Many years ago I lived in the country in central Texas along a creek called Yankee Branch. The foor-wide stream meandered for miles through cow pastures, connecting neighbors. One of my neighborsn, whom I will call Mrs. Hill for this article, suffered severe rheumatoid arthritis.
Mrs. Hill tried everything for arthritis, and nothing worked. She finally got so stiff she couldn't do anything she used to enjoy, so she decided to cut a piece of cane, make a fishing pole, and just spend all day trying to catch catfish from the stream that connected our farms.
Mrs. Hill had good luck fishing. One the days Mrs. Hill caught catfish, always eaten an hour or two after capture, her arthritis seemed to go away. Soon catching catfish became Mrs. Hill's obsession
Every day you could see Mrs. Hill dressed in jeans, a long sleeved blouse, and a sunbonnet, carrying a fishing pole, walking more and more easily down to the creek. When she fished out her stretch of the stream, she started coming to our farm to fish. But she enjoyed ever increasing mobility as she caught more and more fish.
Every expert in omega-3's and arthritis will tell you that catfish doesn't contain enough of the omega-3 fatty acids arthritics need to make a difference. Every expert will tell you that frying your catfish in lard will cancel out all the good effects of the small amount of omega-3's in it.
Fortunately, I wasn't an expert in natural health at the time and no other expert dissuaded Mrs. Hill from fishing, either. After eating fresh catfish became a habit, Mrs. Hill enjoyed freedom pain and stiffness that she had not known in decades.
The challenge in treating rheumatoid arthritis with organic, whole foods has always been that one person’s "super-food" has no effect at all for someone else, or may even make arthritis worse. Since foods can’t be patented, there have been no millions in research money to research the patterns of foods that may help everyone who has rheumatoid arthritis. But that doesn't mean there's been no research at all.
How could you be scientifically sure a diet relieved rheumatoid arthritis? The first factor you would want to exclude would be wishful thinking. That is, the diet you test could not be a plan that had ever been described in a book or in a news report.
The second factor you would want to exclude is food allergies. Sensitivities and allergies to foods can be very important to individuals who have rheumatoid arthritis (and I discuss them later in this entry), but you would not want to make a recommendation for millions of arthritis sufferers on the basis of what works for a few.
Finally, you would want to meet the modern standards of good science. You would want to have a control group that did not change diet, an experimental group that did change diet, and "blinding" so that the patients involved in the experiment knew who was on which diet so no one could influence (or sabotage) the results.
There have been over 100 studies of the role of food in treating rheumatoid arthritis, but only two have met these rigorous scientific standards. One of the studies was performed in the early 1980s. The other was conducted in 1999. Let’s take a look at the more recent study.
In the late 1990’s, Jens Kjeldsen-Kragh of the Ullevaal University Hospital in Oslo conducted a year-long study in which rheumatoid arthritis patients were treated with three approaches in succession, fasting, gluten-free diet, and then ovolactovegetarian diets (a plant food diet permitting eggs and dairy products) customized to individual needs.
The first step of the study was a 7 to 10 day "modified fast." No one can stay on a fast forever, but Dr. Kjeldsen-Kragh thought that an immediate reduction in disease activity induced by fasting would encourage the patients to persevere with an entire year of dietary restrictions.
Dietary intake during the fast consisted of herbal teas, garlic, vegetable broth, boiled potatoes and parsley, and the juices of carrots, beets, and celery. No fruit juices were allowed. Cod liver oil and arthritis? No way.
The second step of the study was an elimination diet. The rheumatoid arthritis patients participating in the study were provided with a basic diet that consisted of the same vegetables that were used in to make juice and broth during the fast (potatoes, carrots, celery, parsley, and beets).
Because elimination diets have been used with success in rheumatoid arthritis patients, the doctor employed the elimination principle in this study.
In addition to the basic diet, the patients introduced a new food item every second day. If they noticed increased pain, stiffness, or joint swelling within two to forty-eight hours, the food was omitted from the diet for at least a week before being reintroduced.
If symptoms flared up again, the food item was excluded from the diet for the rest of the study. In addition, the rheumatoid arthritis patients participating in the study were not permitted to eat foods that contained meat, fish, eggs, refined sugar or citrus fruits. Salt, strong spices, and preservatives were also avoided, as were alcoholic beverages, tea, and coffee.
How did the participants do on the experimental diet?
The diet wasn’t a cure. The most dramatic change in symptoms for most people on the diet was morning stiffness.
Before the diet, the participants reported that morning stiffness lasted an average of 3 hours. After the 10-day fast and the first two weeks on a strict vegan diet, the average reported morning stiffness was just 1 hour.
As more and more foods were added back into the diet, reported morning stiffness crept back up to 90 minutes a day. Another, objective measurement of success, grip strength, was also dramatically improved by diet.
During the first month of treatment, average grip strength rose from 55 to 75 kPs. When participants went from vegan to vegetarian (in this case, plant foods plus eggs and dairy) diets, grip strength was slightly worse for a few weeks but then the improvement returned.
And another, objective measurement of change, Ritchie’s articular index, was similarly improved during the fast. The flexibility of joints was slightly less on vegetarian diet than during the fast or the vegan diet, but still lastingly and dramatically improved.
Why should these interventions work? Improvement during the fast was probably due to suppression of the immune system. Boosting the immune system is not a good thing if you have rheumatoid arthritis. This is because the tissue damage caused by rheumatoid arthritis is caused by hyperactivity of the immune system. More specifically, an important factor in rheumatoid arthritis may be an overreaction to infection with the microorganisms Proteus mirabilis.
This germ is common in the bowel, and it's also a frequent cause of urinary tract infections. A chain of amino acids on its surface, glutamic acid, glutamine, arginine, arginine, alanine, and alanine, also occurs on human leukocyte antigen (HLA), a trigger for T cells to destroy tissues.
Proteus sends this protein into blood circulation. One in the bloodstream, the protein triggers an immune response. Tissue destruction is minimal, however, if the bloodstream keeps "washing" the proteins away. In the joint, however, the protein is trapped. Inside the joint the immune system is activated to destroy what appears to be an infection. The problem is that it is healthy tissue.
Fasting deprives the immune system of the energy it needs to fight this supposed invader. A similar effect is achieved by vegetarian diet. Less protein in the system weakens the immune response, an immune response that causes the pain and inflammation of rheumatoid arthritis.
What about fish? An interesting feature of the Norwegian study is that is excluded fish and fish oils, commonly recommended for people who have rheumatoid arthritis. Participants in the study got better without fish.
Most participants in the study, however, consumed copious quantities of fish before they did the fast and the vegan and vegetarian diets. Their blood fatty acid profiles actually improved by going on the fast. This may be because eliminating sugar and fat is more important in treating rheumatoid arthritis than adding beneficial fatty acids.
Once you do eliminate the sugar and fat, however, fish oil may be exactly what you need. The thing to remember about fish oil and arthritis, however, is that taking fish oil can't overcome the ill effects of a bad diet.
This article is based on the personal recollections of natural health expert Robert Rister.