6 Steps to Recover from Rheumatoid Arthritis

February 17th, 2014

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Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) affects over 1.5 million adults. This condition can affect anyone, but it most often affects women between the ages of 40 and 60 years old.


What is rheumatoid arthritis?

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune condition that occurs when the body begins attacking the joints, mistaking them as foreign invaders. The body attacks the thin membrane surrounding joints, allowing fluid and immune complexes to build up in the joints and cause significant pain. Normally these immune complexes filter out of your blood on their own, but when there is a build-up, they tend to settle into different joints and cause local inflammation and tissue damage. When these immune complexes build up in the joints, they can cause pain and swelling characteristic of RA.

Typically, RA starts in the small joints such as hands, fingers, and toes.  It progresses to larger joints like the wrists, ankles, knees, and hips. The pain and swelling is usually on both sides of the body or in bi-lateral joints.

If someone in your family has RA or any autoimmune disease, then you are more likely to develop RA in your lifetime.  If you have already been diagnosed with RA, then you are three times more likely to develop a second autoimmune condition. Additionally, studies using identical twins found that genetics only account for 25% and environmental factors account for 75% of autoimmune conditions.


How is it diagnosed?

The diagnosis is based on a combination of symptoms, physical exam, and blood tests. Typically, your doctor will order the following blood test to look for signs of inflammation as well as autoimmunity. An x-ray of the affected joint or joints may also be ordered.

  • Anti-nuclear antibody (ANA)

  • Rheumatoid factor (RF)

  • Anti-citrullinated peptide/protein antibodies (anti-CCP)

  • Erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR)

  • High-sensitivity C-reactive protein (Cardio CRP)


Signs of Rheumatoid Arthritis

Symptoms and severity of rheumatoid arthritis can vary from person to person, but common signs include:

  1. Joint pain, swelling, tenderness, stiffness, and deformity in the joints or fingers

  2. Fatigue

  3. Unintentional weight loss

  4. Nodules or stiff bumps under the skin

  5. Frequent urinary tract infections

  6. Fever


Conventional treatment for rheumatoid arthritis

Conventional medicine is focused on managing the symptoms of RA rather than finding the root cause.  For this reason, treatment is based solely on medications. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as Ibuprofen are used as the first line of treatment.  Once NSAIDs no longer alleviate symptoms, then steroids such as Prednisone are prescribed. If the steroids top controlling the symptoms, then a host of other harsh medications are prescribed that either modulate or suppress the immune system as a whole.  Methotrexate, Plaquenil, Imuran, Enbrel and Remicade are some of the drugs used, and they have very harsh side effects including liver damage, bone marrow suppression and increased susceptibility to infections.  When I was an ER resident working in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU), I took care of a young woman in her 20’s with RA.  She came into the ICU with liver failure and nearly died after taking Remicade. Thankfully, she received a liver transplant and survived.

In order to truly solve the problem and stop your immune system from attacking your joints, you must take a functional medicine approach and find the underlying cause of the imbalance.


5 Underlying Causes of Rheumatoid Arthritis

If you suspect that you have an RA, the most important steps to stopping and reversing your disease are to identify and then to treat the underlying cause. Conventional doctors only treat the symptoms of autoimmune diseases; they don’t look to find the root cause.

1. Gluten

Gluten is a huge problem for most people these days because we hybridized it, modified it, and it’s in everything!  Worst of all, it can wreak havoc on your gut and set you up for a leaky gut.  Once the gut is leaky, gluten can get into your bloodstream and confuse your immune system. Since the building blocks of gluten share a similar molecular structure with building blocks of many other tissues in your body, the immune system can get confused and accidentally attack your joints and other organs. This process is called molecular mimicry.

2. Leaky gut

In order to absorb nutrients, the gut is somewhat permeable to very small molecules. Many things including, gluten, infections, medications and stress can damage the gut, allowing toxins, microbes and undigested food particles – among other things – directly into your bloodstream. Leaky gut is the gateway for these infections, toxins and foods – like gluten – to cause systemic inflammation that leads to autoimmunity.  You must heal your gut before you can heal yourself.

3. Mercury

Mercury is a heavy metal that is capable of altering or damaging the cells of various bodily tissues. When cells are damaged, your immune system can mistake them as foreign invaders and begin attacking its own organs. Studies show that individuals with higher mercury exposures have an increased risk of getting an autoimmune disease.

4. Mycotoxins

I have discovered that many of my patients with autoimmune disease are actually living or working in environments that have toxic mold.  Toxic molds produce mycotoxins, which are volatile organic compounds (VOC) and can be toxic to genetically susceptible people.

5. Infections

Recent studies have shown a strong correlation between an overgrowth of gut bacteria and the onset of rheumatoid arthritis. While it has not yet been proven as the sole cause of rheumatoid arthritis, it is certainly suspected that the gut bacteria, Prevotella copri and Proteus mirabilis, play a significant role in the onset of rheumatoid and psoriatic arthritis. Gut bacteria, like P. cpori and P. mirabilis, can cause leaky gut, which is a frequent cause of immune dysfunction and inflammation in the body.

