I am fighting back against Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) with natural foods, stress reduction, and by embracing my inner flower child (making everything from scratch, and eating all those yummy natural foods)in addition to my medications. All of this is carefully balanced with my busy life as a homeschooling single mom of 2 boys, the exhaustion that RA brings, and a very limited budget. I would like to share my journey with you, so that it may benefit you as well, or give you a better understanding of what it is to fight this disease.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Anti Inflammatory Diet: Vegetables

As I have told you, my first step was to spend some time searching out which foods have anti inflammatory properties.  As you can guess, I am sure, most of these are vegetables, fruits, and spices.  Today, I will list vegetables.

As a perfectionist, I wanted to give you an exhaustive list, complete with a full bibliography.  As part of my effort to reduce stress, I will instead be giving you the list I compiled in my initial search.  I will not include a bibliography, as all of this information is found in several different sources.  I have included several links for you to follow for more detailed information.

At the very core of any anti-inflammatory diet are a variety of fruits and vegetables.  For me, the easiest place to start was in making sure that I included at least 2 fruits or vegetables in each meal.  There are very few vegetables that CAUSE inflammation, but the following list includes some of the foods known to have the biggest impact:

Shitake Mushrooms: Enjoyed by the Chinese and the Japanese since ancient times, shiitake mushroom is revered for its immune-boosting properties and its mild smoky taste. Also,  Maitake, enoki, oyster mushrooms.

Broccoli: a highly nutritious vegetable that contains anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer phytonutrients such as sulforaphane which helps the body to get rid of potentially carcinogenic compounds.

Cauliflower:. A close relative to broccoli, this cruciferous vegetable also contain similar goodness as broccoli that aids the body’s detoxification.


Sweet potato: is often overshadowed by other exotic vegetables and fruits. But it is also a good source of complex carbohydrate, beta-carotene, manganese, vitamin B6 and C as well as dietary fiber. Working in concert, these nutrients are powerful antioxidants that help to heal inflammation in the body.

Spinach: As an added bonus, spinach is very inexpensive, especially if you buy it in bunches rather than the fancy bags of prewashed baby spinach.  If you are cooking with it, it makes no difference to use the chaper stuff.  In salads, I will splurge on the baby stuff.  This dark green leafy vegetable is such a rich source of anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidative flavonoids and carotenoids that it’s almost impossible to believe. But it’s true. And here’s only a partial list: Vitamin A, B2, B6, C, E, K, calcium, folate, iron, magnesium, manganese,potassium and tryptophan. But be sure to buy organic ones whenever possible as it’s also among the foods on which pesticide residues have been most frequently found.

There is a lot of mentions in anti inflammatory diet articles and books of nightshade vegetables and lectins.  I will go deeper into this topic later, but I think it is always better to start with small, attainable steps rather than trying to change everything overnight.  For now, just remember that vegetables should make up the majority of your intake, and that foods in their original, natural form are best.

Here are links to the articles where I found the information:




Monday, December 17, 2012

Life Happens

After taking a bit of a break due to my illness (sinus infection, stomach virus), my little guy's illness (virus leading to an ear infection), teenager induced stress, and my birthday, I am back to continue to share with you what I am learning, and what I am working on.  Thank you for your patience with me, as this is a journey, and I have a very demanding life.

As I am sure you can imagine, all of the sickness and added stress made it very difficult to maintain my diet and lifestyle changes.  It started with me getting a sinus infection, which is a somewhat common occurrence due to the immune-suppressing effects of the methotrexate and prednisone.  I visited my chiropractor first, hoping to avoid having to take antibiotics, but sadly it was too far along at that point.  The next day, I visited my family doc, whom I really have a good connection with.  She prescribed the required antibiotics and I was on my way.  They are starting to help, but they are not making a difference as fast as I would like.  Next came the added stress courtesy of the teenager.  Teenager stress makes me want chocolate.   While small amounts of dark chocolate are considered anti-inflammatory, larger amounts are not, due to the sugar.  This was followed my a bit of a dietary detour, as I celebrated my birthday with spaghetti, bread, and cupcakes.  If this is going to be a way of life for me, there has to be allowances for holidays and celebrations.  What I need to get more of a handle on is making sure that the celebration is one meal or one day, not 2 or 3 or 4 days.  Next came my little guy getting sick, which made him want me to sit or lay with him so he could snuggle his furnace-hot body on mine.  This went on for 4 days!  So, rather than walking around every 30 minutes, and drinking tons of water, and cooking healthy meals, I ended up sitting watching movies for hours on end, eating whatever I could grab when I had to get up for some other reason, and giving my kid the love and attention that he needed.  Then, since things weren't bad enough, I caught a stomach bug which caused me to miss some doses of meds.

