Rheumatoid Arthritis Alternative Treatments

Question: I'm 29, and I was recently diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. I really don't want to start taking medications since I'm still so young. Recently, I've read that acupuncture and massage help reduce symptoms, but is there anything else I can do at this point to prevent my disease from getting worse?
—Detroit, MI
Young women doing pilates exerciseAnswer: While I can't promise you won't need to take medication for rheumatoid arthritis (RA) at some point, it's fantastic that you're so proactive about your health and that you're eager to learn about alternative treatments for RA.

As you may already know, rheumatoid arthritis is an auto-immune disease, which means that your immune system (which normally protects your body by fighting off infections and diseases) turns against your body. In people with RA, the immune system attacks the tissues that line the joints. This can cause pain and inflammation in the joints.

But patients who are diagnosed with RA early on have a jump start on their treatment plan and, in turn, may have a much easier time managing their condition.

As with conventional treatments for RA, the main goal of alternative treatments is to ease your chronic pain.

Although there's no guarantee that they can prevent your RA from getting worse, alternative treatments may help relieve your pain, reduce stress, improve sleep, and decrease anxiety and depression. However, they're most effective when used in combination with conventional treatments.

As you've mentioned, acupuncture and massage may help reduce RA symptoms. Acupuncture is an ancient Chinese practice that involves inserting needles into various points on your body to relieve pain. Massage may also offer chronic pain relief when received on a regular basis. It promotes relaxation and well-being.

Below are some of the other most common alternative treatments for rheumatoid arthritis:

  • Meditation: a technique that helps improve concentration, reduces stress, and promotes wellness by teaching you to relax and reflect
  • Tai chi: a type of movement therapy that involves gentle exercises and deep breathing to reduce stress and pain and help bring balance to your body
  • Yoga and Pilates: incorporate a blend of gentle stretching and strengthening exercises, breathing techniques, and meditation to promote an overall sense of well-being
  • Fish oil: The omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil may reduce pain and stiffness related to RA. You can take fish oil as a tablet or use actual fish oil.
  • Changing your diet: You really are what you eat. A diet that's high in inflammation-causing foods and low in anti-inflammatory foods can aggravate RA symptoms. Cut back on red meat, sugar, and white flour. Instead, stick with fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and fish.

According to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, some mind-body therapies and dietary supplements may be beneficial additions to your treatment regimen, but there is currently not enough evidence that they're safe and effective for RA.1

Also, keep in mind that supplements, such as fish oil, can interact with other medications, so make sure your doctor is aware of all the supplements you're taking.

Before you try any alternative treatment to help ease your rheumatoid arthritis symptoms, do your homework, and be sure to review the side effects and potential risks with your doctor.