Using Diet to Treat RA: Can a Pasta Ease Pain?

A Little Inspiration from a Farmers' Market Favorite.

A few months after my 29th birthday, my once active and adventurous life was threatened when I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis. It was one of the most frightening times of my life. I was a second year naturopathic medical student (already with enough student debt to buy a small house or a really, really nice car) and found myself trapped in my apartment unable to walk down the stairs to get outside. I was forced to find ways that allowed my body to start healing and stop attacking itself.

In a visit with my Rheumatologist at that time, he asked me what I was doing to be able to stay off of the medications he so badly wanted me to take. (By the way, more than 10 years later, I have still not taken any pharmaceutical medications for this disease.) I took a deep breath, looked at him and said, "I am eating a vegan gluten-free diet, fasting/cleansing, meditating, practicing a lot of yoga, taking homeopathy, treating my adrenals, going to therapy, practicing yoga, healing my gut, filling up with fish oils, listening to my body, resting when I need it, and being nice to myself."

He looked at me, smiled, nodded, and said, "Well.... it sounds like even if your body is trying to get inflamed, you aren't letting that happen." Very true. And how do you fit THIS into a double-blind placebo study to "prove" it works?

Realizing that No Pill Was Going to Fix Me

In all of my time in that apartment just off of Mill Ave. in Tempe, I read a LOT about auto-immune conditions. Especially Rheumatoid Arthritis. I soon came to realize that there was no pill that was going to "fix me". And today, I am grateful there wasn't. Even though RA may be the most common auto-immune disease affecting an estimated 1-3% of women in this country, we still don't have a good handle on managing the disease.

The conventional approach can be expensive. Biologics are a class of drugs often used to treat people with RA that do not respond well to other drugs like Methotrexate or Plaquenil; these "biologics" include Humira, Enbrel, Remicade, and others. Consumer Reports found that biologics can range from $1,100 to over $5,000 per month. For this one medication alone. Even if your insurance does cover some of it and you only have to pay the deductible, this money has to come from somewhere. Oh, and Consumer Reports also found that only 25-50% of people can expect to get at least 50% better on a biologic. And, we can't forget about the side effects like lymphoma, lupus, psoriasis, liver disease, and heart failure.

Thousands of dollars a month, less than half of the people might get half better, and the risk of so many side effects? Ouch. This approach is definitely helpful for some people, but I decided that I wanted to try it another way first.

So, I changed how I cared for myself. Many earlier naturopathic and holistic doctors ("old school docs" as I lovingly call them) recommended fasting and vegetarian diets to their patients with RA, particularly during times of flare-ups. Like any good doctor, I practiced on myself first. In addition to the other natural treatments I was doing, I also experimented with a variety of cleanses and fasts only to discover many of the old school docs were right: I did start to feel better physically and emotionally.

Modern Science Supports Dietary Changes for RA

A study published in the Lancet in 1991 also found improvement with fasting and a vegetarian diet in those with Rheumatoid Arthritis, and this improvement was still present a year later. More recently, a study published in 2008 found that a vegan and gluten-free diet can decrease inflammation and be protective of the heart. This is extremely important because those of us with RA can have up to twice the risk of developing heart disease.

Some suggest that the improvements in changing dietary patterns in those with RA is mostly from weight loss. However, a study from 2005 seems to suggest that the benefits of improving the diet of those with RA isn't just because of the weight loss. Though I sure didn't complain about that extra benefit!

Changes are Hard to Continue

The research is also clear: making long-term dietary changes is difficult to maintain. Not sure that we really needed "science" to tell us this. It does, however, make it even more clear that we need to continuously experiment and find new delicious foods that taste as good as they feel to eat. Even if it is just for the inspiration to "stay on the wagon".

One of my most favorite recent discoveries for this inspiration was at my local Carlsbad Village Farmers' Market! (It is also available at some health-food stores and can be shipped from their website.) All of this is enough to make Bisogno Pasta this month's Farmers' Market Favorite.

Refusing to Give Up Pasta

While walking around the Carlsbad Village Market, it is hard to miss the colorful and beautiful pasta from Bisogno Pasta. It is completely gluten free. And because it is made from lentils, it also has some extra protein. My favorite part is all the flavors though! You can see from previous recipes, I have experimented with chocolate-flavored noodles, sheets of noodles for lasagna, and this month's mushroom-infused pasta. You cook these noodles quickly and similar to any other fresh pasta. You can use them in place of wheat or gluten-free noodles in your favorite recipe, or use one of the many flavors to experiment with a new recipe.

James who owns Bisogno doesn't pay me anything to use or write about his products. Though he does sometimes offer me samples of his delicious pastas to try. One week, he offered me a sample of his chlorella-infused pasta. You can see in the picture the beautiful blue-green color of this pasta!

This pasta alone probably won't ease your symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis.... But a primarily plant-based diet filled with delicious foods like this pasta just might.

Just some inspiration

This was just the beginning of my journey of healing. Not everyone's journey is the same. This article is not intended to be medical advice or to replace the advice of your doctors and other caregivers. And it sure isn't a recommendation to stop any of your current medications. Please make sure to talk to your team of doctors and other caregivers before making any changes. They may have even better ideas for your personal journey.

Hopefully though, it will offer you some inspiration to either try one of Bisogno's tasty treats or experiment with other gluten-free pastas. And talk to your health care providers about the benefits of changing your diet if you have RA, another auto-immune condition, or really any chronic disease. And if your health care providers don't want to talk to you about the benefits of changing your diet, then for goodness sake, find another healthcare provider that will.

Today, I am grateful that there wasn't a pill that would just "fix me". I would have missed out on so many lessons and adventures Practicing the Art of Healing. Like chocolate-infused lentil noodles. Mmmmm.....


Jonci Jensen natural doctor matcha healthy coffee replacement anti-oxidant Oceanside

Jonci Jensen , ND is a naturopathic doctor in Carlsbad, CA who shares

her inspirations Practicing the Art of Healing.