When I first developed rheumatoid arthritis, I soon learned that diet was something I had to consider changing as it influences inflammation levels. Initially, it was difficult trying to determine what foods were making my condition worse, as the information that was out there varied a huge amount. However, after keeping notes of exactly what foods I ate and matching it to my inflammation levels, I discovered dairy produce, particularly cheese, was my enemy.
Eating one of my favourite foods just wasn’t worth the screaming pain I developed in my shoulders within hours. Cheese had to go, or more importantly, I had to find a way I could eat it without being affected.
I came upon an article discussing the acid-alkaline balance within the body. Apparently, we are meant to eat an 80-20 alkaline-acid proportion in the diet, to stay problem free. Foods can either be acid or alkaline, or they can be acid or alkaline-forming, meaning once they have been processed, the residue is either acid or alkaline. If we don’t eat foods in the correct ratio, we suffer from over-acidity.
Many diseases and allergic reactions have this association, but those conditions with symptoms of pain and weakness are affected the worse. Over-acidity equals inflammation. Therefore, for rheumatoid arthritis sufferers, a high alkaline diet is essential.
What makes such a diet?
1) Fruits are mainly alkaline, so long as they are not canned, dried, glazed. Cranberries, plums and prunes, are the exception, and they are slightly acidic.
2) Most vegetables are alkaline, with the exception of dried beans, brussel sprouts, and lentils.
3) Raw milk (not boiled, cooked, pasteurised, etc), whey and yoghurt are alkaline, but butter, cheese, cream and custards are acidic.
4) Meat and fish are acidic.
5) All cereals are acid, with millet and rye been the least acid forming grain.
6) Teas are alkaline. Alcohol, coffee, sugars, vinegar, condiments and spices, and dressings and thick sauces are acidic.
If you maintain a primarily alkaline diet, you may be able to eat more of the acid foods without being affected. It worked for me.
I’d say, it’s worth a try. The benefits are huge.
Last time I discussed the benefits of exercise for Rheumatoid Arthritis sufferers. This time I shall discuss my own experience and explain how tennis saved my life.
When I started playing, I was in my mid-thirties and should have been at the peak of my health, but I wasn’t. Despite being on medication, I still had hot swollen knees, sore fingers and toes, and rigid, immovable shoulders for most of the day. I could barely walk, and limped from the house to the car. That was the extent of my exercise.
Something had to change. I was deteriorating rapidly and my outlook was bleak. I was constantly out of breath and my resting pulse was 79. It wasn’t a good position for someone of my age to be in. So, I joined a tennis club and signed up for group lessons.
I distinctly remember the early days. The racket was huge in my hand, and extremely heavy, so much so I struggled to hold it upright. In addition, I found it hard to grip the racket. When I did manage to make contact with the ball, (hard when you’re a beginner) either the racket was knocked from my hand or I was pushed backwards. Believe me, the ball wasn’t moving at a great speed. I was just very weak.
I had other problems too. Firstly, I couldn’t move very well around the court since my knees were so frequently like balloons, and secondly, I struggled with the service action since I couldn’t raise my arm above my head. Everything was against me . . . except my desire.
My coach, bless him, told me he doubted my ability to ever play tennis. Thankfully, I wasn’t so easily put off!
So I persisted, despite the agony. After each session, not only was I exhausted and needed a sleep, but my body roared out its complaint. Every time I was in agonising pain, particularly in my shoulders and knees. If I had told my doctor what I was doing he would have probably been horrified, but I had a theory. I was going to be in pain anyway, so what did I have to lose? And I was right. Over time, the pain I inflicted upon myself disappeared, and not only that, my hot swollen and stiff joints were no more. In effect, I had put myself into remission.
One other personal benefit was for my right shoulder. At the time, I couldn’t lift my arm much at all, but to my delight, when I played tennis, I could lift it above my shoulder. The reason for this was because tennis involves a swinging action of the arm, something that doctors advice RA sufferers to do on a regular basis to aid movement. I was doing it for a couple of hours at a time. It had to help. At first, the free movement only remained with me for the duration I was playing tennis, and the instant I stopped, my shoulder seized.
However, over time, this changed, and after a few years, I gained permanent free-flowing movement. For me, this was an amazing achievement. I could finally reach into the top cupboards in kitchen! If you don’t have RA, you may not appreciate how good that feels. It was huge.
Tennis is my favourite sport, but that aside, I do believe it to be good for RA sufferers. The swinging action is beneficial, the amount of running you do whilst playing doubles is limited, and the social benefits are immense. It is perfect for anyone with limited movement, and if you are like me and play regularly, you will get fitter and fitter.
I personally believe, had I not taken up tennis I would be in a wheelchair by now. Also, my life expectancy would have been reduced and my susceptibility to other illnesses would have increased. In essence, tennis saved my life. No wonder I love it so much!
