Dan dispels some old wives' tales
Well that’s certainly a mouthful of a title, isn’t it? Tongue twister it may be, but it is also something that comes up time and time again when people hear the word Arthritis. One of the first questions people ask or comments people make is usually something to do with how the weather affects the illness. Usually it is followed by a story or two about an old injury that always seems to act up right before some catastrophic storm event. What an amazing coincidence.
If there is one thing I can say for sure after twenty plus years of Arthritis, it is that there is nothing that is one hundred percent sure to make things better or worse. In fact, that is one of the main problems with Arthritis and other auto-immune illnesses – the fact that there is no sure thing. The amount of myths and legends that surround Arthritis and its cousins will make your head spin, though. Some of these remedies are backed by science, and some of them have no basis in fact whatsoever. I thought it might be fun to have a look at some of the more popular ones out there.
The first and foremost among these mythical disease modifiers is the weather. No matter how many new people I meet and tell about my trials with R.A., even medical doctors, mind you, at some point they always ask how the climate and weather affects me – usually when it is raining outside. I am here to tell you that in my experience, there is no direct correlation between the weather and the state of my disease. Now, some of you may be chomping at the bit to write me e-mails explaining the minor science behind this myth and I can tell you I am aware of it.
For those who are not aware, most joints in the body are actually inside a closed capsule of flesh, and they are filled with synovial fluid. This means, theoretically, that when the weather takes a turn for the worse, and the barometric pressure drops, the closed capsule that is the joint will expand slightly. This is part of the reason why people claim that the weather affects their Arthritis. Sounds plausible, right? Well, here is my explanation, which is much more practical – it’s raining and overcast outside. Unless you are the Prince of Darkness, there are not many people out there who are going to jump up bright and chipper when it is gloomy and wet outside. The overcast setting and the lack of sunlight are going to take a toll on your mental state, consciously or otherwise, and since mental state and stress greatly affect illnesses, well, you can see where I am going with this. Can I tell you for sure that weather does not physically affect joints? No, but no one can tell you that it does, either.
The next myth on our hit list is another one that amateur Rheumatologists (a.k.a. anyone who is not a Rheumatologist) love to give as the reason for your joint pain – cracking your joints. A long time ago, someone, somewhere, decided that cracking your knuckles and other joints was a sure way to lead to Arthritis down the road. In reality, all you are doing is moving the ligament to create a bubble of nitrogen that pops with suction. The feeling of relief that many of you get when you crack your joints is mainly psycho-somatic. Cracking your joints does not cause Arthritis, but it surely may aggravate the situation if you manipulate a hot, swollen, joint in any way, shape, or form. My advice to you is to ask the next person who is sure that your R.A. is due to excessive joint-cracking how they managed to crack their brain.
Before we go any further, I want to make something clear. If you are sure that weather or the cracking of your joints is responsible for a worsening of your disease, then so be it. There is no way I can tell you with 100% assuredness that you are wrong. I can only tell you that these causes have almost no basis in physiological science whatsoever. If these things help you to deal with the daily mental stress of living with your auto-immune illness, though, then by all means, disregard every word I say. The medical community still cannot say for sure what causes or doesn’t cause the body’s immune system to go haywire, so how can I presume to?
Next, we have a category that encompasses many different home remedies and causes for Arthritis and other auto-immune (and non-auto-immune) diseases – diet. This is a big one, my faithful readers. Every week it seems there is another miracle diet that cures R.A., or another evil food substance that makes the immune system go berserk. What I have to say about all of these cures and causes is that no one knows, or will ever know, what these foods and vitamins and minerals really do or do not do.
I am speaking from a position of experience on this subject, mind you. When I was younger, my disease management was in the hands of my parents, and I really had not much to say about it one way or the other. Because of this, my mother would try just about any remedy out there that she heard about. Keep in mind, this was before the days of the internet, so many of these wonder cures were spread by word-of-mouth only. Three different diet cures stick out from my childhood – the first was the “no tomato and other nightshade vegetable” diet. The second was the “no artificial coloring or flavoring” diet, and the third found me in the company of a holistic nutritionist, who had me hold different grains in my hand so she could “feel if my aura” was deficient in those specific grains. I assure you this all happened, and it was all much more trouble than it was worth – especially the first two.
When you are a kid, all you want to do during the summertime is eat hamburgers and hot dogs with your friends, drink soda, eat ice cream, and buy candy. Now, as you may realize, hot dogs and hamburgers take ketchup, which has a main ingredient of – you guessed it – tomatoes. On top of that, every single piece of candy or scoop of ice cream has artificial flavoring and coloring. Try spending a summer when you are 13 years old without candy, ice cream, soda, hamburgers, or hot dogs. Bottled water didn’t even exist back then. Try ordering a hamburger with mustard in lower New York some time, it’s quite a chore.
As you can see, there are many different home remedies, myths, false causes, and other misinformation sources out there when it comes to auto-immune diseases and Arthritis in particular. As I said, if you think you have found one of these cures to help you, then by all means call me an idiot and move along. Far be it from me to tell you what works and what does not. For those who do not suffer from any illness though, please take a long look at some of the things I have talked about here. While it never gets old to hear “but you are so young!” when I tell people I have Arthritis (no pun intended), I may be old by the time I finish explaining how R.A. really works just one more time.