I Had Rheumatoid Arthritis

At the ripe old age of 30, I was stunned when I learned I had arthritis.  I started treatment for rheumatoid arthritis, in hopes of stopping the autoimmune disease in its tracks and staving off any long-term effects.  I tried a variety of medications, all ineffective, except for Methotrexate (a drug originally developed for chemotherapy).

Here's one warning about the drug's side effects:

Methotrexate should be used only in life threatening neoplastic diseases, or in patients with psoriasis or rheumatoid arthritis with severe, recalcitrant, disabling disease which is not adequately responsive to other forms of therapy.  Deaths have been reported with the use of methotrexate in the treatment of malignancy, psoriasis, and rheumatoid arthritis.

Doctors, including my prescribing rheumatologist, were concerned that I was taking such a toxic medication.  Avoiding treatment was not an option, as the daily symptoms went beyond excruciating pain.  At one point, before I started taking Methotrexate, my joint inflammation was so bad that I could not move my middle finger at all.  This particular setback forced me to get a cortisone shot so I could move my finger again.

In addition to the dangers of the drug's toxicity, there was another issue – it was only moderately effective.  Even though I was functional, I still had pain.  And the short-term side effects were not that pleasant either – nausea and fatigue being the most prominent for me.  I'd ask myself: Are these small gains worth the large risks?  Unfortunately, at the time, I didn't know of any other options.

I actually started the Paleo/Hunter-Gatherer/Diet of Man nutrition regimen to relieve an entirely different problem.  After suffering a shoulder injury that wasn't getting better, I decided I needed to try something different to help my body heal.  I had been doing Crossfit for a while and heard quite a bit of positive buzz about the Paleo Diet.  Folks were claiming it helped their bodies recover from intense workouts.  At first I didn't take it that seriously – since I knew I ate a healthy diet all ready, right?  And it sounded kind of extreme (funny how I now think anything that isn't Paleo is so unnatural and foreign).  Anyway, after a while, I put my skepticism aside and decided to give it a try.

I gradually worked my way into the diet and noticed that my shoulder started to feel better.  As an added bonus, my arthritis was improving too.  With these promising results, I slowly started reducing my Methotrexate dose, which was 15 mg a week.

Over time I followed the diet more strictly, to the point that I didn't need to take any Methotrexate at all.  (By the way, the last time I visited my rheumatologist, he had never heard of the Paleo diet or nightshades.)

It has been eleven months since I've taken Methotrexate.  Nor do I take any other pain killing medications.  I do medicate for seasonal allergies, but I've cut down the dose and noticed a substantial improvement in those symptoms as well.  Interestingly, both seasonal allergies and arthritis are caused by a dysfunctional immune system.  Chronic diseases such as those are definitely linked to the Omega-3 fatty acid deficiency Ted Slanker is so adamant about curing.

What I Eat

As mentioned before, I gradually worked my way into the diet and I'm still tinkering and working on a few lingering weaknesses.  It took me ten months to get to a point where I was dieting strictly enough to completely stop taking Methotrexate.  As of April 2011, it's been eleven months since I've felt the need to take a pill for my arthritis.

In hindsight, I wish I would have changed more quickly but habits are difficult to break. Perhaps my slow progression actually helped me stick with it.  Also, to a lesser degree, there is some misleading and conflicting information out there.  What I've found is that foods which are debated as being okay: alcohol in moderation, vegetable oils in moderation, honey, green tea, etc., really don't work for me.

My readjustment journey has involved quite a bit of trial and error.  If not the most logical approach, it has been effective for identifying foods that work.  If I eat something that doesn't agree with my body, I know quite powerfully and instantly – in a matter of minutes.  At the moment I'm experimenting with eliminating and reducing foods that may not cause an obvious and immediate negative reaction, but are questionable due to their nutritional content (specifically almonds and certain dry spices)

What I Eat and Drink

The base of my diet is greens.  This means not only eating them directly, but also only eating 100% grass-fed meat and wild fish and seafood.

Rather than list out all of the vegetables I eat, here are some of my favorite vegetables:

  • Greens (spinach, swiss chard, kale, collards, etc.)
  • Broccoli
  • Cabbage
  • Brussel Sprouts
  • Asparagus
  • Cauliflower
  • Onions
  • Summer Squash
  • Fresh herbs and black pepper
  • Mushrooms
  • Water
  • Low sugar fruit (berries, prunes, cherries)
  • Almonds and macadamia nuts

What I Don't Eat

  • Grains
  • Legumes
  • Dairy
  • Nightshade vegetables
  • Starchy vegetables
  • Fatty vegetables and fruits (avocado and coconut)
  • Sugary vegetables (carrots, parsnips, beets, acorn squash, etc.)
  • Celery (Why this bothers me I have no idea.  Maybe it's high O-6 to O-3 ratio.)
  • Fennel
  • Added salt
  • Added sugar (including honey)
  • Vinegar
  • Peanuts, seeds, most types of nuts and vegetable oils (including olive oil)
  • Candy (including gum and chocolate)
  • Any beverage besides water

What I'm Working On

Refining the fruit I eat is one of my main focuses.  I notice that eating some fruit, like apples and pears, bothers me some of the time, but not at other times (I think I have a higher tolerance for sugar post-exercise).

Eating nuts, like almonds, in moderation.

Eating Away from Home

Dining out and getting take-out used to be big parts of my routine.  Now I rarely engage in either.  I'd rather cook a meal for family and friends.  And I no longer miss restaurant food.

When I do eat out now it's all about the social experience, not the food.  With regards to the food I order, I keep it very basic.  I order from the raw bar or get a steamed fish and vegetables or a garden salad without dressing.  I make sure to request they don't add any salt and that they don't cook with butter or any other fats or oils.  My experience is that the staff has been very receptive and respectful of my requests.

With regards to traveling, I'll simply take food with me.  Foods I've pre-cooked and refrigerated or frozen, as well as canned fish work best.  Before taking any vacation, I'll always make sure I book a room with a kitchen.

Yes, these changes have complicated life a bit.  But in the end, and I do hope I have reached the end of dealing with the many uncertainties of having RA, I feel much better physically and mentally.

Jason Kirkland, Contact me at jake_08901@yahoo.com, April 2011