Battling Rheumatoid Arthritis With a Paleo Diet

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Written by: Meagan Holden

Let’s start at the beginning. Sorry folks…this may take a few minutes!

In spring of 2007 I was diagnosed with Bursitis in my shoulders. Bursitis is an inflammation of the bursae sac. We have bursae sacs in joints like our knees, shoulders, hips…it allows for smooth rotation and movement. When my bursitis flare up occurs, I cannot move my shoulder. I am usually in so much pain, sometimes to the point of tears, that I can’t even drive my car, I can’t lift my arms to wash my hair, put my shirt on or my bra.
Catch my drift?
When flare ups happen… life is pretty miserable. Quality of life sucks, to say the least. This diagnosis was just the icing… allow me to introduce the cherry on top.
Rheumatoid Arthritis.
In the late winter/early spring of 2008, I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. At the time, I was 22 years old, a junior at Western Washington University, studying Kinesiology (Exercise and Sport Science). I realized it was probably time to see a doctor when I couldn’t even pull down my own pants to go to the bathroom because my fingers ached so badly, or after trying to unscrew the toothpaste cap and couldn’t because it was too painful and I’d have to ask my roommates do it for me, or when I couldn’t participate in swim class, or hardly walk from one class to the next without taking about 20 minutes, and finally I couldn’t even hold a pencil and write to take notes because the stiffness and tenderness were so great. Mornings were always much worse with the joint pains and aches. I decided that my quality of life had gone from awesome to grim in about 3-4 months and I could not bare another minute of it.
RA for short, Rheumatoid arthritis is an auto-immune disease. Basically, my body attacks its own tissues because it can no longer tell the difference between me/myself/I vs. foreign invaders. RA has no ”cure” but can be treated with various drugs like disease modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs), corticosteroids, or biologic agents. I was put on Prednisone for the first few weeks after my diagnoses to combat the pain, discomfort and inflammation. One of the downfalls of this corticosteriod is weight gain…not to mention the long term effects like osteoporosis. From there I went off of prednisone and was prescribed a DMARD called Methotrexate. This drug has so many SCARY side effects. Here is a brief section of the long warning for methotrexate:
Methotrexate may cause very serious side effects. Some side effects of methotrexate may cause death. You should only take methotrexate to treat life-threatening cancer, or certain other conditions that are very severe and that cannot be treated with other medications…

Methotrexate may cause a decrease in the number of blood cells made by your bone marrow…

Methotrexate may cause liver damage, especially when it is taken for a long period of time…

Methotrexate may cause lung damage…

Methotrexate may cause damage to the lining of your mouth, stomach or intestines…. If you experience any of the following symptoms, stop taking methotrexate and call your doctor right away: mouth sores, diarrhea, black, tarry, or bloody stools, or vomit that is bloody or looks like coffee grounds…

Taking methotrexate may increase the risk that you will develop lymphoma (cancer that begins in the cells of the immune system). If you do develop lymphoma, it might go away without treatment when you stop taking methotrexate, or it might need to be treated with chemotherapy…

Methotrexate may cause serious or life-threatening skin reactions…

Methotrexate may decrease the activity of your immune system, and you may develop serious infections…If you experience signs of infection such as a sore throat, cough, fever, or chills, call your doctor immediately…

Tell your doctor if you or your partner is pregnant or plan to become pregnant. If you are female, you will need to take a pregnancy test before you begin taking methotrexate. Use a reliable method of birth control so that you or your partner will not become pregnant during or shortly after your treatment. If you are male, you and your female partner should continue to use birth control for 3 months after you stop taking methotrexate. If you are female, you should continue to use birth control until you have had one menstrual period that began after you stopped taking methotrexate. If you or your partner become pregnant, call your doctor immediately. Methotrexate may harm the fetus.

I know! Scary, huh?

I was on methotrexate for an entire year. I had to give myself a shot, with a needle, in my thigh once a week. Yes, it gave me the creeps! Still does.

Since methotrexate stopped being effective for me after about a year, I went and ”upped the ante” and was put on a biologic drug called Enbrel. Biologic drugs treat more severe cases of RA. The side effects are similar to methotrexate, except you CAN consume alcohol and enbrel won’t cause birth defects like methotrexate will (at least as far as the pharmacuticals know).
I also give myself a shot with this medicine. It comes in a pre-filled syringe, and I am SUPPOSED to give myself this shot once a week. If I eat ”right”, I can go roughly 6-8 weeks in between shots.

Ok, ok… I’ll get to the paleo stuff. Soon. I promise.

A girl at work mentioned to me in 2009, that she ate ”gluten-free”.
”Ummm…WTF is that?” I asked her. In a nutshell, gluten free is essentially eating only foods without gluten, wheat, rye, barley, and oats in them. Rice and corn or fine with gluten free diets. My co-worker discovered that by eating gluten-free she felt less moody, her mind was less fogged and she was less bloated.
I thought, ”Is she for real?”

I decided if diet can make her physically, emotionally, and mentally clearer…I bet diet could have an influence on RA? Right?????

I immediately approached my doctor, the MD, the Rheumatologist, the ”all-knowing” about diet and it’s possible effects on my RA.
Here’s a funny story…She answered my question aboud diet with a non-chalant, ”No. Just… you know, everything in moderation.”
What a bunch of bull shit.

Since I didn’t have her guidance on this, I just went for it on my own. I tried out my own gluten-free experimentation. And guess what…success!
Well Almost.
There were nights, even after going gluten free, where my roommates would comfort me at my bedside because I’d be in tears, agonizing over the pain and immobility of my body. I recall one night specifically where I was icing my hip or my foot (not sure which…probably both!) and they were on my bed seated next to me, offering to help get me anything I needed. They wanted to be there for me in any way they could.
When we are in pain, it’s so nice to have the support and companionship of friends and family. It’s hard to bare a burden all on our own. It’s hard to be vulnerable and ask for help, but I truly believe when we do, our friends and family are more than happy to step up to the plate. It’s so much easier to OFFER the help then it is to ASK for help. But sometimes we get to a point where our pride doesn’t even matter anymore and we are grateful for any consolation that is given. This is the point I had gotten to…I was devoid of pride and let my walls crumble down. I could not even walk downstairs on my own to get water or something to eat.

