and if you're using a supplement, you need to take whatever dosage required to get you there.
Safer Pain Relievers
Most conventional rheumatologists have few remedies in their toolbox besides toxic drugs. While these can help relieve symptoms, they do absolutely nothing to address the underlying cause of the disease, which continues to ravage your body. What's worse, many of these drugs can cause more problems than they solve, and some of the more toxic ones can easily shave well over a decade off your lifespan.
That said, pain control is an important aspect of treating RA. If pain is not addressed, you may enter a depressive cycle that can worsen your immune function and cause RA flare-ups. If you opt for a drug, be sure to use the safest ones, and only when necessary — with the goal of eventually managing your pain without medications. More long-lasting relief will be achieved once you start targeting the inflammation, which is the underlying cause of the pain.
Among pain relieving drugs, some of the safest ones are the following. At the bottom of my RA protocol summary I also list a number of other natural pain relief options. You may want to try those first. If ineffective, continue using a pain relieving drug when necessary while you start incorporating the recommended diet and lifestyle changes. As you progress and inflammation begins to recede, an herbal remedy may be the only pain reliever you may need.
• Medical cannabis, now legal in 23 U.S. states.11 One of the strongest areas of research regarding marijuana's health benefits pertains to pain. In 2010, the Center for Medical Cannabis Research released a report on 14 clinical studies12 (most of which were FDA-approved, double-blind and placebo-controlled) on the use of marijuana for pain.
The studies revealed that marijuana not only controls pain, but in some cases it did so better than available alternatives.
• Non-acetylated salicylates, such as salsalate, sodium salicylate, and magnesium salicylate (i.e. Salflex, Disalcid, or Trilisate)
Key Elements of My RA Treatment Protocol
The sooner you start incorporating more natural treatments and reduce your reliance on drugs, the better. Just remember to be patient. If you have severe RA, it may take up to three years to reach full remission. Consistency and commitment is also necessary. While you may begin slowly, by cutting out sodas for example, it will not suffice to end your efforts there.
My drug-free RA treatment protocol has helped thousands of RA patients go into remission, and the dietary changes are an absolutely essential component, so please do not take them lightly.
Key Components of My RA Treatment Protocol
✓ Dietary modifications
Eat REAL food; unprocessed, organic, and locally grown if possible. Eat your food as close to raw as possible. Vegetable juicing is also highly recommended.
Eliminate processed foods and other sources of refined sugar/processed fructose, along with 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, your chances of recovery are slim.
Optimize your gut flora by consuming naturally fermented vegetables and/or a high potency probiotic supplement; work your way up to 4 to 6 ounces per day of fermented veggies.
Also be sure to get plenty of high-quality animal-based omega-3 fats, such as krill oil. 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 bioflavanoid derived from algae.
✓ 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, or take an oral D3 supplement, and closely monitor your levels to assure you maintain your level within the therapeutic range of 40 to 60 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.
A 2012 study13 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.
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.
Recent research14 confirms ginger's beneficial effects for RA sufferers in particular, and while the focus of the research was to identify which parts of the plant might make for a useful drug, there are significant benefits to using the whole plant.
In addition to pain relief, the study found that some of the phytochemical constituents of ginger can help stop RA-induced bone destruction.
Lingering emotional trauma is pervasive in people with RA. One of my favorite tools for addressing this is EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques), 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.