Your joints are hot and swollen, and moving causes agonising pain. Exercising may even make you feel worse, and certainly will do if you over-extend those sore joints beyond a tolerable limit. Having said that, exercising IS ESSENTIAL to Rheumatoid Arthritis sufferers, and for me proved to be the turning point for achieving a healthy body. Basically, it saved my life. More on my own experiences in a subsequent blog.
Exercising is important for many reasons. First, from a physiological point of view, it helps rid the body of toxins. It is the function of the lymphatic system to rid the body of waste and maintain a healthy immune system. However, since there is no pump for lymph, as is the case of blood flow, it relies upon body movement. If there is none, it backs up like a clogged sewerage pipe. When this happens even the healthiest of us will feel lethargic. If you already have a pre-existing condition, you are likely to feel even worse.
So Exercise! It is a must!
Okay, so what are the other benefits? If we are bed-ridden due to some other illness, our muscles deteriorate. This happens surprisingly rapidly. Use it or lose it. It may be a cliché, but it is true, especially in the case of RA. If we don’t exercise, our muscles and ligaments waste and our bones thin. If a strong muscle can’t move a stiff knee, then how is a weak muscle expected to?
If you are worse in the morning, as are many RA sufferers, surely it makes sense to get those joints moving sooner. Get out of bed and move, move, move! It is worth the effort. Do you not feel so much better when everything has started working again? Of course you do, so make the effort!
Next time, I shall write about my own exercising experiences and how I progressed from being unable to walk more than ten metres without agonising pain, to running around a tennis court.
It did happen! It can for you too!
It’s such a pity that we can appreciate things more when they are gone or about to leave us. Whether it is a loved one, our health, our even our youth and vitality, we suddenly realise, at that critical point, how much it means. Like everybody, I have been in that situation many times. Sometimes, though, we are lucky enough to enjoy the remaining time before whatever it is falls over the precipice; sometimes, we may even be able to change the course of history.
At critical moments in my life when I have been suffering at my most, I have had a policy of trying to enjoy each day and stay upbeat. I do this for selfish reasons, because I hate feeling miserable. It also has massive health benefits. Stress is the of the key factors of many illnesses, as I indicated in my earlier blog, ‘Fighting Rheumatoid Arthritis with the Mind’.
So how do you stay positive?
1) Distract yourself from your problems.
2) Learn to enjoy the moment. Don’t dwell on what could be. It may never happen. If it does, have confidence that you can deal with it.
3) Don’t think everyone else’s life is better. It’s probably not. We all have a habit of exaggerating our situations and achieve this in different ways. For example, you wealthy friend may be up to his eyeballs in debt; alternatively, they may have a poor marriage or lack of friends.
4) Don’t be jealous of what someone else has. Strive to make your own life better, and if you can’t, then accept it.
5) Force a happy demeanour. Smile, compliment, and think happy thoughts. You’ll get more back in return.
6) Remind yourself of what’s good in your life. Your children? Your partner? Your heath? There must be something.
Forcing a happy mood is not easy. When my dog had terminal cancer, I forced happiness on myself, and with hindsight, it was one of the best times I had had with any of my dogs. Every day, I enjoyed the fact she was still alive. Surely, that in itself was something to cheer about.
Life is a gift and time passes in a flash. Don’t allow negativity into your life. Fight for the positive.
Oh, and having the ‘happy gene’ may help.
I know exactly what it is like trying to sleep with Rheumatoid Arthritis. It is agonizing; the pain travels. What starts as a left knee problem, ends up extending from your toes to your hip, and before too long, reaches your entire left hand side. The more you think about it, the worse it gets.
You burn up. You fight the sheets. You pace the room. For the sake of your partner, you stifle your screams, but at the same time you are desperate for a consoling word or gesture, and gradually, as the agony evolves you release a desperate cry. He turns over and catches your eye. Suddenly, you are burdened with guilt.
So what can you do to help.
1) Try not to sleep during the day. It can mess up your sleeping pattern. Also, during the daytime try to be active and create a healthy fatigue. You will sleep better as a result.
2) Relax during the evening. Don’t overuse your brain, don’t exercise, and don’t eat or drink stimulants such as coffee. You want to be in a tranquil state before bed. Being too tired can be as detrimental as being too lively.
3) Don’t force sleep upon you, and don’t worry if you are awake. Stress stops us from sleeping. If you can’t sleep, get up and do something. Don’t fret.
4) Now, for those joints. A comfortable bed is important. RA can generate too much heat and create a fever. Have layers on the bed and be prepared to add or remove covers.
5) Try to keep joints straight. Bent knees and wrists hurt more, which is why splints are often prescribed. Laying on your back can be a relaxing position for RA sufferers, but if you are like me and at times struggle to straighten knees, you may need to rotate your legs outwards from the hip or add a cushion under your knees.
