10 Ways Naturopathy Can Help Your RAby Lene Andersen, MSW Patient Advocate
Living with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) can be a daily challenge requiring a variety of treatments and techniques to cope with pain, fatigue, and other symptoms. Many people with this condition supplement their medical care with alternative and complementary therapies. Increasingly, this includes naturopathy, a form of alternative medicine.
What is naturopathy?
Naturopathic doctors (NDs) approach treatment from a holistic perspective integrating herbal medicines and supplements with techniques such as acupuncture, biofeedback, homeopathy, and counselling to treat the whole person. The focus is on preventative health and on removing barriers that can get in the way of both internal and external healing. Doctors of naturopathy are accredited health professionals who are rigorously trained following scientific principles.
Naturopathy and RA
“The goal is for the naturopathic doctor to try to understand cause, and with any autoimmunity disorder that can be very difficult to uncover,” says Odessa Gill, N.D. Naturopathy views RA as something that develops from an interaction of multiple factors. These may include food allergies, gut permeability (“leaky gut syndrome”), excessive inflammatory properties, and others. Treatment of RA includes a variety of techniques to address these factors.
Guidance for using natural medication
A common belief about herbal medication is that it’s “natural” and therefore safe. Herbal medications are a form of medicine, with side effects and can have interactions with other substances both natural and western (allopathic). Naturopaths are experts in herbal medicine and can recommend the best options for your condition. They can also share information about those that may have interactions with the other things you are taking or which may cause problems with any of your medical conditions.
Acupuncture is a technique used in traditional Chinese medicine. It involves inserting very fine needles into different points on the body to balance the flow of energy. Studies have shown that acupuncture can be effective in lowering inflammation, as well as controlling pain. Naturopathic doctors are trained in the Chinese medicine philosophy behind acupuncture and use this technique to treat a variety of physical and emotional issues.
Diet and weight loss
Nutritional information and treatment is a strong focus in naturopathic medicine. If you have ever wanted to try an elimination diet to help identify the potential role of food allergies or food triggers in your RA, a naturopath can guide you through the process and interpret the results. Naturopathic physicians can also assist with designing a healthy and supportive way to lose weight without compromising any of the nutrients you need for your health.
Reducing treatment side effects
All medications have the potential to cause side effects and RA drugs are no exception. A doctor of naturopathy may be able to recommend remedies that can reduce your experience of side effects. This “is one of the big ways that a naturopath can assist RA patients,” says Dr. Gill. “Digestion is always the target area when we are dealing with any type of arthritis. We would want to normalize the bacterial flora. Probiotics are on the top of my list.”
Improving your general health
The practice of naturopathy focuses on preventative medicine and can therefore be helpful in supporting your general health. RA is a systemic condition and affects not just joints, but also other systems including internal organs, such as your heart. Working toward being as healthy as possible can support your body and mind as you live with the challenges of RA. An ND can help you choose the right vitamins, supplements, diet, and exercise to gradually improve your health.
Information about supplements
Supplements are available everywhere from health food stores to supermarkets, but how do we choose what is right for us? Consulting a naturopath can help you choose which supplements are the most important for you to take, as well as which particular brand of supplements is likely to work best for you. An ND can also give you information on how to take a supplement so it will work as well as possible for a particular aspect of your health.
Intense fatigue is a common symptom of RA, as well as a frequent side effect of RA meds. It can be debilitating to the point that people with the condition have been known to say the fatigue is worse than the pain. Including naturopathic options in your treatment regimen can provide support to reduce fatigue through supplements, acupuncture, and other techniques.
Treating RA pain
A naturopath can also provide help with several types of treatments for RA. “The top nutritional supplement on my list is fish oil, what we consider an anti-inflammatory. A naturopathic doctor can assist you in finding the most appropriate fish oil,” says Dr. Gill, emphasizing that some will work better than others. Other treatments may include acupuncture, biofeedback, recommendations for gentle exercise, and counselling.
Biofeedback is a technique that teaches people to control parts of their body’s reaction to what is happening in their life. You can train yourself to control processes that normally happen involuntarily (for instance blood pressure, muscle tension, heart rate). It can be an effective addition to your pain management regimen. Some naturopaths include biofeedback treatment in their practice or may be able to recommend a practitioner for you.
Supporting your emotional health
As mentioned previously, naturopathic medicine takes a holistic perspective, treating the whole person. That includes your emotional health. A doctor of naturopathy is qualified to offer counselling, for instance, related to coping with and accepting your condition. If you are having mental health problems, such as anxiety and depression, they can also recommend herbal medicines and homeopathy that may be helpful.
Is a naturopath right for you?
If you are interested in alternative regimens, naturopathic care may be an option for you. This can be somewhat expensive, so review your insurance policy to see whether you are covered and for how much. If money is tight and there is a naturopathic college in your area, you may be able to use a student clinic where fees can be offered on a sliding scale. It’s also a good idea to let your rheumatologist know that you are consulting an alternative practitioner.
How to find a naturopathic doctor
Not everyone who calls themselves a naturopath have received four years of training and completed a residency. Make sure you ask where the naturopath went to school and where they were trained — it should be in one of these eight accredited programs in North America. You can also do a search by area for a doctor of naturopathy who is a member of the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians to ensure that the person you consult is licensed to practice in your state.