All of this, combined with some weather changes, has caused a bit of a relapse in both my back and arthritis symptoms.  When I visited Dr. C. this afternoon, he was able to help my back, and gave me the incentive I need to get back on track by reminding me of where I came from.  Neither of us want to see me back down at the bottom of the pit I am trying to crawl out of.

As you can see, along with victory comes stumbles, and this is a process, not a destination I can reach overnight.  Over the next week, I plan to get my diet back on track, starting with drinking TONS of water, and focusing on eating a variety of vegetables every day.  Once I have that back on track, I will take a few more steps.  Christmas is next week, and I don't want to over-stress myself trying to be perfect, but I need to be back on track enough that I feel good while I am celebrating with my family.  Over the rest of the week, I also will make every effort to get the anti-inflammatory diet information on here.  This will help remind me of what I should be eating, and will also give you an idea of what you can do to improve your health.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

First Victory!

After beginning this new approach nearly 2 months ago, I am beginning to see some very encouraging results, which is so very exciting!  After finally feeling like my "normal" self for a full week, yesterday I lowered my prednisone dose by 25%.  So far, I am feeling a little more pain, but it might be caused by the weather change we are seeing here today.  It is still a vast improvement from the last several months.  Both my back and my RA pain are under control enough that I can walk like a normal person, rather than looking like I am 100 years old.  I can climb a flight of stairs without stopping, and without having to drag myself up using the railing.  I am able to sleep a full night without waking up because of the pain after just a few hours, and I feel rested when I wake up.  I made it through the whole week without having to take naps to get through the day.  I can stand up without help, and I am able to think without the pain being in the forefront of my mind.  Yes, I am still in constant pain, but It is at a manageable level. I still have to be careful not to overdo it, to not get stressed out, and keep following my plan, or else I do notice the pain creeping back up, but I am so thankful to be feeling so much better!

This last flare-up of pain and inflammation has lasted a long time and made my life very difficult.  In October, my rheumatologist doubled my dose of prednisone (10mg/day up from 5).  At the time, she said if I didn't see improvement in a week, I would have to add Celebrex.  I am very hesitant to try yet another anti-inflammatory, especially one that has gotten some bad press in recent years.  The rheumatologist visit happened that same day (but before) my sit down discussion with the chiropractor, and helped me make the decision to try to treat this with lifestyle changes rather than just more medications.  I was not feeling better after a week, but by 2 weeks, I was starting to improve very slowly.  When I called, she told me to continue taking the higher dose of prednisone until I felt "like myself", and then to gradually taper the dose over a month.  It took longer than I had hoped, and the improvement was very gradual, with several setbacks, but I am on my way to better health and am convinced I am on the right path.

I didn't change everything at once.  I don't hold myself to perfection, and I am not setting impossible goals. With each change, I take the time to evaluate if I am noticing any changes, and I am giving myself permission to fail, as long as I get back up again afterward.  I am not following a plan created by someone else, I am finding my own way, and so far I have to say it is a success.


Saturday, December 8, 2012

What Now: Meeting Dr. C. Part 2

After being told by my new favorite chiropractor, Dr. Incredible, that the inflammation from the Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) combined with the stress and sleeplessness of being a single mom was at a critical point, I knew that I had to do something.  I could not just continue watching my health decline, especially since I need to be here for my kids and they need me.  I spent the next few days really unsure where to start or even if there was anything I could do.  I continued seeing Dr. I for chiropractic adjustments 3 times a week, applying ice to my back, and taking all of my meds.  