Another reason for sleeping straight is so your shoulders don’t get crushed. Being on your side may initially feel like a comfortable position, but after a few hours of sleeping like that a pain may develop.
For me, sleeping on my back was unnatural, but the benefits of being pain free outweighed the benefit of laying on my side.
6) Learn your own comfortable positions. They will vary depending on where your problem lies. I often suffered from the pain on the rear of my shoulder. No matter what position I slept in, I would wake up in the early hours in agonizing pain. It took some time, but I realized if I slept on my stomach with my arm dangling over the side of the bed from the elbow down, the ache never arrived. Not only that, but if started the night with a niggle, it would disappear.
I also found, for shoulder pain in particular, that the pain was far worse in a horizontal position as opposed to a vertical one. When I was at my worst I would sit up in bed and drift into sleep. It wasn’t the best position to be in, but it allowed me to be freed of the worse of the pain. Then I could shuffle down the bed.
7) Use painkillers, but sparingly. Sometimes, I would consider them a God-send. Other times they didn’t work at all. Don’t rely on them.
8) Don’t allow adrenaline to take control. It feeds the pain. Tell yourself you are going to control the pain and breath slowly and deeply. Imagine beautiful scenes and vistas. I often visualized floating over a beautiful landscape. It’s hard keeping such images in your head, but if you can manage it, it does help. You want the adrenaline gone. The only way to achieve this is to relax.
9) Don’t worry if you can’t sleep. Stress is banned, since it is on the side of the RA. Don’t give your condition any more tools to torture you with.
Hope this helps!
Your body is clogged with inflammation; your legs feel like tree trunks, your shoulders are so rigid they could be encased in concrete, and your fingers and toes are a row of useless stumps.
If you’ve never experience rheumatoid arthritis, it’s a hundred times worse than you feel the morning after a major physical work out. And it’s like that every day, almost entirely without exception.
You tell yourself you have to get moving, but that’s the last thing you want to do. Every step, every lift of an arm takes monumental effort. Your heart is pounding, your breathing is laboured, and your skin is clammy. You need to sit.
‘To hell with it,’ you say, and slump back onto a chair.
This used to be so familiar to me that thinking about it still gnaws at my heart. Just for once, I wanted to wake up supple and bouncy. I didn’t want to walk flat-footed to the bathroom, I didn’t want to arrive downstairs breathless and panting and needing another sleep, and I didn’t want to be wracked with pain for the best part of the day.
It’s then that I realised that the quicker I started moving, the quicker I would be freed of the agony. So I walked and walked, chanting with every agonising step. ‘I won’t let you beat me,’ I’d say, over and over. ‘I am going to move.’
My RA was the enemy and I had taken command. I was going to fight. I would not let it control every aspect of my life ever again.
It may seem strange that something as simple as applying mental strength could help, but I now believe it was fundamental to my recovery. At the time, I didn’t believe the mind to be such a powerful tool; nonetheless, due to my husband’s insistence, I never gave up. My rewards were instant. Not only did my stiffness disappear quicker, I also had a more positive mindset and started doing the things I had once enjoyed. In addition, and over time, my inflammation reduced.
I don’t know what actually happened. Maybe my brain started releasing positive hormones rather than the negative ones, thus aiding the fight and helping my immune system get back in balance. Stress plays a huge part in the state of our health, and is one of main factors in many diseases. So why not RA? Eradicating it certainly helped me.
Your life has been shattered into a thousand tiny pieces. You have no hope, no future and you are in constant pain. No one understands. You are alone in your agony.
I was just twenty years old when I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis. It’s not easy being told you have developed an incurable condition at any age, but when you are young, and you have acquired a disease more associated with the elderly, it is hard to come to terms with.
I loved being active. I walked my dogs twice a day, played badminton once a week, and often participated in outdoor pursuits. So for me, as a lover of the outdoors, it seemed a cruel diagnosis.
As is often the case, the onset of the disease was harsh and I rapidly lost condition. My resting pulse was over 80, my breathing was permanently laboured, and I couldn’t tolerate being on my feet for more than fifteen minutes. I was wasting away, dieing a slow, painful death. Worse still, I believed I would have to live like that for the rest of my life.
It was difficult to stay positive. I could not sleep; I could not dress myself; I could not raise my arms to brush my hair. Simple, everyday tasks, such as turning a round doorknob or placing a key in a lock were for others. I was useless, completely and utterly. Nothing could motivate me. I wanted to slip away.
Twenty plus years on, it all feels like a distant memory. My disease is in clinical remission and I am fitter and more active than I have ever been. In addition, my difficult days are so rare they act only as reminder of what could have been.
Perhaps I am lucky, or perhaps it is something to do with some of the little things I have done. Either way, as I consider what I have been through it reminds me that no matter how hard life seems and how many doors appeared to have closed, nothing is certain. There is always hope.
More later . . .