Monthly Visitors: Rheumatoid Arthritis, Hormones, and a Cow

Do you tend to get flares around the time of your period?  I do, and I find it particularly frustrating because for the most part,  my RA is pretty well under control.  However, every month around the same time, a flare will come like clockwork and undo my life, as only flares can, and always do.  You would think by now I would be used to a flare at the same time each month, but to be quite honest, I only recently picked up on the correlation between the two.  In fact, my doctor clued me in when he gave me a product called EstroFactors to try and help clear my monthly bouts of acne.  The bottle says it is for menopausal women and upon reading this, I quickly and emphatically questioned why on earth was he giving ME, a young woman of 32, pills for menopause!   He told me that many women with RA tend to hold on to estrogen in their bodies and that the pills would actually help my body detoxify excess hormone. 

So what does this have to do with RA?  Well, science has found there to be a correlation between estrogen and rheumatoid arthritis.  Apparently, too much estrogen, and hormone imbalances in general, can actually make rheumatoid arthritis symptoms worse.  

There is so much conflicting information about this topic on the web, so I will just share my own experience with hormones and RA.  I have always been hormonally imbalanced.  My periods have always been irregular and heavy, I have always had really bad cramps and PMS (I think anyone who has known me through the years would agree).  However there have been several things that I have done within the last year that I have noticed a marked improvement in not only my menstrual symptoms, but my rheumatoid arthritis severity. 

The biggest change came when I eliminated animal protein from my diet.  No, I am not a political vegan, just someone who has found that I feel SO much better when I significantly reduce or eliminate all meat, fish, dairy, and eggs from my diet.  All animal protein is highly inflammatory and really difficult to digest.   For my own health, I want to avoid inflammation like the plague! It is what causes the pain we feel in our joints!  Don’t get me wrong, I love barbeque ribs and fried chicken, cheese burgers and turkey sandwiches, but not even the best baby back ribs (my mom’s) are worth the pain and disability I feel when I flare.  I feel like every day that I am trapped by RA is a day wasted that I will never get back.  It just isn’t worth it.  Since going vegan, I have lost 30 pounds without effort, I feel better,  have more energy, I look younger, and best of all, I don’t have half as many flares as I used to.

Going vegan has also helped to regulate my period.  For the first time in my life, it comes and goes on time; usually lasting about 5-6 days, down from 8.   There is no more PMS or heavy flow, and only minor cramps (Sorry, I know that’s too much information, but I am trying to illustrate a point).  This dramatic improvement  is largely attributed to my significant reduction of fat consumption, and subsequent weight loss.   

Even the leanest cuts of meat still have a relatively high amount of fat.  So even when you try and eat a low-fat diet, it is still pretty fattening when you compare it to a healthy, balanced, vegan diet (yes, there is such a thing!)  Moreover, most environmental toxins (including  xenoestrogens*) are fat solulable.  That means, they are stored in our body fat!   Oh, did I mention that hormones are stored in fat as well? Well they are, and cows have a ton of hormonally loaded fat.  And no, when we eat meat, those hormones don’t just go away.  They get stored in our fat right along with all the other toxins that cow has stored in its fat.  This is true for any animal or egg, organic or not,  that is consumed.  Beef has a higher concentration of hormones simply because of a cow’s large size.

If you remember from earlier in this article, I mentioned that my doctor had said that some people with rheumatoid arthritis have a tendency to hold on to excess estrogen.    I have always been hormonally imbalanced and ate animal protein for 31 years.  That is a long time for my body to store quite a surplus of excess hormone.  So it will likely take some time before I can detoxify and come into hormonal balance.  Taking EstroFactors should help this process.  In the meantime, I cannot complain.  I am down to having only have one “major” flare at about the same time each month.  As long as I don’t suddenly get invited to judge a BBQ Pitmaster competition that is sponsored by Ziploc plastic bags, I know there will be a day not too far into the future when I will have conquered this as well.

* Xenoestrogen:  Any of the by-products of industrial or chemical processing that have estrogen-like effects [including plastics].

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9 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Jennifer
    Aug 07, 2010 @ 09:46:15

    Very interesting! Glad I read this 🙂


  2. Jenn
    Aug 18, 2010 @ 17:43:43

    This is very interesting to me….I took experience flare ups around my “girly time” of the month (just happens to be this week….oddly enough). It makes it a little harder to get out of bed each morning and the stiffness lasts sometimes until noon-ish or longer depending on the day. Very frustrating to say the least. I was diagnosed with RA 9 years ago and it’s been a struggle for sure. I’m just now at a point in my life (turned 30 in June) where I’m reading things such as your post and realizing maybe it’s me….maybe I’m causing this pain to myself? I’ve never thought about becoming a vegan or going gluten-free, but after reading your success with it….it makes me curious. My problem is….I love food….I love flavor and it’s hard to pass on sweets! Not that I couldn’t do it….it would just be 30 years of one habit…changing. Can you give me an example of what a meal would be…being both vegan and gluten-free? My husband has agreed to try this with me so I’m excited to begin since having the support in the home will be a great thing and less likely make me slip if his items were still around. I’ve already lost the movement in my wrists from RA and I’m not interested in losing more or feeling this pain daily anymore…..I’m ready to take the steps to change. Thanks for starting this blog….I’ve only wrote a blog about my wedding planning….nothing about my RA, but I’ve always thought about it. There’s many out there that can relate on the same level as us and it’s nice to relate to someone. I’m the first in my family to have an auto-immune disease so it’s “all brand new” to my family. Thanks for your posts and I hope to hear from you soon! ~ Jenn


    • PMT
      Aug 19, 2010 @ 07:36:14

      Jenn, thank you so much for your comment and I hope you don’t mind that I made the bulk of your reply into a post (“The Difference Between Pleasure and Pain”). I think a lot of readers are feeling and wondering the same things you are, so I wanted to address it in a way that was accessible to everyone. I only hope that I can help in propel you toward feeling better. You are very lucky to have a husband who is willing to support you and you both are very courageous to even consider such changes. Life-long habits are hard to change, but it can be done. I know I am running behind, but I promise you, I will put up more recipes, meal plans, cookbook recommendations, and tips and tricks on how to make this transition easier, if you’d just be patient with me. =) Pain-free hugs to you and thank you so much for your support ❤


  3. Megan
    Aug 26, 2010 @ 04:47:44

    I love your blog. It is so well written and I really enjoy reading it!