Gradually, I started to remember seeing mention of foods that can reduce inflammation.  I am an avid reader of books, magazines, and web articles, and have seen different suggestions for an RA Diet.  The suggestions do not always agree with each other, and I have never seen them all in one place, so I decided my first step was to do a web search for foods that reduce inflammation.  (I will post this list soon.)  Soon after beginning this project, it became clear that I would need to start a list of foods that cause inflammation as well.  My plan was to try to eat as many of the foods off of the anti-inflammatory list as possible, and to try to avoid the foods off the inflammatory list as much as possible.  In general, I have avoided taking a lot of supplements, because I figured it is best to get the nutrients through proper nutrition, and also because supplements can be real budget killers.  

Over the next week, I began eating more fruits and vegetables, and also taking a fish oil supplement.  I began to notice some slight improvement, and decided to ask Dr. C. for his opinion.  When I said I was interested in trying to improve my health in this way, he was so excited for me!  I told him about my research, and he suggested the site deflame.com.  This site has a simple description of an anti-inflammatory (deflaming) diet that is easy to understand.  Deflame.com does sell supplements as well, but you can access all of the diet info you need.  Dr. C. was so supportive without being pushy that he just made me want to keep going and try even harder.  Of course, improvement has not been instant, and there have been setbacks.  After only a week, I was feeling significantly better, and made the decision to "take a break" from the diet for a few days.  What a big mistake!  I immediately had an increase in swelling and pain.  I have since done this a few more times, but am seeing that this is much like a "behavior modification diet".  This gave me the non-scientific confirmation I needed to continue on this new path to health.  

Soon after, I told Dr. C. that I was taking fish oil supplements twice a day.  Again, he was so happy and supportive of my attempts to improve my health.  I think he may have been surprised that I was willing to make these changes, since he knows the difficult circumstances in my life.  I am thankful that he is letting me take the lead and make changes gradually rather than trying to make me change everything at once.  I was surprised when he told me that in my case, with the amount of inflammation I have, that I should gradually increase my dose of fish oil to 8-10 capsules a day.  This sounded a bit intimidating, but I decided to trust him, and added an extra capsule at lunch and dinner every few days.  As the dose increased, I did notice improvement in my pain levels, and was encouraged to keep going.  To confirm what I was already finding out, I read an article on WebMD "Can Your Diet Help Relieve Rheumatoid Arthritis?"  On the second page, this is what I found: 
   "According to the American College of Rheumatology, some patients with rheumatoid arthritis report an      improvement in pain and joint tenderness when taking marine omega-3 fatty acid supplements. You may not notice any benefit at first from taking a fish oil supplement. It may take weeks or even months to see a decrease in symptoms. But studies do show that some people who have a high intake of omega-3 fatty acids benefit from decreased symptoms and less use of anti-inflammatory drugs."



Wow!  That is exactly what I needed to hear!  Dr. C's recommendation is to find supplements made from wild caught fish, that are lab tested and guaranteed free of mercury and pollutants.  A friend helped me get some at a warehouse store for around $8 for 400, so they're not the budget killer I had originally feared.  

Since then, I have found a few other websites and books that explore anti-inflammatory eating, and will share those in later posts.  Of course, they don't always agree, but I figure if I am at least making the effort, there should be some margin for error, right?  The excitement of felling better, even if it is just a little bit, is enough to drive me forward on this new path.  Having a Doctor who is patient with me in my shortcomings, and encourages me to do what I can, is so wonderful.  He also keeps me honest, because he can sense even the smallest changes in my body, and has pointed out to me when my joints are stiffer of if my swelling is worse. Best of all, I feel like I am doing something, rather than just sitting around waiting for the worst to happen!


Thursday, December 6, 2012

The Blessing of the Back Spasm: Meeting Dr. C. Part 1


As I have mentioned previously, I have reached a point where I am no longer able to take anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDS).  This problem is complicated further by the fact that I drive a school bus, so am unable to take any muscle relaxers or narcotic pain medications  either.  Being a single mom, especially since my youngest is 4 and so still very dependent on me, means that even if it weren't for work purposes, I do not want to take anything that alters my ability to think clearly and function.

