Wow. What a difference a few hours makes.
I started reading Forks Over Knives, mostly as a way of procrastinating. Right in the introduction is this sentence: "Obesity, hypertension, diabetes, heart disease, strokes, cancer, RHEUMATOID ARTHRITIS, multiple sclerosis, lupus, gallstones, diverticulitis, osteoporosis, allergies, and asthma are but a few of the diseases of Western nutrition."
So there it was, in big bold print (okay, it wasn't in bold print really): RHEUMATOID ARTHRITIS. I decided to have one last look around to see what I could find out about diet and my thorn in the flesh.
I wandered over to Dr. McDougall's site and found this article: "Diet: The Only Real Hope for Arthritis." This was a part of the intro:
"Marvin Burk (Louise's husband--Louise works in the McDougall Health Center office) couldn't hardly get out of the chair. Then he would walk straddle-legged halfway across the room until he could loosen up enough to get his joints moving. His hands were so stiff he could not use his tools and he often dropped things. He figured a man of 65 shouldn't be so crippled and decided he'd do whatever it takes to get well. He changed his diet 8 years ago with immediate and dramatic results. Now he pops out of the chair, walks without a bit of stiffness or pain and he handles his tools with no trouble. Many of us can relate to Marvin's troubles."
I sure CAN relate to Marvin's troubles! And I'm at least blessed enough that I don't have arthritis in my fingers (although I have it in my jaw and my left elbow, making it hard -- impossible -- to take bites of anything big and difficult to wash the left side of the back of my neck because my left elbow won't bend enough). But the chair and the waddle sound just like me. So I kept reading.
He lists lots of studies that treat RA patients with diet. The general protocol goes something like this (it varies a little). They take the patients and have them fast for 7-10 days (most often this is a fruit- and vegetable-juice fast, although one study had them on a water fast). During the fast, just about everybody gets better. Then they put them on different diets and different things happen. If they go back to their original diet, they get sick again and within one week all their symptoms return.
I'd hoped that going vegan would help my RA. I was doing this mainly for my heart, but still, I hoped. According to this article, though, lots of foods can exacerbate RA, and those foods can be different for everybody. Animal products (animal protein) seems to be almost universally bad (I knew this years before I went plant-based). Fats are very bad, too, because they suppress the immune system and tend to clog everything up (that is NOT a scientific description of what they do, by the way).
So McDougall suggests first going on a no-added-fats, no-animal-products diet. Well -- I think I've done that, although I'm not positive about it. Sometimes I've had fats, sometimes I've had animal products, and I'm not 100% sure that there was ever no overlap. Or at least not one long enough to see if it helped. But still -- I think I've done that and it hasn't helped.
He suggests what is called an "elimination diet." It's very boring. You can only eat the following foods, all cooked: brown rice, sweet potatoes, winter squash, taro, tapioca rice flour, puffed rice, beets, beet greens, chard, summer squash, artichokes, celery, string beans, asparagus, spinach, lettuce, peaches, cranberries, apricots, papaya, plums, prunes, cherries. The only condiment allowed is salt. Only water to drink. These foods are allowed because they are the least likely to cause allergic reactions. The reason everything has to be cooked is because cooking alters the proteins in foods and it makes them even LESS likely to cause allergies.
You stay on the diet for about a week. If nothing improves in that time you can pretty much be assured that whatever symptoms you were testing are not caused by your body's immune system having a reaction to a particular food. If your symptoms HAVE improved, however, your next job is to find out what you're allergic to. You add foods back, one at a time, and see if you have a reaction. It's likely that there's more than one allergen. The most common allergens (besides animal products and fats) are wheat, corn, citrus fruits, tomatoes, and strawberries. All of which I love; I think tomatoes would be the hardest to live without!
I am, however, willing to try anything. If I knew, for instance, that tomatoes were a trigger, I might be willing to suffer for it once every six months or so, but I would certainly cut back most of the time. Wheat would be rough, but there are so many gluten-free products now that you can still have just about anything you want (pasta, crackers, cereals) in non-gluten forms. I love corn, citrus fruits, and strawberries, of course, but if giving them up meant no arthritis symptoms I'd say good-bye in a heartbeat!
Anyway -- I am willing to try anything to avoid the surgery and I can eat a boring diet for a week (he just says "about a week" -- if I feel all better after five days, I'm not going to press the point!).