I’d played around with eating gluten free for a few months… then when my flare ups were far and few in between, I’d forget how bad those nights of pain were and decided I could eat whatever I wanted. Nope. And to this day, I still battle eating perfectly…I’ll go months without a flare up and decide that I deserve that donut in the break room at work. Eeek. Bad idea!

Gluten free definitely helped my RA but I’d still get horribly painful flare ups, they were just less frequent. But less pain is much better than more pain, so I tried to stick to gluten free foods.

In April 2010, when I became pregnant, I talked with my Rheumatologist and we decided that I could go off my Enbrel medication. She didn’t push me to take it, which was surprising. She said several of her patients had continued taking Enbrel through their pregnancies though… and had healthy, full term babies.
”But, f*ck that!” I thought.
Enbrel had only been recently approved and with all the side affects it could cause me, I wasn’t going to risk my baby’s well being as well.
It was time to be super strict about being gluten free.

My husband supported me in this and ate gluten free with me at dinner. He ate his own thing for breakfast and lunch, but dinner time was a meal we always shared together and he wanted to help make this process easier for me.

There were nights I’d wake up in such pain that the only way to get comfortable would be to sit up in bed, and rock back and forth. Even though I was sobbing from such pain, I couldn’t help but giggle inside thinking how nutty I probably looked if someone were watching me from a window or something.

After our son was born on January 4th, 2011, my husband and I did a bit of research. I didn’t like the idea of, ”Ok, I’m not pregnant… let’s jump right back into taking my medicine.” The thought of giving myself a shot every week made my stomach turn. I didn’t want to have to rely on drugs to keep me healthy. Gluten free was ”OK” but Jason and I had been reading up on something called the Paleolithic Diet.
Jason bought Loren Cordain’s book called, ”The Paleo Diet”.
Jason and I also purchased the Robb Wolf book, ”The Paleo Solution”. I read the ENTIRE book. I’m actually re-reading it now.

But, back to what I was saying…
So my husband and I agreed to try the 30 day challenge of eating like our primal ancestors. We refrained from not only gluten, including wheat, rye, barley, oats but also from rice, corn, vegetable oils, artificial sweeteners, legumes, dairy, beans, and night shades (due to my autoimmunity).
To keep it simple, we ate a lot of protein, vegetables, some fruit, nuts and berries.

We wanted to see if we truly felt a difference in how we felt and looked after just 30 days of following Paleo.

We started February 21, 2011.
It’s been just over a year since we started, and I haven’t taken my Enbrel shot since the end of November 2011. It’s been nearly 17 weeks. The longest stretch yet!
The first 3 weeks of starting Paleo were the hardest. I felt pretty good about life, considering the fact that I was recovering from a C-section, had a 1 1/2 month old and was sleep deprived… I felt really good about myself for plugging along with this paleo diet. I only anticipated doing it for just 30 days. But then… 60 days went by and then it was 3 months later and I realized I still didn’t need to take my Enbrel.
Was this truly possible? Did I really not need to take my medicine anymore!?

Well, after following Paleo strictly for about 3 months, I gave myself a cheat day. Well, that cheat day turned into a cheat week that really lasted for an entire month. Phew! It’s true what they say, ”Cake is the new crack!”. It was like once I ate some candy, well then I couldn’t say no to the pizza…and then it was my birthday too, so I could do what I wanted, right?

Ok, wrong.

I got away without any Enbrel for a few months and then my aches and pains slowly started creeping back. Now, maybe this is because I re-introduced lots of sugar, gluten, and dairy (hello to Ice Cream!) back into my diet. Even if it was only periodically, it was and is enough to ruin my drug free streak. I had a couple of really bad flare ups that caused my hips to hurt. I couldn’t walk very easily and to get in and out of a car was extremely troublesome.
Having a baby added more stress to the matter…these flare ups didn’t just ruin my mobility, but they interfered with picking up my son, and going on walks or even trying to button his onesie. My fingers and joints took turns playing ping-pong around my body. One day my fingers were incapable of buttoning a button and then the next week I couldn’t use my leg to push the clutch down in my car.
I decided I’d done the damage with eating bread, that I needed to fix this problem quickly (I couldn’t wait 30 days to reset my inflammation with diet… I needed to be better NOW).
Yes, sorry to say it…but I took my enbrel.

After my cheat month, I turned on my paleo button again. Still to this day, I enjoy an occasional ice cream splurge, or add creamer to my coffee (but I use creamer without corn syrup, just FYI).
If I do have a cheat day, it’s typically gluten-free. And cheat days do happen for me. I am human. I do have a craving once in a while. But it’s not for lack of being prepared. We never have ”bad” food in our house. We don’t buy Jack n’ the Box or get take-out because we don’t have anything to cook. It’s a conscious decision that our family makes. We know what we’re doing…and we know the consequences.
We have to ask ourselves…”Is it worth it?”

Sometimes we order a gluten-free pizza and we love it. And then we’re like, ”Ok, that was our cheat meal for the month.” And we move on.
I still take my Enbrel.
My rheumatalogist has me prescribed to take it once a week, but I don’t. I’ve told her this, too. However, I did keep it from her for about 8 months. Simply put, I was scared to tell her I didn’t want to take her drugs and that I’d found a better alternative to suppress my RA.

I would say that’s pretty friggin’ awesome!
I would rather eat paleo, feel great, look my best and give myself a shot every 8 weeks than take a shot every week and deal with pain in the meantime.

What if I were a lot more strict, never added creamer to my coffee, removed ice cream from the picture? or never ate a smarties candy, and avoided chocolate like the plague?
I might not need to take my Enbrel…ever.

But…alas, I just haven’t committed myself to that degree quite yet.

