Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic disease, mainly characterized by the inflammation of the lining, also referred to as synovium of the joints. RA can lead to long-term joint damage, resulting in chronic pain, loss of function and disability.
RA progresses in three stages. The first stage is swelling of the synovial lining, causing pain, warmth, stiffness, redness and joint swelling. The second stage is the rapid division and growth of cells, which causes the synovium to thicken. In the third stage, the inflamed cells release enzymes that may erode bone and cartilage, often causing the involved joint to lose its shape and alignment, eliciting more pain and loss of movement. Because of its chronic nature, RA continues indefinitely and may not go away. Frequent flare ups can occur.
RA affects people in different ways. For some people, it lasts only a few months, a year or two and then goes away without causing any noticeable damage. Others may experience mild or moderate forms of the disease, with periods of flare ups and periods when they feel better, called remissions. Still, others may have a severe form of the disease that is active most of the time, lasting for many years to a lifetime. This form of RA can lead to serious joint damage and disability.
The cause of RA is unknown. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, this condition is called Bi Zheng, which is typically divided into four types: Wind-Cold Bi, Cold-Bi, Dampness-Bi and Heat-Bi. With a thorough examination and consultation, including an assessment of the pulse and tongue, a diagnosis can be made. Specific acupuncture points and herbs are prescribed and an appropriate diet is designed for the patient to follow. For Wind-Bi, adding green onions and ginger to your diet will help expel the Wind. For Cold-Bi, choose black pepper and dry ginger. Soy bean sprouts and pearl barley are beneficial for Dampness-Bi. Lastly, for Heat-Bi it is advised that you consume mung bean sprouts and winter melon.
Generally, your daily diet should include enough fresh vegetables and foods rich in omega 3s and 6, such as flax seeds, sunflower seeds and walnuts. Inclusive supplement 100% of your calcium. During flare ups, eat more bitter melon and dandelion greens to reduce heat. Also, add some pearl barley, tofu, celery and Chinese yam to help alleviate swollen joints. During periods of remission, eat more mushrooms such as black wood ear to help strengthen your immune system. People suffering from RA should avoid oily and greasy food, dairy, shellfish, seaweed, egg, sugar, alcohol and excessive salt. Depending on your specific conditions, consult with a TCM practitioner for an appropriate diet regimine.