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Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic autoimmune disorder that causes pain, stiffness, inflammation of the joints, joint deformity and reduced physical function. Autoimmune disorders are characterised by the body’s immune system attacking healthy body tissue. Both T- and B- immune cells are implicated in the underlying pathology due to overproduction of pro-inflammatory cytokines.  Inevitably, it affects quality of life and life expectancy. Unfortunately, the cause of RA is still unknown. Patients often receive strong medication and may require surgical treatment. However, frequently patients will seek non-medical alternatives to try and alleviate their symptoms.

Acupuncture is often sought by patients for pain. Through its ability to modulate pain signals and release of neuro-chemicals e.g. serotonin and endorphins that influence biochemical changes within the body’s homeostatic mechanisms, thus promoting physical and emotional well-being.

A new systematic review of the clinical efficacy of acupuncture on RA was published which included 43 studies. The study concluded that acupuncture alone or in combination with other treatment modalities is beneficial to treating RA, by improving physical function and quality of life. Possible mechanisms included anti-inflammatory effect, anti-oxidative effect and regulation of immune system function.

Acupuncture is believed to stimulate the circulatory and nervous system causing the release of

  • Release body chemicals and changes the way the brain and spinal cord processes the pain signals. These chemicals include; endorphins and other neurohumoral factors e.g. neuropeptide Y, serotonin.
  • Increases local release of  nitrous oxide(NO) known to play an important physiological role in skin local microcirculation, neurotransmission, immunity and wound healing.
  • Reduces inflammation by regulating the immune system, thus normalising immune function.
  • Increases the release of adenosine, which reduces the sensitivity to pain
  • Modulates parts of the brain network (limbic and paralimbic system), responsible for anti-pain, anti-anxiety, and other therapeutic effects
  • Improves muscle stiffness and joint mobility by increasing local microcirculation, and therefore blood circulation.
  • Benefits depression by acting through other pathways involving dopamine, noradrenaline, cortisol and neuropeptide Y. Stress-induced behavioural and biochemical changes may also be reversed. Acupuncture can generally be safely used in combination with medical treatments.

Alongside acupuncture dietary changes to avoid anti-inflammatory foods e.g. consider reducing consumption of meat, avoid gluten and eliminate dairy products, avoid citrus foods and consume sugars and in small amouts only.  In addition supplements  can help to support the immune system;

  • Essential fatty acids (EFA) like fish or fish oil, flax seed and borage seed oil.
  • Probiotics
  • Turmeric or ginger for its anti-inflammatory action.


Finally, spring may have just sprung. The long, cold and damp winter has not been kind to our bodies with exacerbations of arthritic and rheumatic pains and nasty cold and flu viruses in the air. Dark and cloudy days and staying mostly indoors have deprived us of sunlight and vitamin D. Your body may need just a gentle nudge to get it back into the seasonal flow.


Here are 12 signs to look out for, and the reason for you to spend a little bit of effort getting your health back on-line.

  1. Weight gain, a few extra pounds gained over the winter overeating indulgence.
  2. Tired and sluggish, can’t think properly, ‘brain fog’ and poor concentration.
  3. Emotionally feeling stressed, low and lethargic.
  4. Tired eyes, dark circles around the eyes or puffiness around the face.
  5. Digestive discomfort or bloating and heartburn.
  6. Poor sleep. Difficulty falling or staying asleep, or waking up tired and unrefreshed.
  7. Drinking alcohol in the evenings to unwind or relax.
  8. Stopped attending the usual exercise, sport, yoga, and dance or meditation class.
  9. Eating more processed food or ready meals, and less fresh fruit and vegetable.
  10. Appearance of spots, dry skin patches or exacerbation of allergies and eczema.
  11. Headaches
  12. Body aches and pains.

To get yourself back on track, here are some things you can do.