In addition to bacteria, the Epstein-Barr virus is also believed to be a potential trigger of rheumatoid arthritis. Often times, the antibodies seeking out this virus mistakenly attack joint tissue, through a process called molecular mimicry. This allows fluid and immune complexes to build up in the joints, causing pain and inflammation.


The Myers Way Approach to Rheumatoid Arthritis

1. Remove gluten from diet

I recommend that all of my patients remove gluten from their diets because it’s simply an inflammatory food. For my patients any autoimmune disease, including RA, I highly recommend removing all grains and legumes from the diet as well. These foods contain proteins known as lectins, which act as a natural pesticide for crops and can wreak havoc on the lining of your gut.  Changing your diet is the first step in getting well.  I created The Myers Way® Comprehensive Elimination Diet eCourse which you can do at home, and it’s the foundation that I use with my patients to begin recovering from illnesses.

2. Heal the gut

Healing the gut is essential to healing yourself, as I mentioned before.  For this reason, I created The Myers Way® Guide to the Gut eCourse to help guide you through the exact same steps I use with my patients to heal their guts. I also have many articles explaining my 4R approach to healing the gut and gut healing supplements.

3. Find and treat infections

You may need to take antibiotics to treat bacterial infections such as Prevotella copri or Proteus mirabilis. I often use herbs to treat these infections as well. I also use coconut oil and Monolaurin to help treat the Epstein-Barr virus if it is currently active.

4. Test for heavy metals

We are exposed to heavy metals in a number of different ways: amalgams, fish consumption, and the environment. I recommend having your MTHFR genes tested and doing a DMPS chelation challenge test through a functional medicine practitioner to determine if mercury or other heavy metals are an issue for you. If your mercury or lead levels are high, then you may need to go through chelation.

5. Test for mycotoxins

Common environmental mold testing does not test for mycotoxins. The mycotoxins are what seem to wreak havoc on the gut and immune system.  I use a urine test from Real Time Labs to assess the level of mycotoxins in the system, and then follow Dr. Shoemaker’s protocol using glutathione, anti-fungal medication, and Cholestyramine.  Surviving mold is a great resource if you feel like this is an issue for you.

 6. Support the immune system

Supplements like vitamin D, omega-3 fish oils, and glutathione are powerful immune modulators, which means that they can help support your immune system. Vitamin D has been shown  to help regulate the immune system. Omega 3 fish oils   help to reduce inflammation in the entire body. Glutathione is the most powerful antioxidant in the body which can help reduce inflammation and improve detoxification in the body.

If you need further assistance, find a functional medicine physician in your area to help you get to the root cause of your illness and to help you reverse your disease. It can be done.


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  • Angela

    Great Article! I am a 32 year old female and my RA diagnosis came almost 7 years ago. I started to work with a Holistic MD about 2 years ago. I was on all of the drugs that my Rheumatologist could throw at me; Prednisone, Methotrexate, Humira, etc. After a lot of eliminations, tests and removing foods from my diet that were causing issues my RA Factor is below 20, yipe!! But I’m still experiencing some swelling and stiffness so I will be doing a strict elimination soon. I think God for Physicians thinking outside of the box and looking to treat the cause instead of just the symptoms. Thanks for all you do!

    • WOW! That’s great news, Angela! Keep up the hard work. So happy to hear that it’s paying off!

    • Nancy Jimenez

      When we lost health ins my RA Dr said come back when you have ins. My family Dr put me on prednisone for 6 mos and told me to search the internet. I did! I stopped all dairy and red meat. Then I took 20 to 30K mg Vit C daily. Then I found juicing. Then I found Amy Myers. I want to go through her program ( I have medicare) but I’m trying to do this on my own. I feel so much better now that I’m off all the drugs. I was forced into this but it has worked out for the best for me. A big Thank you to Amy Myers for all you do. Angela, so happy for you too!

  • Grant Parisi

    Well done Doc, this is the kind of information that needs to get widespread exposure, to many people suffer needlessly when their is a clear solution and prevention.

    • Jan T. Ohlson


    • Thank you! I am doing my best to get the word out. I appreciate your help and kind words!

      • Ramses Torres

        Great article. Several studies in pubmed.gov also link this condition to oxidative stress. NRF2 activation is an emerging but very promising therapy to reduce OS. One preparation has 16 peer-reviewed studies, also in pubmed.gov.

  • Thank you so much for this article! I’ve watched my mom’s health deteriorate so much from Remicade infusions!

    • Nancy Jimenez

      I was on that too. I’m off all meds now. Watch the diet is key and take good supplements and exercise too.

  • rubyblues

    With all due respect, Dr. Myers, would you please provide references of research studies that validate your data?

    • Kellie

      The references/evidence is out there all over the internet and world. Would the references have to have references to be valid?

      • FabriciodeMoraesSilva



    do I need any test before I start on microb-clear? would like to start in your 4r program which I bought for rheumatoid arthritis.

