Making Alternative Therapies Work For You And Your RA

Leslie Rott Health Guide
  • On my blog, I have vented about the failures and frustrations that I have encountered with modern medicine, Prednisone being the one that I come back to most often.  I have very strong opinions about, and often against, modern medicine.  I think it's deplorable that so many of us have to rely on the dreaded Prednisone in order to stay alive.  And yet, maybe that makes me a walking contradiction, because I have tended to rely mostly on modern medicine to control my lupus and RA.


    My feelings against modern medicine even extend to something that I wrote on my cousin's Facebook status (who is in med school), "Spoken just like a doctor. Don't say more than can fit on a prescription pad."

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    So my lack of alternative therapy usage doesn't mean that I have total faith in modern medicine.  Or much faith, at all, for that matter.  I guess it just means that I'm more scared of things like acupuncture than I am of popping pills. 


    I even have a folder in my Gmail called "Snake Oil," with all the e-mails I get sent offering me ridiculous cures for my illnesses. 


    My bone of contention is, and always has been, that how you try to treat your illness(es) is a very personal choice.  I get upset when I read books and blog posts from people espousing how the gluten-free, dairy-free, everything-free lifestyle has cured them, and that you're less of a person if you haven't made an effort to try these things for yourself.


    I guess for me, in treating my RA, the extent of my alternative therapies have been taking a hot bath or shower when I am particularly in a lot of pain, and using topical creams, ointments, and gels that are known to minimize pain.  I did yoga once, and I truly did feel better afterwards, but I'm a multitasker, so it was hard for me to sit still doing one thing for that length of time.    


    I did go gluten-free for two weeks when I first got sick because my doctor at the time thought I might have Celiac.  I lost weight, and was hungry all the time, and therefore, did not have Celiac.


    For me, alternative therapies have come more in the form of "lifestyle changes" than therapies, per se.  And this is just the way I roll.  It doesn't mean you shouldn't try alternative therapies, if that's your thing.  And I know that it doesn't make me the smartest tool in the shed to solely rely on modern medicine.  I think there is a balance when it comes to these things, and I think we all have to test the waters, and feel these things out for ourselves. 


    For the past month or so, I have been going to physical therapy for some gut issues that I have been having.  And I have had the experience of sort of walking into alternative therapies, such as biofeedback, deep breathing, and stretching exercises.  It has been hard for me to take everything about it seriously, but I have been trying to respect the process in order to find some relief.  For me, it was either this or surgery, so I have embraced alternatives therapies when they clearly proffer more benefits than the alternative.  And this has been in no way related to my RA.     


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    According to a document put out by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM; on RA, key points include:


    "In general, there is not enough scientific evidence to firmly establish that any CAM therapies are safe and effective for RA. Some mind-body therapies and dietary supplements may be beneficial additions to RA treatment regimens, but more high-quality research is needed before drawing conclusions."


    "It is important not to replace conventional medical therapy for RA with an unproven CAM therapy."


    "Tell your health care providers about any complementary and alternative practices you use. Give them a full picture of what you do to manage your health. This will help ensure coordinated and safe care."


    Alternative therapies for RA include; mind-body therapies, dietary supplements, acupuncture, balneotherapy, and dietary changes.  As it turns out, balneotherapy involves bathing as a form of therapy, so I had been using an alternative therapy and didn't even know it.


    I guess my best advice would be to do what works for you, as long as it is safe, and all members of your healthcare team know you are doing it.  I would also warn that if you aren't practiced on navigating the Internet, there is a lot of junk out there, from people who are only trying to make money.  I think it's best to approach everything as "snake oil" and then find things that really work, rather than trying things, only to realize, potentially to the detriment of your health, that they weren't what they claimed to be.   


    There are some people who say, "Drop your doctor on his/her head, and you'll be cured."   There are those who have no belief whatsoever in modern medicine, and then there are those people who hold doctors in such high esteem that they don't go beyond the medical standard of care.  Do what is comfortable for you.  If anything, either a more traditional form of treatment or an alternative one makes you uncomfortable, don't do it.  Remember, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is... 


    If you have RA and have tried alternative therapies that have worked for you, I'd love to hear about them.          


Published On: March 07, 2011