Paleo is about eating the way our bodies were meant to be fed. What we were born to do…
Like Lady Gaga says ”You Were Born This Way, BABY!” haaa.
The farther we remove ourselves from the natural state of our ancestral diet, I think the more we’ll feel sick and be sick.
Cut out the refined sugar, processed foods. High fructose corn syrup…hell no.
That sh*t it’ll kill you. Honestly.
Do your own research. Try it out.

I was about 136 lbs before Paleo (post baby too) and now I’m about 120 lbs. I’ve never had to work so little to look in shape. Does that make sense? I don’t work out that often… I really want to change that and at least I get a workout in every Sunday. But as long as I eat right, I feel good and getting exercise in is only a bonus. I had my body fat percentage taken by a trainer at my local gym. My body fat is 11.7 %, with lean body mass at 105.9 lbs and fat mass at 14.04 lbs.
Have you heard of skinny fat? It’s where people are skinny on the outside, but their blood work says the opposite…they’re sick on the inside.
I know a lot of people who fall into this category.
So, it’s not just what we look like that matters either, is my point.
It’s how we feel. How well we perform when we do exercise and it’s about living a more fulfilling life. Disease free.

But, if nothing else. Take control of what you put in your body. Read the ingredient labels on your food. You’ll be shocked to find out what’s in them. If you can’t pronounce half of what’s on the label, maybe you shouldn’t eat it, ha.

In a nutshell:
Try Paleo for 30 days. I bet you’ll feel pretty friggin’ fantastic.
It’s not easy. But it’s definitely worth it.

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  1. Kathryn
    April 23, 2012 at 7:01 am

    I was diagnosed on about the same time frame as you, but I’m ten years older. Fortunately, my acupuncturist told me about paleo before I got in to see a rheumatologist. I never had to go down the metho rabbit hole. I’ve had an easier time dealing with cravings than you had, but I need to do better with people who offer me food. Sneaky gluten flares suck harder cause I’m not sure what made me sick!

  2. cancerclasses
    April 23, 2012 at 11:26 am

    You didn’t say anything about how much good fats you’re eating in your typical daily diet. I ask because lipids are like WD-40 for the body, you HAVE to have them in the physiologically appropriate amounts, NOT the amounts you, your doctor or anybody else THINKS we need.

    I believe there are actually very few true “auto immune” diseases. Several months ago I had an insight while watching an episode of Medical Mysteries about a person with Polyarteritis Nodosa, which is described as an “auto immune disease of unknown cause.”

    It’s readily observable that people that regularly eat plenty of good fats and animal proteins rarely suffer from the range of rheumatoligical conditions common to the people that strictly avoid fats, eggs, meats & dairy, and it occurred to me that what the body does in response to a deficiency of good dietary fats & lipids is that it goes on a system wide hunt for reserves of those essential fats & lipids from wherever in the body it can find them, and then begins “digesting” and breaking down various tissues in order to obtain the essential lipid nutrients missing from the diet in order to redistribute them to other high priority processes and for production of critical structures and substances such as cellular membranes, enzymes, hormones & sterols, etc. With the exception of the lean striated muscle tissue in the heart, all the other primary organs in the human body are densely fatty and protein structures whose function & performance begin breaking down if not supported with a regular dietary supply of bio-identical fats & proteins.

    A common denominator in chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis & many other “auto immune” syndromes is that they are often and predominantly found in people that avoid fat that instead eat low, nonfat or supposedly “healthy” artificial polyunsaturated fats & margarines and low fat-high processed carb diets, primarily women that have fallen for and continue to be brainwashed by every “fat is BAD” article & news story they’ve ever read or heard & so no longer believe in eating the pre-industrial “farm” style diet that virtually the entire world subsisted on prior to 1900 when cancer & heart disease afflicted only 3 to 5 percent of the population.

    I also have personal experience with chronic severe bursitis & shoulder pain which I previously attributed to 30+ years of heavy construction, and which my doctor & chiropractors could do little to resolve other than to advise flooding my body with NSAID’S like Aleve. Since my dad had recently died from non alcoholic cirrhosis cause by a lifetime of taking medications for an atrial-septal repair & pacemaker implant, I was reluctant to spend the next 30 years of my life melting my liver & kidneys with pharmaceutical drugs just to relive my shoulder pain.

    About then (1997) I was fortunate to stumble across an episode of Doug Kaufmann’s Know The Cause TV show about the beneficial effects of fish oil supplementation and so began taking 3 one gram fish oil caps daily, it only took 2 weeks for ALL the pain to disappear almost completely, & a few months later I realized that my gums had also stopped bleeding when brushing my teeth. I later learned from Doug’s show that any word ending in -itis means inflammation which is a symptom of a deficiency of essential dietary fatty acids. Later I also learned about the importance of eliminating ALL inflammation causing foods from the diet, primarily sugar & carbs & adulterated omega-6 vegetable oil laden high carb processed “foods.”

    Since the invention of processed “oils & foods” around 1915-1920 and their insertion into the food supply, the incidence of ALL diseases including rheumatoligical and auto immune conditions has never been higher in human history and continues rising in direct proportion to their intake by people around the world. It ain’t rocket surgery & doesn’t take a genius to “connect the dots.”

    • David
      April 25, 2012 at 12:13 pm

      You’re right, it’s very easy to connect the dots, unless of course you are paid to ‘not connect’ the dots. As is the case with big pharma and the FDA being in bed together. Along with Monsantos, Kraft and other food moguls influence on pharma and medicinal research.
      ps GMO’s are terrible, but they are trying to get it unlabeled, or thrown under the ‘organic’ label, I know you say ‘but GMO is genetically modified organisms, how can that be organic. Ask the FDA why they allow big pharma lawyers on their board and you’ll be getting closer.

  3. paleoslayer
    April 23, 2012 at 2:01 pm

    awesome story. I found that adding more fat to my diet reduced my ‘cheat cravings’. Also, when really craving something sweet, I go for sweet fruit like mango or pineapple, thaT usu hits the spot!