  • Shift that body: It is a known fact that physical activity promotes the release of ‘endorphins’ also know as feel good chemicals. It relaxes the muscle and joints and invigorates the mind, thus preventing low mood and depression. Movement also improves the body’s blood circulation but also lymphatic flow which is important for our immune system. When we move our muscles act as a natural pump, helping blood to return to the heart, whilst the lymph flow is increased by 15-30 times. Our bone density responds to high impact movements (like jumping), making them stronger. Exercise also helps with weight management.
  • Good sleep regimen allows the body to rest and recuperate. The body has a natural circadian rhythm which is linked to the release of hormones and regulation of body functions. Research has shown that when we are awake the brain is in a state of inflammation, and sleep helps to reduce that inflammation.
  • Hydration, the body is 70% water and the blood and lymph circulation is dependent on it. Avoid dehydrating drinks such as tea, coffee, fizzy drinks and alcohol.
  • Clean up the diet by minimising processed and high carb foods especially bread, cakes, biscuits and fatty and fried foods. Avoid sugary foods.  Freshly cooked foods are much preferred. Regularise your eating and increase fruit and vegetables and essential fats found in fish, seeds and nuts.
  • Mindfulness is an excellent practice to manage stress and emotional distress. It calms and relaxes the mind and body.
  • Friends and Family is important for our well-being. Enjoy some relaxing or playful time with them.
  • Supplements can help to make up for loss due to increased stress, but also normalise existing body levels. Stress increases cortisol levels, which makes you eat more thus contributing to weight gain. In particular it also uses up B vitamins, vitamin C and minerals magnesium and zinc. It also affects the digestive microbiome of good bacteria which is extremely important for our immune system, so increasing pre or probiotic intake through food or supplement can help.
  • Therapies like massage, acupuncture, yoga is extremely beneficial for well being. They give an extra boost to health. Their importance is even more so when the usual self-management or health changes may not be sufficient. They are an added dimension to the overall treatment to facilitate and focus on health improvement to get added benefits to getting better.


If you are experiencing abnormal tiredness and general weakness which does not seem to remedy with added rest; you become breathless and/or dizzy; People say you look unusually pale; there may be palpitations, headaches, brittle nails, poor appetite, swollen feet and leg pains. Then you may be Anaemic.

Anaemia is most common (but not exclusive) in adolescent girls, women in their reproductive years and pregnant women. Toddlers on milk-based diets are also at risk.  Anaemia is diagnosed when red blood cell levels fall below normal. Red blood cells contain haemoglobin responsible for carrying oxygen to the tissues. As a result of anaemia the amount of oxygen supplied to the tissues is reduced. The most common type of anaemia is Iron deficiency. Iron is needed for the production of red blood cells. The main causes of iron deficiency anaemia are;

  • Poor diet: Your body needs iron regularly. Over a period of time a diet lacking in iron will result in iron deficiency.
  • Blood loss: Loss of blood during menstruation puts women at risk of anaemia, particularly if the periods are heavy. Slow, chronic blood loss can be through peptic ulcer bleeding, a colon polyp, colorectal cancer.
  • Inability to absorb iron: Conditions like celiac disease and pancreatic disease affects intestinal absorption and can lead to iron deficiency anaemia. Hypochlorhydria is associated with low levels of hydrochloric acid in the gastric juices of the stomach which affects the absorption of iron present in the diet.
  • Pregnancy: In pregnancy it is normal for the total blood volume to increase. Without iron supplementation there may be a risk of developing anaemia. However since iron blocks the absorption of zinc, it must not be prescribed without first checking serum ferritin levels.
  • Drugs that block iron absorption: Prolonged use of antacids and ulcer medication will lower the levels of hydrochloric acid thus reduce the absorption of iron.
  • Dietary blockers: Some foods if eaten in larger amounts and frequently can hinders iron absorption e.g. calcium (milk, yogurt, cheese, broccoli, almonds), eggs contains a phosphoprotein which binds with iron, Oxalates (spinach, kale, beets, nuts chocolates, tea) bind with iron, Polyphenols found in tea, coffee, cocoa, spices, walnuts, apples, blackberries have the ability to inhibit iron absorption. Similarly tannins are naturally occurring plant-based substances can interfere with non-haem iron absorption from some plants such as beans, legumes, spinach and other dark-green leafy vegetables. Phytates (soy protein, fibre, almonds sesame, dried beans lentils, pea and whole grains) also have strong inhibitory affect on iron absorption.


  1. Improving iron intake

Iron deficiency anaemia can be corrected by introducing plentiful of iron rich foods. These include;

  • Meat, poultry and liver
  • Seafood
  • Dark fresh green leafy vegetables, beans, peas
  • Dried fruits (raisins, apricots)
  • Iron-fortified cereals, breads and pasta
  1. Enhancing Absorption

As a general rule always take multivitamins alongside any iron supplements that may have been prescribed to you. This will enable the various chemical processes that take place when iron is being absorbed. This can further be enhanced by taking probiotics, which will be of particular benefit if there are any digestive symptoms. Drinking plentiful of fluids and water is also a must. Other things to consider include;

  • Increasing foods with high vitamin C content such as; broccoli, citrus fruits, kiwi, leafy greens, melons, peppers, strawberries and tomatoes.
  • Avoid foods containing tannins e.g. black, green and rooibos tea, coffee, grapes, wine,  sorghum and corn.
  • Avoid gluten, particularly if there is a diagnosis of celiac disease or other food allergies or intolerances. Gluten is damaging to the intestinal wall.
  • Avoid foods containing phytates (see examples above).
  • Avoid antacids and ulcer medication.
  • Long term alcohol intake can damage the gut and inhibit folate absorption and functioning of iron.


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