That morning back in 2015. I remember the feeling of my heart literally sinking. The thought of someone I care so much about and who has given so much to the people around them having rheumatoid arthritis [RA], a condition which I had seen crippling patients so much they couldn’t even do their own buttons anymore, was too much for me.
It was a barn door case. I was in my fifth year and I could see that. Swollen knuckles to they extent they were purple and the characteristic morning stiffness that eased as the day wore on. The blood tests confirmed it. Off to the Rheumatologist who promptly injected one of her knuckles with steroids and told us about methotrexate before considering options with their patient.
When push came to shove, though, she didn’t want drugs, she wanted to avoid them. So we regrouped, considered things and started her on a Rheumatoid Arthritis diet which was a strict paleo diet, more like the lectin diet with the odd bit of egg and fish thrown in - shout out to Sukh Kalsi and ‘The Autoimmune Protocol’ by Dr Amy Myers for getting her started. It was particularly hard given she was a vegetarian. Meanwhile, as much as I was willing to try everything we could, I remained skeptical for fear of what the rheumatoid could do to her and given that I’d never heard of a Rheumatoid Arthritis diet..
Three weeks later the evidence was there for me to see. Her joints were purple before and now they weren’t. She was basically symptom-free already. It was like a miracle cure but we didn’t want to risk the RA coming back and so we took further steps, got a Nutritionist involved and they helped refine the diet, suggested supplements and advised on when foods might be reintroduced [thanks Antony Haynes!]. Her doctors remained skeptical. I had a placement in Rheumatology at the very same hospital in which she was diagnosed. The Consultant who we saw her gave myself and some other students a lecture and looked me dead in the eye when he proclaimed that ‘diet plays no role in treating rheumatoid arthritis, although some patients like to think so’. He knew full well the path my loved one had chosen and decided to mock her stance in my lecture. We can all see how this is not okay, but it also reflects a wider need in modern healthcare to focus as much on patient values as much as evidence and experience when making treatment decisions. He came up to me afterwards and asked how she’s doing; I explained she was doing really well on the diet but there was no intrigue nor interest.
A year went by. She continued to see the Rheumatologists and the Nutritionist. She remained symptom-free and her hands looked totally normal and slender like they always used to be. Meanwhile all of her blood test trickled back to normal. She had four tests and you can literally trace all of the relevant markers [ESR, CRP, RF and anti-CCP] going to completely normal. You’d think doctors would get super excited at the opportunity to help other patients by replicating her approach but no unfortunately not. Instead he just denied the initial diagnosis of RA.
So she was cured, and diet absolutely does play a role in RA. Unfortunately, medical school never taught me this was possible and I’d never been told about a Rheumatoid Arthritis diet, but it’s been almost four years now and she remains symptom-free. She eats whatever she likes nowadays, but her body feels when it’s not being nourished and so she’ll get back to basics from time-to-time. The experience changed my life and my career and I hope that healthcare will shift in a similar direction with time . In the mean time, if you’re experiencing anything similar to the story in this post and want to try a Rheumatoid Arthritis diet, then give me a call.