  4. KateSp
    April 24, 2012 at 12:32 am

    I soooo wish I had read this story a year ago. I was diagnosed with “reactive arthritis” in May last year. I had recently won my age group in a triathlon and was as fit as I had been ever. By July I didn’t care if I never trained again – I wanted to be able to wash my hair, do up my shoe laces, walk down the street and drive my kids to school. It took be until October, when I had had 4 months of extremely high doses of prednisone and suphasalazine to realise that modern medicine, rheumatologists, were not gonna help. In October I visited an alternative therapy centre and was immediately on a gluten free, dairy free, legume free, nightshade free diet. Pretty Paleo – though not completely – it took three months – but I started reducing steroids in January and have no come off them entirely. I am on a low dose of sulphasalazine but hoping that too will finish soon. I eat basically Paleo – unfortunately, like you, as I have got better I have started cheating more and it doesn’t do me any favours. My downfall is sugar (read chocolate) So my next question has to be – why do we cheat??? When we know it is gonna have consequences like the pain, the inflammation, the loss of movement!!! Why do we ever cheat???? I kick myself again and agian when I do!!! Anyway, well done, your story is a great reflection on the paleo diet and the human body wanting to be well!!!

    • cathy L
      April 24, 2012 at 3:34 pm

      I often ask that of myself and I really think it’s a form of denial. I am on a weight loss journey and it seems to me that I always cheat when I’ve lost a certain amount of weight and I start to feel my hip bones or some other sign that I’ve lost weight. I know that sounds trivial but it’s as if some little “denial worm” gets to work in your brain and niggles at you until you give in and eat the food that’s not good for you. I need to lose weight because of my knees (The threat of surgery is a big motivator) so in the last month I think I’ve turned the corner and am on my way to permanent weight loss. But as convinced as I am at this moment I’m not sure hoq I’ll do if the “denial worm” starts working on my brain again.

    • Kathy F
      April 24, 2012 at 7:43 pm

      We cheat because it’s addiction. Why does meth addict or heroin addict keep doing what they do even though what they do is killing them. It’s addiction. I quit cigarettes way back in the day, but it’s nothing to quitting wheat or dairy. My mother wants pizza and she can’t walk and has all kinds of immune disorders and she won’t give up the wheat or the dairy even to see if it helps! It’s addiction.

      • kim
        November 6, 2013 at 2:48 pm

        NO, we cheat because those the foods we cheat with TASTE DARNED GOOD.

        While I do not disagree regarding the addictiveness of sugar….the bottom line is that cake, ice cream, french fries, hot baked bread slathered in butter and honey all tastes so darned good, the idea of life without ever eating them again, just sucks…

        So we restrain ourselves, and then we cheat.

        • Sean
          December 23, 2013 at 5:05 am

          Sorry – but wheat is truly addictive. If you want to know more then read DOCTORJ.COM – the term for part of the wheat gluten is gliadorphin – aka alpha-gliadin. It is a studied brain stimulant.

          I have been wheat free for 20 years and it has given me my health back – but despite helping weaning myself off was like a drug. True it is tasty but nothing tasty can drag me back to a food that can cause my arthritis flares.

  5. Loring
    April 24, 2012 at 7:16 am

    Meagan, thank you for sharing and congratulations on your success! I am so happy for you. It was very uplifting to read your story. I can totally relate. In my experience there is nothing worse than having to ask someone to help you button your blouse or tie your shoes. I too have been using a AI paleo diet and it has helped, but I still have occasional flareups. I hope the longer we stick with it the longer we will go in between flares. Warmest wishes.

    Robb, thanks for publishing a story where paleo was not the silver “30 day” bullet. There are a lot of people out there with complicated health situations. A paleo diet may help them immensely but often times it is not the singular cure. For those of us in this situation it can be discouraging to only see “miracle” stories published knowing that we may never experience that miracle ourselves.

    • Robb Wolf
      April 24, 2012 at 8:46 am

      Loring! I can only publish what I receive. I suspect the folks who have amazing changes are that much more motivated to share the change. This does create a selection bias…but I’m not sure how to counter that.

  6. cancerclasses
    April 24, 2012 at 10:42 am

    @KateSp; You cheat because the cells in your body are still hungry & need real nourishment with real vitamins, minerals & good fats, your body is craving chocolate because it’s a source of both magnesium and fat, chocolate craving has long been known as a symptom of magnesium deficiency, google ‘chocolate & magnesium deficiency’.

    Or you may just enjoy the taste, I do too but I notice that when I take my chelated multi-vitamins which include plenty of magnesium & when I eat plenty of butter & coconut oil I don’t crave chocolate, you may still be hungry because you’re not eating enough good fats. I still like a bit of chocolate now & then but I don’t gorge on it or try making it the main part of my diet. I keep my total carb intake as low as possible, around 50 grams or less for blood sugar control and to keep my body in fat burning mode at all times. But I also don’t feel guilty for having a bit just because I want it but don’t really need it. I do limit my intake however because chocolate is notoriously contaminated with fungus which causes systemic fungal infections that can cause all the symptoms of MS & arthritis.

    Even though you’re eating Paleo, because of your past health problems you may need to do more vitamin, mineral & good fats supplementation to give your body a boost in restoring & repairing it’s self.

  7. cathy L
    April 24, 2012 at 3:23 pm

    What does “Up the Annie ” mean? — I googled the phrase and this is what I found – is this what you meant?

    >>>If you up the ante, you increase the importance or value of something, especially where there’s an element of risk.<<<

    it sounds a lot less salacious than "Up the Annie" :-)

    Anyway your story is compelling – thank you for sharing.

  8. Lori
    April 24, 2012 at 9:41 pm

    I could almost say “ditto” on your story. I was diagnosed with RA in 1996 at the age of 23, in grad school. Physically, I was a disaster. My first drug was prednisone (steroid). I gained 40 pounds in 2 months. Drug #2 was hydroxychloroquine (a malaria drug), which did nothing. Drug #3 was methotrexate. After 14 months, my liver failure almost killed me, and it did nothing. The biologics, like Enbrel, didn’t exist yet. Following my liver failure, I went without anything for a while. I experimented with diets and supplements. They helped, but not enough. In 1999, I went on Enbrel. Miracle! It worked. I took only Enbrel for about 6 years and felt relatively great.