    I’m hoping to compare notes with you… I have psoriatic arthritis and have been gluten and dairy free (among other things) for nearly a year. When I started my diet, I also gave up corn, tomato, and potato because they are “inflammatory.” Have you given up these foods? If not, do you see an increase in inflammation when you do have them?

    My arthritis has been in my Achilles for a while. My Rhu is afraid one of these days I might rupture it. AUGH! I’ve contemplated giving up meat, or going raw for a while… It’s so hard to know what to do! I’ve been to two different ND’s. Too bad there wasn’t an easy button for us all!

    You’ll have to check out my blog when you get a chance. I’m hoping to publish a cookbook one of these days with my recipes!
    🙂 Megan


    • PMT
      Aug 26, 2010 @ 15:01:44

      Thank you Megan, I love your blog too! I became a follower of both blog and fb page. I have not given up corn, tomato, or potato because…..well, I don’t really have a good reason. I have often thought of removing these foods, but I don’t know if it would make much difference. Perhaps I should try. The inflammation in our bodies are like a cup. I want to keep the cup as empty as possible, but with diet and stress, it can often overflow. When it overflows, I will flare. So I am constantly watching “my cup.” I don’t know how much those particular foods are contributing to filling my cup, but “the cup” could always be more empty. Since eliminating meat, it has emptied it enough to allow some inflammatory foods, since meats are about as inflammatory as they come. I hope that makes sense.

      I used to feel it in my achillies too, not so much anymore (now you know I have just jinxed myself =0)). Raw is good, and a lot of fun! I LOVE raw food, but love writing better so I don’t always get around to doing all the prep work beforehand. Perhaps we could do raw together and chronical the experiences on our blogs??? I would be happy to help you get started, I have been raw on and off for about a year. Let me know what you think.


  4. Megan
    Aug 26, 2010 @ 17:35:02

    You are too sweet!! I am touched you would even offer to go raw with me!

    To tell you the truth, I’m a little intimidated about going 100% raw; although I would definitely try it before going on any sort of meds! It’s harder to get fresh food and produce up here in Alaska. Produce is expensive and you have to wonder how many of the nutrients are depleted by the time it actually arrives in our stores. There aren’t many negatives about living in Alaska, but I have to say that is one of them!

    I think within the next few weeks I will commit to going meat free (with the exception of maybe fresh fish once in a while). You’ve inspired me!

    You make a good point about eliminating meat, but allowing yourself other inflammatory foods. I think I would actually prefer eating corn, potatoes, and tomatoes right now vs. meat! Funny how your “food priorities” change after a while!

    Thank you for your kind words and encouragement. I’m so glad another fellow arthritis girl told me about your blog!

    Completely off subject… I saw you were homeschooling your children. This is my first year home schooling our oldest daughter, Kylie. She’s 5, so we’re doing kindergarten. =) Sounds like we might have a lot in common!!
    Great to “meet” you!!


  5. PMT
    Aug 26, 2010 @ 21:04:46

    Hi Megan,
    I can see what you mean about the food. I am in Washington, and sometimes it can be really expensive. I am sure there is a way around it. I feel better even when I am only mostly raw, so perhaps that is an option?

    Flexibility is good. It has often been my own rigidity that actually makes my symptoms worse, rather than better. If I want a little chicken or something, I will have some. There are already so many limitations, I want to be flexible where I can. Gluten is not an option though, lol.

    I am really looking forward to seeing how this all pans out. We do seem to have quite a bit in common. I have been homeschooling for several years (I actually work with homeschoolers, do assessments and consulting and such in my life outside of RA :)) and I really enjoy it. I have been thinking about writing a post on how to balance living with RA and homeschooling. We are coming out of the woodwork. =) Let’s talk some more. I’ll message you in a little bit.


  6. Megan
    Aug 27, 2010 @ 05:39:32

    Mostly raw would definitely be an option. I’d have to give myself some time to gear up for it though (sounds silly, I know, but I bet you probably understand!). I totally pigged out on spaghetti with meat sauce tonight because I know what’s coming in my not-so-distant future. LOL!!!

    Have you ever had any allergy/sensitivity testing done?

    Gluten isn’t an option for me either…

    I can only imagine how good it must feel to love your job. My sister in law actually does something similar to what you do. I’m glad I have her to lean on for support this year!

    Talk to you soon!


  7. Pam
    Aug 11, 2011 @ 21:59:27

    Thanks so much for this blog! I just wish my OB/GYN would have explained all this to me. I am awaiting an appointment with a RA MD but have always had estrogen issues. I recently was diagnosed with endometriosis and just had a hysterectomy 8 weeks ago. I only have 1 ovary and still have bad flares for 2 weeks when my estrogen is high.I just started DHEA and bioidentical progestrone. I wonder what this product would do with the combination?


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