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Managing Rheumatoid Arthritis

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“We all have moments in life when our world turns upside down. For me, it was the onset of rheumatoid arthritis in 2012. The conventional medical treatment frightened me as much as the disease, so I sought another option.” This is the story of Eileen Laird’s powerful journey to health. She describes it as going from “a life of excruciating pain and disability” to “using food as medicine to reverse rheumatoid arthritis.” Read on to learn how Eileen changed her diet and her life, and see if her solutions can be life-changing for you as well.  

Quote of the Week:

“Acceptance doesn't mean resignation; it means understanding that something is what it is and that there’s got to be a way through it."

- Michael J. Fox

Eileen Laird Descibes Her Healing Journey

Arthritic HandAs strange as it sounds, rheumatoid arthritis began with unexplained pain in my feet. They came out of nowhere and made it difficult to stand, walk or wear shoes. I’d had odd pains before that went away, so I hoped the same would be true this time. Then the inflammation spread to my hands, and my fingers wouldn’t bend. At that point, I knew it was RA. Within a few months of the first pain in my foot, flares became a daily occurrence and ricocheted around my body. They were always present in my hands and feet, but also rotated between my knees, hips, shoulders and jaw. It was excruciating and terrifying. It disabled me. I would wake up in the morning feeling like I was 90 years old. Every joint hurt when I move. I couldn’t lift a pan to cook, because my wrists were too weak. Washing my hair became a challenge, because I couldn’t raise my arms over my head. I couldn’t walk across the room without limping. I went from a healthy, fit, active woman, to one who needed help with the simple activities of daily life.

Resources and treatments

I knew there was no cure for RA, and that the medications prescribed were lifetime prescriptions. I also knew they came with potentially serious side effects, so I desperately looked for alternatives. It's logical to me that diet and lifestyle affects our health, so I searched for a dietary answer to RA.

GAPS, Paleo and Wahls  Diets

Paleo Diet MealGAPS, Paleo and Wahls diets are all based on the paleo dietary template. The idea is to eat the food we evolved to eat, things that can be hunted and gathered, and to avoid modern foods that have an inflammatory impact on the body – which include processed foods, sugar, grains and legumes. The GAPS diet also removes dense starches, based on the belief that they feed pathogenic bacteria in the gut that increase inflammation. The Wahls Diet focuses on nutrient-dense foods. It gives your body the building blocks it needs to heal, such as 9 cups of vegetables a day, and quality proteins like wild-caught seafood and organic meat.

Short and long term results

Within a week, my flares started to diminish in number and intensity. Within a few months, flares were rare, and when they happened, they were moderate. After 5 months my progress plateaued, so I did the Paleo Autoimmune Protocol, which is an elimination diet designed to identify food intolerances. I learned I was intolerant to all nightshades* and dairy, and when I removed those from my diet, my flares disappeared permanently. To be clear, though, I’m not cured. I still have RA, and when I eat a food that is an inflammation trigger, I feel an immediate return of RA symptoms. However, I’m able to manage my symptoms through diet and lifestyle, without the need for any immunosuppressant, steroid or biologic medication. I’ve been doing this for over 2 years now. I work full-time. I’m physically active again. It has restored my life.

Lessons learned on the journey

The biggest lessons I learned are about strength and surrender. The strength was to survive the pain and take action to reclaim my health. Surrendering was to the reality that RA is part of my life. It’s not about giving up. It’s about accepting life in this moment, with the hope that the next moment will be better. Know that you have options. Medications absolutely have their place. However, if they aren’t working for you, or you’d like to reduce your dose over time, know that diet and lifestyle can have a powerful impact on how you feel. My blog, Phoenix Helix has information on how to get started.

Food and lifestyle suggestions if you suffer from rheumatoid arthritis

Leafy GreensMy suggestion is to try the paleo diet for 30 days, and see if you notice a difference in how you feel. It’s a dramatic change to your diet and takes planning to make the switch, but it can lead to even more dramatic changes in your health. Simultaneously, focus on stress reduction and sleep. Both of these have a direct impact on the amount of inflammation we carry.

Parting words of wisdom

If you are depressed or feel like nothing is working, You deserve to feel better than this. It’s time to try something new. The phoenix became a very powerful symbol for me, with its ability to transform and rise from the ashes. Never underestimate your ability to rise.

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