    In 2005, I had my son. As is common with RA and having a baby, I had a serious post partum flare (couldn’t dress myself, carry my son, do the stairs, and I hated that dreaded carseat button like anything). Sadly, breastfeeding seemed to make it much worse, and I had to stop after only 4 1/2 months. I got a little better (more functional, but still big problems). My husband and I started a website for moms with rheumatoid arthritis.

    In 2007, I suddenly lost 26 pounds and was diagnosed with Grave’s Disease (autoimmune disease #4 for me). My thyroid was going crazy. Bonus: weight loss! Drawbacks: heart palpitations, itchiness, sensitivity to sound, short tempered, made my RA worse, you get the picture. They radiated my thyroid (something I regret now, but seemed necessary at the time, if I wanted another baby). I got a little better after this, and flirted with “inconsistent near normal.” All 26 pounds came back. I tried 6 weeks of gluten-free. I saw no difference. After a while, a zillion doctors and meds, and still not feeling as good as I wanted, I started to think I was losing my mind, like maybe secretly I didn’t want to get better. Psychologist!! No, I am not losing my mind. I do want to get better. Modern medicine does not have the answer. I need to figure out what is working for me, ride my doctors harder (FYI, I am overall happy with my docs), and experiment more. I love that psychologist!

    In July 2010, I started physical therapy short-term, then exercise rehabilitation therapy weekly long-term. I had my knees drained. I got stronger, lost a little weight. I could DO more. It’s still not enough.

    In June, 2011, I was diagnosed with thyroid eye disease, autoimmune disease #5. You want to see something awful? Google photos of that. Luckily, mine is still mild. Will these autoimmune diseases stop already?

    Then suddenly, some things started clicking. I’ve read a lot about RA in my 15 years of living with it. There are things that have made sense to me (like leaky gut syndrome) that aren’t accepted by modern science quite yet. I enjoy asking my doctors about things like this, and sometimes I learn something (my current rheumatologist said he believes the cause or RA will eventually be found and have something to do with digestion…. big progress from info of 15 years ago). In the summer of 2011, my mother-in-law showed me an article about the Paleo Diet. I found it interesting, as it seemed to touch on some of my beliefs about RA. For Christmas, 2011, she got me 3 books on the diet, and January 9th of this year, I started it. My husband did as well (with some cheats as his intestines can’t handle the volume fiber… I actually put him in the hospital…. eek! He’s such a tolerant guy).

    So, here, April 24, 2012, are my results:
    I’ve lost a much needed 19 pounds.
    My blood pressure has dropped 30 points (135/92 to 107/60).
    My cholesterol is 1 point higher… 146 vs 147.
    My blood sugar is good (74 now, last done 6 years ago was 80).

    Now, here’s the good part. Sedimentation rate and C Reactive Protein tests measure levels of inflammation in your body. It might not be inflammation due to RA, but is used to help determine if your RA is under control.

    Sedimentation rate (0-20 is normal)
    July, 2011: 35
    Feb 9, 2012: 28 (1 month on diet)
    April 20, 2012: 13 (there are not words to describe how amazing this is)

    C Reactive Protein (under 1.0 is normal):
    July, 2011: 2.8
    Feb 9, 2012: 1.3 (1 month on diet)
    April 20, 2012: 0.94 (again, there are no words)

    So, I’m still working on this. I’m only 3 months in. Month 1, I didn’t cheat AT ALL (took out the tomatoes, eggs, nuts, peppers too). Month 2, I ate 1/2 of a plain white baked potato at a restaurant and was horribly sick (chills, joints locking up) before I got to the car. Nuts and peppers seem ok after reintroduction. Tomatoes and eggs aren’t looking good. My “big cheats” in months 2-3 have been an occasional bit of alcohol (rum or vodka… hehehe!) or a bit of dark, dairy free chocolate (gosh, that’s hard to give up). After receiving all of my blood test results today, many things are running through my head…. can I get off Enbrel (these blood tests were all on Enbrel)? Can this diet be enough to treat my RA? Am I still getting joint damage even with good inflammation markers (although my range of motion is much improved and my swelling is down, I still do have swelling)? And the biggest question is, “why is the medical community in so much denial about the role of diet in health?” Ok, I know why. Enbrel costs $1800/month. Enough said.

    Still, I would encourage those with RA to push their doctors toward acknowledging that diet does impact RA. And good grief, give it a little more study! At the end of month 1, my rheumatologist was encouraged by the changes in my numbers and gave me a “thumbs up” to continuing the diet. He has yet to see these new numbers, and I’m thinking he’ll be shocked. I see him at a research hospital. I hope that makes an impact.

    In the meantime, I will continue my exercise rehab. We are now the proud owners of a Pilates Reformer via craigslist. This has allowed me to workout without having to get down on the floor and has been kind to my joints. I will continue the diet and try to re-evaluate chocolaty sins.

    Meagan, thank you for sharing your eerily similar story, and Robb, thanks for the website and the opportunity for people to share these important experiences. You’re doing a great service for many folks!

    Lori
    MomsWithRA.org

  9. David
    April 25, 2012 at 8:14 am

    SISSY!! You’re famous! Ha!
    I am so showing my wife your article. I have mentioned you and Rachel doing that paleo thing and maybe we should give it a try. I’ve been very curios about our food supply ever since the FDA has tried making vitamins illegal while approving garbage like what you described. I’m always met with a certain, distain and resistance when I bring it up. I think this article will really help convince her to at least try it for the “30 days”. Thank you for opening your heart and soul!