For many years, I have been having muscle spasms in my lower back that come and go.  Following a period of time with even more stress than usual including the deaths of a family member and a friend, 3 emergency room visits with my kids in a 6 week span, and some personal turmoil, the back spasm came with a vengeance and refused to leave.    Usually, I would go see my family doctor, who would prescribe NSAIDs and Muscle relaxers, but I knew that wasn’t an option this time. Oddly, despite the natural living that characterized my upbringing, I never went to a chiropractor until 2008, and even then still carried a heavy dose of skepticism.  My last chiropractor did an okay job of treating my pain, but was much more interested in selling his overpriced supplements and trying to convince me to reject traditional medicine entirely than he was in my overall health.  I stopped seeing him after he ran into some legal trouble, and had not worked up the courage to find someone to “replace” him.  This added to my reluctance to choose the path of “alternative medicine”, but I was in so much pain that I was willing to try just about anything.   Finally, in frustration and desperation, I decided to see a chiropractor, and got referrals from several close friends.   One doctor’s name kept coming up from nearly every person I talked to, so I booked my first appointment with Dr. C.

My first visit with the C.'s chiropractic office was not a fun experience, but I immediately knew that I had found great people who genuinely cared about making me feel better.  After the x-rays and physical exam, they sat me down and pretty much told me that my back is a mess.  Old injuries and RA combined with stress and me not taking care of myself to make for a really difficult case.  Still skeptical, I thought they were setting me up to try to sell me a bill of goods I had no interest in buying.   Imagine my surprise when instead, they said they understood I was on a very limited budget and had a very busy schedule and set me up on a 3 week plan of 3 visits per week.  Between the RA pain and the intolerable back pain, the first several adjustments were excruciating.  Dr. C. was so gentle and compassionate, and after the adjustments, I did notice some gradual improvements.  Something I noticed right away was that this doctor was interested in making all of me feel better, not just my back.  I had become accustomed to Dr. Lillith treating only certain joints and not wanting to address any other problems. 

After a few weeks of seeing the superhero of chiropractic medicine, and beginning to see the improvements, he sat me down to have “The Talk”.  In a kind and caring way, he told me that between the RA being flared up, the difficulty with my back, the stress, and lack of sleep, I had so much inflammation in my body that he was very concerned for me.  He warned me that if I didn't get the inflammation under control, I could be looking at a major medical event, and it could happen much sooner than I would have thought.   Then he did something that I have never had a doctor do, but he sat next to me, put his arm around me, and told me that we were going to fix this.  He sat there while I cried, and in that moment a spark of determination and hope came to life.   I went home sad and scared, but determined to find a way to fight for my life and health. 

To be continued…

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

A little more about me


I was born in the early 1970's to parents living a "back to the land" lifestyle.  My father was a Volkswagon mechanic, and my mom stayed home with us kids.  In preparation for the world to fall apart, my parents learned how to do many things by hand, and tried to stay off the grid as much as possible.

Because of this, I knew how to cook, can, dehydrate, and store foods before I left home.  I also learned to spin, weave, knit, sew, crochet, and many other handcrafts.  We had a goat for milk, raised sheep and chickens, and had a relatively uncomplicated life.  I was homeschooled before homeschooling was "cool", and that led to a lifelong love of learning.

I have always been a bit of a perfectionist, and have held myself to a high standard.  I expect to be able to do anything I put my mind to, and I have a terrible time asking for help.  As you can imagine, these tendencies, combined with being a single mom who homeschools and works, lead to my stress level being very high most of the time.  I have known stress is not a great thing, and that most of my flare ups start with extreme stress, but I told myself that it couldn't be helped.  Recently, my Chiropractor told me that it is critical to reduce my stress, as this is leading to my body's inability to heal itself.  I know that this is a key part of the road to health, so I plan to find ways to lower the stress, even if I can't change my circumstances.

