By Xiaomei Cai, L.Ac., Ph.D., O.M.D. (China)
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic disease, mainly characterized by
the inflammation of the lining, or synovium, of the joints. It can lead
to long-term joint damage, resulting in chronic pain, loss of function
RA progresses in three stages. The first
stage is the 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 digest 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
flares can occur.
RA affects people differently. For some
people, it lasts only a few months or a year or two and then goes away
without causing any noticeable damage. Other people may have mild or
moderate forms of the disease, with periods of worsening symptoms,
called flares, 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 or even a lifetime. This form 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. Through a thorough examination and consultation, including
an assessment of the pulse and tongue, a diagnosis is 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. For Heat -Bi, you should consume mung bean sprouts and
Generally, your daily diet should include
enough fresh vegetables, and foods rich in omega 3 and 6, such as flax
seeds, sunflower seeds and walnuts. Supplement 100% of your calcium.
During flares, eat more bitter melon and dandelion greens to reduce
heat. Add some pearl barley, tofu, celery and Chinese yam to alleviate
swollen joints. During remissions, eat more mushrooms such as black wood
ear to 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 condition,
consult with a TCM practitioner for an appropriate diet.