    Love, peace and throw out the Monsantos grease

    Your big bruddha,

  10. Dee
    April 25, 2012 at 8:51 am

    Meagan, it was great to read your story. Your diagnosis and medication path are similar to what is happening to me right now. I am 31 and I was diagnosed with RA in August 2011. The biggest issue for me is that an ultrasound showed bursitis on my heel which makes walking a problem. Prior to my diagnosis, i was running 4 days a week and have since been battling to get back to it. Can anyone tell me if you have experienced bursitis on the heel also and if it is something that constantly bothers you?
    I am currently taking Methotrexate and am shortly due to start a biologic because while my other joints are not giving me too much trouble, my heel remains a big problem. I have been on an athritis diet but gluten/wheat were not excluded. The Paleo diet sounds like something that could work and i am willing to give it a try.

    • Meagan Holden
      April 25, 2012 at 10:11 am

      @Dee: yes, I have had similar pain in my heel…well, actually it felt like it was my achilles and my heel combined. I would highly suggest removing the wheat/gluten from your diet and increasing your Omega-3 fatty acids (heck, try Paleo while you’re at it).

      –Meagan–

      • Dee
        April 29, 2012 at 4:20 am

        Thanks Meagan, i am just putting my shopping list together now! Is the pain in your heel gone now….and was it present anytime you got up after sitting down.For me, its a pain that’s with me all the time! Its great to hear from you and you have given me lots of hope and encouragement that i can get better :))

        Dee

  11. Meagan Holden
    April 25, 2012 at 9:03 am

    Thanks everyone!
    Just to add a few notes to my story above, I do eat a lot of protein and fats. We cook predominately with coconut oil and a little bit with EVOO. In the beginning I supplemented with digestive enzymes and fish oil. I still take fish oil, about two 950mg gel capsules a day, following a meal. At night, after dinner, I take a magnesium/calcium supplement as well as 5,000 IU of vitamin D. I just started taking CoQ10, it’s supposed to help with mitochondria formation (among other things). I read about CoQ10 on Mark Sisson’s website, another Paleo Guru. Let’s see… I probably eat an avocado a day along with almond butter and I drink coconut and almond milk. Any other suggestions on good fats???

    Thanks for all the comments and Lori, I am going to check out your website: MomsWithRA!

    –Meagan–

  12. Meagan Holden
    April 25, 2012 at 9:24 am

    @cancerclasses: thanks for the insight and information on good fats! I also believe there are both genetic and an environmental components that play a roll in auto-immunity (besides just diet). Family history is as follows: grandma had RA, aunt has lupus, another aunt has fibromyalgia and I then me: RA.
    However, I agree that processed foods & vegetable oils, along with the omega 3 to omega 6 ratios being out of whack, as well as many of the typical American diets have led to increased auto-immunity, but I have to say…there must be a genetic link in there somewhere along with environmental stressors. At the time of my bursitis diagnosis and my RA diagnosis following, many life stressors had taken a hold of me: my mom had been diagnosed with Cancer (lymphoma– also another auto-immune type cancer) and my boyfriend at the time died in a single-auto car accident. I believe the combination of genetics and environment can trigger our bodies to create havoc and disease. Once these diseases are manifested via diet, genetics, stress etc., it’s hard to reverse, but it is possible. Just like you said, “Even though you’re eating Paleo, because of your past health problems you may need to do more vitamin, mineral & good fats supplementation to give your body a boost in restoring & repairing it’s self.”…it took us 20+ years to get sick, so un-doing this sickness won’t happen over night and it will take discipline and commitment.

    Thanks again for everyone’s thoughts and for sharing your experiences!

    –Meagan–

  13. Lori
    April 25, 2012 at 2:52 pm

    Hi All,

    You know, I’ve determined my body is just weird, and the good oil comments are making me want to pipe up. Pre-paleo, I had tried taking fish oil, and it made me flare horribly. I gave it good effort 3 times, then was terrified to try it again. When I tried green tea, my thyroid eye disease started (coincidence???) Probiotics also made me flare. Now, with research long before I learned about Paleo, I discovered even the medical community supported fish oil and green tea for RA. Why did it not work for me?

    So, with Paleo, I decided to try again, 1 at a time. I have 1250 mg fish oil pills. I take 2-4/day. Now, it seems fine. I am also taking vitamin d, something I was discovered to be deficient in a few years ago. I can now “feel” when I missed a D, which never happened before. FYI, did you know the further you live from the equator, the more likely you are to develop RA? They think lack of sun exposure may possibly be a trigger (throw that in the bag of theories unproven). I am still fearful of trying the probiotics again, but plan to try this summer, when I have some time off. Still, why did these things HURT me when on the “American diet?”

    We cook with olive and coconut oils. We are putting in good effort on grass-fed beef. We eat a lot more beef than I thought we would (I can’t say I’m a huge fan, but I seem to like it more with every grass-fed steak). We have a supply from a local farm, but it is inconsistent week to week. We’re investigating buying 1/4 of a cow! We live about 30 minutes from any kind of store that carries respectable food. Meat of any kind seems to be the biggest problem. The farm helps with beef, the 30 minutes away store HAD good salmon, but something happened and they haven’t had any in 6 weeks. I don’t go much further than salmon or tilapia (life threatening food allergy, and I’ve gotten sick on other fish. It’s most likely what they were cooked in, but I’m scared to try new things until I get settled in probiotics, etc…).

    Meagan, with the genetics, I am frustrated! My great grandmother had RA, but my grandfather and mother did not. Nobody alive in my family has had it. I am the only one in my family with allergies (age 3), asthma (age 3), food allergies (age 24), Grave’s Disease (age 34), and thyroid eye disease (age 38). I ate the same foods my family did when growing up (including toxic water from the tap we unknowingly drank for 2 years)! I believe there is something to the stress component. I was trying to work, go to school, and start an internship when I was diagnosed. Otherwise, I was healthy, a good weight, allergies and asthma non-problematic, etc… My mother had horrible memories of my great grandmother with RA. Unfortunately, this has tarnished my whole family on my autoimmune diseases. I have to gear myself up for visits, lest I look sick (which obviously sometimes can’t be helped). It’s a bit frustrating, but I am lucky that my husband is so supportive.

    I learn something new with every comment. Thank you again for your story!

    Lori

  14. BMB
    May 3, 2012 at 7:16 am

    I am really glad that this diet has worked for you and others. I will look into this and see what I can easily modify. I do believe that our diet contributes to pain and inflammation, however I don’t believe it’s the cause or cure.

