Challenging Standard Rheumatoid Arthritis Treatments: Lessons From Grandma

My grandmother had multiple sclerosis (MS) before medicine recognized it as a disease.  Way back then, just some 40 years ago, MS was viewed by medicine as a psychological impairment, not the autoimmune disease that it has come to be accepted as today.  Prior to its recognition by medicine, patients had two choices:  accept that their condition was all in their head, or heal themselves. 

My grandmother, bless her heart, would not accept this cruel dismissal of her doctors and instead, chose to take her health into her own hands.  It was, in my opinion, the most important and perhaps most courageous thing she ever did.  It saved her life.   Through her own research and sheer determination, she was able to avoid the worst the disease had to offer. She learned that she could manage her symptoms effectively just through the choices she made every day.  Choices in the foods she ate, the activities she participated in, the manner in which she felt and responded to stress,  and the supplements she took.  She kept her faculties and mobility until her passing last Winter.  

MS still remains to be a great medical “mystery”  in many respects, but I contend that, from a patient’s perspective, there are several aspects that MS and rheumatoid arthritis share. 

Allow me to illustrate….

  • Both are autoimmune diseases, meaning that the immune system attacks the body it was designed to protect. As a result, patients will experience “flares,” or periods where there is an onset of symptoms when before, there were none; or when there is an increase in the intensity of symptoms that were already present.   
  • There is no cure for either disease
  • The cause is unknown or at best, a wild guess
  • Both are largely “invisible” – You may have RA or MS, but not look “sick” or appear to be “disabled.”
  • Treatment resembles a Whack-A-Mole-Game, where drugs are the mallet, and the moles are individual symptoms.   Symptoms are masked or delayed temporarily, until they reemerge at which time, more drugs are thrown at them. 

In all fairness, this list could be referring to almost any pair of autoimmune diseases because medicine still does not understand what my grandmother did: the immune system functions best when it is properly cared for, not when it is being artificially suppressed from performing its job of preserving us. 

In almost all non-life-threatening instances, we as patients have great power over our own health.  Too often, those in a position to help us, strip us of the confidence to listen to what our bodies are telling us, or  challenge medical “authority.” We are lead to believe that we are incapable of determining whether we are sick or not.  A battery of tests and a medical degree are the only credible evidence of physical dis-ease.  As a result, we never discover that our immune system is sending us messages and warnings all the time, lest we just listen.  Fatigue, acne, allergies, aches and pains are just a few of the minor inflammatory distress calls that often go ignored, or are treated symptomatically, without regard to the underlying cause of stress in the body.

From the time we are able to experience the physiological effects of stress in the womb, our immune system is engaged in doing its job to protect us.  If it is never given a chance to rest or recover, it is much more likely to malfunction.  Often, the malfunction is in the form of autoimmune dis-ease.  Rather than rehabilitating the immune system (and the other systems that have been weakened in the process),  medicine will seek to will it into submission through drugs designed to impair or even kill it.  And to add insult to injury, without a functioning defense, the already weak systems will have no way of protecting themselves from infection and disease.  Drugs may offer a temporary relief to the patient, but over the long run, they often just create more problems:  additional health issues and diseases, dependence,  and no hope for any real healing. 

My grandmother spent her life listening to her body.  She knew what foods  to eat to help nourish her body, especially her immune system.  She knew to stop when she was beginning to over-do life, and she knew of a variety of ways to reduce her body’s burden of stress.   She wasn’t perfect and she had her share of flares, but she never succumbed to the medically accepted idea that the MS was in her head, nor did she to the disease. 

Rheumatoid arthritis is not usually a death sentence.  We may not be able to do everything we were once able to do, but we never have to relinquish our control over our bodies or health.  We can empower ourselves with the knowledge and the courage to demand that our medical system do more than just throw pills at us for the rest of our lives.  Yes, we may have a disability, but that does not mean our lives are over.   Rheumatoid arthritis can be treated much in the same way that my grandmother treated her MS, it just takes some courage and determination.  Unlike my grandmother, we are not alone.  We are very lucky that today, there are doctors and organizations that support patients who opt for a different treatment path.    There is hope for us who wish to feel better once and for all.

Stay tuned!  More tomorrow!

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1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Arthritis James
    Dec 09, 2011 @ 19:01:12

    Thanks for posting this. This information really helps people that are suffering on arthritis.

    Reply

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