  • Barb Burge

    I was diagnosed 3 years ago with sudden-onset severe RA after an overexposure to spray paint on my stressed body. Apparently it had been coming on for several years, but my GP didn’t know my feet pain was a typical symptom of and the onset of RA. I went to a local functional dr who ran a few tests and tried a few treatments, to no avail. Did a severe Dr. Fuhrman-directed elimination diet, with nothing giving any bit of relief to my severe pain, even when down to 5 bland foods. (Dropped to 103 lbs at 5’7.) Have worked for 6 months with a naturopath who specializes in autoimmune diseases. Spent thousands of $ and tried everything at her disposal. Nothing worked!! No mercury levels registered in my blood. Some lead. I’m in severe pain & debilitation unless I’m on an RA drug, currently a high dosage of Actemra since all drugs including remicade did not work. It brings me to about 60% of my old energetic self in function and energy. I’ve tried so hard to find a natural path to healing, which is how I’ve tried to live my life. . Am still eating a very healthy whole foods-only organic diet, minus any dairy, gluten, grains and animal products. (I eat salmon occasionally.) Unsure whether there’s any hope in the food category for a reversal. Any ideas?

    • Hi Barb, I’m so sorry you’ve had to go through all that! I would love to see you as a patient– you should give my office a call 512 383 5343

      Hope you start feeling better soon!!

  • Pat

    I have been diagnosed with RA recently and taking Plaquenil 400 mg daily. I was told to use this for 3 months to see improvements of my left foot which is swollen. I like to recover taking natural remedies and adjusting lifestyle? Could someone with experience present some ideas for all suffering like me?

    • I’ve had lots of success with RA and helping people lower or get off of medications. I’d suggest setting up a wellness coaching session at my clinic to get your foot in the door, or coming to see me!

  • Sathya

    Where are the 6 steps to recover from rheumatoid arthritis stated in the article /

    • They’re listed underneath “The Myers Way Approach to Rheumatoid Arthritis.”

  • Shells

    Thank you for the great information. My daughter was diagnosed at age 2 with juvenile idiopathic arthritis. She is now 4, doesn’t have active inflammation but does complain of random joints hurting every once in a while. I have been wanting to change her diet but wasn’t sure where to start. I will definitely be attending the summit and start changing our eating habits.

    • I’m sorry to hear that your daughter has to go through that, but I hope you find the summit helpful!! Wishing you and your daughter the best of health 🙂

  • disqus_RTYYiZQQbm

    While symptoms can be reduced and helped by diet changes, the joint damage CARRIES on!!!

  • A. Pryde

    You can’t cure RA. This is crap and misleading to everyone with this terrible disease. Study on study on study proves that you can’t “drink the blue stuff” to cure it nor is there any other miracle cure. I’m sure this will get deleted but if this was Soooo easy don’t you think the millions of people who suffer from this disease wouldn’t do it??

  • Would this help someone with Polymyalgia Rheumatica too?

  • JR

    When I was first diagnosed with RA at 18 I couldn’t hold a pencil. 6 years later, I still needed help opening coke bottles, my liver was crapping out from the meds, and basically wanted to give up. Fast forward 4 years and Ive hiked some of the most difficult terrain on the east coast, and enjoy playing cello and guitar. My meds haven’t changed, but I learned that lifestyle matters with autoimmune conditions. There is no magic bullet, getting better is a process. Ive still got a long way to go but im half way there and plan on getting to 100% even if it takes me the rest of my life.

  • Normalgutz

    I would be willing to drive 2 hrs to get to a functional medicine dr, if only they accepted health insurance….

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  • Kim Ryan

    I have been taking minocycline for about 1 year for RA. I had to convince my rheumatologist to let me try it and he assured me it would not work. He told me that I should be on methotrexate and prednisone – the gold standard of RA treatment. Nonetheless, I am free of pain, swelling, and flare-ups. The once large nodules I have are almost gone. If this is a placebo effect, as he suggests, that’s fine with me. I am concerned about what the minocycline may be doing to my gut flora, though.

    Dr. Myers, I would love to know your thoughts on the use of minocycline, if you are aware of this.

    • Dr. Amy Myers

      That’s wonderful! Yes — it can be very helpful for some with RA

    • That’s wonderful! Yes — it can be very helpful for some with RA

  • Socorro

    My 10 yr. old daughter was recently diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. The swelling and pain in her legs was so bad that she started having to use a wheelchair. She’s been on a low dose of Prednisone for a couple of weeks (which has helped her slowly walk again) and is starting biologics shots this Friday. However, I’m very concerned about the long-term side effects. I hope a natural approach works so I can get her off traditional medicine soon.

    • I wish her the best of health! Sometimes you do have to rely on conventional treatments, but you can use functional medicine in conjunction to help her get off of those medications sooner. 🙂

  • Wendy

    Plaquenil is horrid. Took it for one month then broke out in a rash from head to toe. Actually, working on getting Hashi’s into remission right now. Started taking monolaurin (to handle the EBV) but having some headaches and malaise. Could this be a herxheimer reaction? If so, what should I do?

    • Hi Wendy, I would recommend setting up an appointment with me, or even a Wellness Coaching session with my dietitian who can help support you while you go through this. You want to be under the care of someone because herxheimer reactions can be tricky to identify.