    I suspect certain people carry RA markers in their DNA (it runs in my family) and it’s possible that extreme stress or trauma can activate the disease. Maybe years of a poor diet is trauma to the body, but I do not know.

    I’d like to throw in there that yes, our distant ancestors ate nuts, berries, meats and various plants. But what about our ancestors that ate corn? Milled wheat and made bread? Drank beer or wine over water? Ate pickled and salt cured meats? Those people are our ancestors too. My direct ancestors ate meat and potatoes every day. My point is, our bodies have been evolving for a long time, thousands of years since Austrolopithicus. So wouldn’t our bodies, NOW, be built to handle the diets and living conditions of say, the last 100 years? I’m all for eating healthfully, but I think it’s erroneous to justify this diet because cave men ate that way.

    Having said that, I also believe that GMO’s and foods filled with hormones are terrible for our bodies. I think by eating less meat, we can decrease the demand for meats and maybe, in another 100 years, industries will quit pumping chemicals into animals to make them grow faster and keeping them in inhumane conditions.

    Good for all of you who no longer have flares, pain and fatigue. I would say to anyone in remission to at least get a physical once a year to make sure some of the invisible effects of autoimmune disease are also in check, such as heart disease and lymphoma: the risk of lymphoma in an RA patient is higher than a normal person even if he/she is not on any medication.

    And is the reason that more people have RA now than they did 100 years ago because we have tests now that can easily detect it? As far as I know, 100 years ago the medical community wasn’t giving scans, xrays and blood tests to test for these diseases.

    And one last point: no one in the medical community considers CFS or Fibro as an autoimmune disease. If anything, the evidence of a Fibro brain on an MRI leans towards a neurological condition.

  15. Lori
    May 13, 2012 at 9:52 pm

    Hi BMB!

    I agree with you on diet likely not being the sole cause of RA. There certainly are genetic markers for it, and I’ve recently been in a study looking for the cause of RA. The interesting thing is that you can have the genetic markers for RA and never get the disease (likely the case of my mother and grandfather). Modern medicine has no answers for that one…. yet.

    The tests for RA are still very poor. There are many people who are given a diagnosis of RA who show negative for it on bloodwork (I believe upwards of 30% show negative). I have always wondered if they have a different type of RA, perhaps a different cause. It amazes me, as I’m into researching my ancestry and have spent weeks combing through 100-150 year old newspapers. I ALWAYS find “cures” for rheumatism in those old newspapers. I doubt it’s being diagnosed any better currently, but likely tracked better. It’s interesting to me too though that other autoimmune diseases are also on the rise, not just RA. Allergies and asthma, for example, were an uncommon diagnosis when I was a kid, and now it seems I know more people with allergies than without. I have a hard time believing that’s coincidence.

    As far as our bodies getting used to the modern day diet in 100 years… gosh I don’t know. My grandmother was born 98 years ago, and I doubt that we could adapt in 2 short generations. I personally believe it would likely take thousands of years. And realistically, if people got RA young (before having kids or shortly thereafter) 300 years ago, I imagine they wouldn’t have survived like we do now. RA is supposedly a disease of modern times. I don’t believe there’s evidence to support it existed 5-10,000 years ago.

    Anyway, just my thoughts…. sorry I don’t know much about fibro or CFS, but 1 thought… can a disease be both autoimmune and neurological, like MS?

    Take care!

    Lori

  16. Lori
    June 7, 2012 at 12:34 pm

    Saw my rheumatologist today. He said with my self-report, his exam, bloodwork, and stable joint xrays, I meet the criteria for remission (disease isn’t detectable with my meds, diet, and exercise). 5 months Paleo. I’m still tinkering with aspects of the diet (just started probiotics this week). When I settle on a good place, I might try to wean off or decrease meds. My doctor was supportive of this thinking, although it’s risky (if I need to go back on, my body might reject the med, and I’ve failed on 2 other meds). Time will tell.

    Lori

  17. Blake
    June 12, 2012 at 5:20 am

    Thank god i’m learning about this now!! I’m a 22 year old landscaper/bodybuilder 6’2″ 205lbs 9%bf(in between bulk and cutting) and my grandfather died at the ripe age of 55 of RA/fibromyalgia/alcoholism/stomach ulcers. He drank to numb the pain and while staying active and smoking marijuana always helped me feel pain-free, I got arrested last year and get urine tested every 2 weeks so weed is no longer an option.

    I’ve never abused alcohol, and my entire life I’ve always ate very healthy foods (or at least what I was brought up to be considered healthy.) Lots of whole milk, rice, pasta, meats, fruits, and vegetables. Never eat any meals out of the box, or processed stuff, but can’t stay away from fried chicken.

    Blah blah enough of my rant. I feel grateful for this knowledge and can’t wait to get my carb intake down to 100-200g a day. All from fruit, nuts, and maybe a root vegetable here and there ;)

  18. rheumatoid arthritis
    July 4, 2012 at 5:19 am

    Wow, wonderful blog layout! How long have you been running a blog for? you made running a blog glance easy. The entire glance of your web site is wonderful, as well as the content!