At age 31, I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid arthritis. Now 8 years later, I am trying to fight back against the disease by managing stress and returning to the simple, unprocessed, nutritious foods I enjoyed in my youth.  I will share my research and recipes, and give you one woman's experience trying to wade through the jungle of information at our disposal.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Introducing "My Inner Flower Child."


Hello, and welcome to my blog.  This is my first venture into the world of blogging and all that it entails, so please bear with me as I attempt to learn as I go.  

Let me begin by telling you a little bit of my story:

I have lived with a diagnosis of Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) since early 2004, during my first agonizing flare-up of pain in my hands and feet.  I went from knitting, sewing, spinning, and working 2 jobs, to being barely able to function.  It was Christmas time, and I had just gotten over a really bad case of bronchitis and sinusitis.  I had just turned 31 a few weeks before, and the pain came on it the span of just a couple of days. Since then, I have had periods of remission, and times when it was managed, punctuated by many painful flares lasting weeks or months. 

 I have been on low dose Prednisone and Plaquenil since my diagnosis.  I tried Sulfasalazine, and did not react well, so discontinued.  Until 2007, I took Relafen (an anti-inflammatory) but discontinued using it after having serious side effects linked to long term use of anti inflammatory drugs. During my pregnancy in 2008, I had to go off all meds except Prednisone, and had a prolonged and intense flare.  After I weaned my youngest, I went on Methotraxate.  I had previously avoided this med, since it is not advised if you have any chance of becoming pregnant, and because the thought of taking a cancer drug scared me. I have used Ibuprofen for pain management until recently, when it started causing me to have a lot of swelling in my legs, feet, and hands. I am also on Vitamin D, Iron, Calcium, and Folic Acid as prescribed by my doctor. Even though the pain can be intense, my case is considered to be mild, since I have minimal joint damage at this time. 

Autoimmune diseases can bring friends with them, and in 2007, I was given a tentative diagnosis of Sjogren's   Syndrome.  For several years (long before I had any RA symptoms), my salivary glands would occasionally swell up to the size of a golf ball or larger.  This would be accompanied by extreme pain, fatigue, and low grade fevers.  Sometimes there would be large bumps behind my ears as well.  I hears diagnosis ranging from atypical Meningitis, to virus, sinus drainage, and abcess.  Leading up to the diagnosis, I had a flare up that lasted several weeks, and finally got a referral to a specialist  The Ear Nose and Throat specialist who finally made this diagnosis decided against doing the biopsy needed to make a final diagnosis because. the treatment is pretty much the same as for RA. The saliogram (x-ray with contrast) he performed to rule out any other cause was one of the more interesting and uncomfortable tests I have had! He said if I had future flare ups of Sjogren's symptoms to either see him or my Rheumatologist for treatment with higher doses of steroids.  

I see a Rheumatologist every 3 months, for blood tests and monitoring of my joints and symptoms.  She is good at what she does, even though she reminds me of Lillith from the  Frazier and Cheers television shows.  Unfortunately, she is kind of old school in her beliefs about the disease.  Her only focus is my joints themselves, and she is slow to make changes in my treatments.  When I have asked her about the other symptoms that I have, like extreme fatigue, feeling generally ill, and low grade fevers, and back problems, she does not address them.  When I have asked her if stress management, diet, or supplements would help, she did not want to discuss it.  I have considered finding another doctor, but at this point I have no insurance, and she is willing to work within my budget limitations.  

Recently, I have been suffering through a prolonged painful flare up, and the doctor is hesitant to prescribe any anti-inflammatory meds because of the reactions I had to Relafen and Ibuprofen.  She increased my prednisone dose, but that is a less than ideal situation, and is only for a short term.  In my desperation to get my pain levels under control, and to avoid further complications from the disease, I began researching foods that have anti-inflammatory properties.  I have already made some big changes, and am starting to see encouraging results. As I am muddling through trying new things, I invite you to learn from my successes and fail

Over the next few weeks, I hope to add content quickly.  After getting the basics on here, I hope to add new posts 2-3 times per week.  I would be honored to have you subscribe!