  19. Heidi
    September 13, 2012 at 8:27 am

    I’m inspired to try it! I’ve had RA since 2008 now, never been on meds though. Gonna really try this diet, though I think I will struggle with it. Wish me luck! :)

  20. Laura
    October 4, 2012 at 9:18 pm

    Everyones post have been insightful! I also feel like the more I hear about others cases the more I learn about my own. I am 32yrs old and was diagnosed with RA after having my first daughter in 2008. I believe my trigger was pregnancy (hormones) major lack of sleep (my daughter was up every 2 hrs for a long long time) My husband is a pro skier and travels quite a bit, so I was not sleeping then getting up early to go to work as a school teacher. Looking back feel like I was under quite a bit of stress. (Even though I may not have realized it at the time), I didn’t think that there were any genetic links in my family until my Mother got diagnosed about a year after my diagnosis. (This was super STRANGE) I almost wonder if the stress of seeing her daughter in pain triggered her own. She was super fit and healthy and now all of the sudden is on her second hip replacement in two years. This may be part to running for a large part of her life, but the RA doc thinks that the disease has progressed this deterioration. My sister deals with stomach issues that have not been diagnosed. (Pain that is unknown) For some reason I am led to believe that there has got to be a way to get back to health without solely turning to drugs. I have tried the Paleo diet for a few weeks and because I had a flare decided it wasn’t working for me. Now I am wondering if I would have given it longer, maybe I would have started to notice results. I am going to start the 30 day challenge again TOMORROW! I am currently breastfeeding and am NOT ready to stop and get back on Enbrel, but at the same time also glad it is an option and looking forward to skiing this Nov. and getting back to my active self- which is hard for me now because of the pain in the ball of my foot.
    Anyhow, I do think genes, stress, food and other triggers/factors play into these autoimmune diseases. I sure hope that they figure it out soon. It scares me to think of my daughters ever having to deal with it!

  21. Ryan
    October 25, 2012 at 4:19 am

    Good Story. This backs up Robb’s book where he mentions wheat having a similar addictive response as opiates. It would be hard to find someone that suffers more than this lady from wheat yet she was still having cheat “months”.

    Good luck, hopefully your keeping with the paleo lifestyle

  22. courtney
    January 17, 2013 at 7:54 pm

    i loved reading all this. i have rheumatoid arthritis and was on prednisone methotrexatemethotrexate and enbrel. stopped when i became pregnant and an still trying to manage it with diet. i went Palos over summer and lost 40pounds with zero exerciseexercise. but now it’s winter and its harder to stay on track but reading all this makes me feel motivated again. let the food be the medicine. i also just read the gerson therapy and the ph miracle. great info but very hard g to follow through. i do the coffee enemas though and the help a lot. if I’m not doing them i have a bm once or twice a week. no good

  23. Jon son
    June 18, 2013 at 1:22 pm

    Meagan, thank you for sharing and congratulations on your success! I am so happy for you. It was very uplifting to read your story. I can totally relate. In my experience there is nothing worse than having to ask someone to help you button your blouse or tie your shoes. I too have been using a AI paleo diet and it has helped, but I still have occasional flareups. I hope the longer we stick with it the longer we will go in between flares. Warmest wishes.

  24. Lea
    July 31, 2013 at 6:58 am

    I’m very inspired reading all these amazing success stories!! Thank you all for sharing. I’m day 2 into Paleo… Will let everyone know how it progresses :)

  25. Nancy
    September 9, 2013 at 10:11 am

    I have food allergies to wheat, corn, and dairy. I have tried to eliminate them from my diet in the past and always went back to eating them. Now I am having joint and bone pain. the doctor put me on prednisone and when I took the prednisone I put on a pair of my jeans and thought they were my nieces because they were too big on me. I am tiny already. When I came off the prednisone my jeans fit me normally again. I knew I had inflammation in my joints but it seems I have it all over my body. This is kind of freaking me out as I know inflammation causes pain. I have an appointment Nov 5th with a rheumatologist but I started doing some reading online. One of the first things I came across was food allergies cause inflammation and many people commented about the paleo diet. This led me to research on the paleo diet as well. I am Factor V and so are many of my cousins. The same cousins also have celiacs disease. I am now wondering if my food allergy is also an intolerance and gluten is also a factor. This week I am cleaning out the pantry and shopping for food that is wheat, corn, dairy, and gluten free. In the past I have eaten rice and oats but I think I may eliminate those as well. Has anyone else had any experience with food allergies and inflammation? I have not been diagnosed with RA as of yet but that appointment is over a month away. I also suffer from chronic congestion causing ear and sinus infections.

  26. Tracy
    September 10, 2013 at 8:58 pm

    Thank you all for the great encouragement. After downing some French baguettes and butter tonight ;) my RA (90% my feet) flared big time. I began to google out of feeling I have hit “rock bottom,”and thankfully I ended up here!

    Llife has been a non stop vicious cycle of eating poorly for years. Deep down inside I know that Paleo works, and need to start. I was diagnosed with RA in 2002 and my life has gone hill completely. Back in 2006 I did a month of modified Paleo and it was amazing. My brain and body are so addicted to carbs….

    I think even more than the physical pain, and the weight gained, was the lack of support around me. Message boards are a wonderful tool, but I just have always wish there was a “live” group around me. I am not a parent, but am the sole caregiver to two parents, and a teacher. I am exhausted.

    It’s been a very long journey, and bad place to be in but after reading these posts tonight, I feel a great desire to get better. :) thank you all soooooo much for your stories and encouragement.

  27. Sue
    September 13, 2013 at 5:49 pm

    Where is the topic of calcium covered in this diet?

  28. carolyn
    October 10, 2013 at 7:18 am

    Is Meagan available for an update? its been a year since this article was published – i’d love to know how things are going.

  29. kim
    February 3, 2014 at 1:02 pm

    I too would love to have an update on how things are going – I am 26 years old and was diagnosed with RA 3 years ago. I am sick of the meds and the horrible side effects, so I am interested in what people to have to say about the long term benefits of living a paleo lifestyle. Has the RA come back with avengance or are you still doing ok? I have mild RA, so if this can help make a difference in someone with severe RA, I should be golden!

    (I have been off meds for 14 months and my RA is slowly starting to affect me again. I will be getting on the Paleo diet asap)

    Please update us all Megan!

    Thanks,

    Kim

  30. Aglaya
    April 8, 2014 at 2:38 am

    Great story!

    I only did not understand what kind of menu you had daily if lots of products are fporbidden?
    Could you please describe it?

    I dont think that being on Paleo diet would totally help you to stop taking Enbrel as I belive if your immune system has started this autoimmune cr*p, unfirtunatelly it is almost impossible to make it back. There should be some mind work too + I read good revioews from chinese gymnastic and the way of relaxing your mind. Maybe this complex would help. Wish I was not that lazy to control myself to do this complex daily.

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