Infectious Arthritis?

Can a combination of conventional and alternative medicines offer relief to those who suffer from rheumatoid arthritis?

By Richard Firshein, published May 1, 1998 - last reviewed on June 9, 2016

QUESTION: My mother suffers from rheumatoid arthritis, which flared up last year when she lost her job. Her doctor prescribed an antibiotic, and it seems to be working. However, she is worried about taking an antibiotic every day for years. Any suggestions?

ANSWER: Rheumatoid arthritis can strike at any age, and is often disabling. Recently, strides have been made in treating this disease, both in mainstream and alternative medicine, I like to combine both approaches. Antibiotics can help. Researchers have found that a drug called minocycline may block enzymes that destroy cartilage inside joints. It's also possible that certain bacteria in the gut cause the immune system to overreact and attack its own tissues; antibiotics may work by killing these bacteria. Several studies have shown exactly this link.

Because of this, I like to prescribe what I call probiotics, which are friendly bacteria that actually fight off harmful invaders. They can also prevent the yeast infections commonly associated with antibiotic use. I recommend a combination of strains of friendly bacteria. The first is lactobacillus, the most common form of acidophilus, which colonizes the small intestine. Two of the best-studied forms are lactobacillus easel and rhamnosus, both powerful restorative aids. Just as important are bifidobacteria, which colonize the large intestine. Studies have shown that they may even help prevent colon cancer. It's also important to eat a high-fiber diet, which tends to promote healthier bacterial flora. Flaxseed powder can also enhance the growth of beneficial bacteria.

I also find other supplements helpful in arthritis. Some of my patients with this condition have developed food allergies and are deficient in stomach acid and digestive enzymes. Supplements containing these substances can help greatly. I also suggest daily doses of vitamin C and pycnogenol, a powerful anti-oxidant extracted from pine bark. Fish-oil supplements can also decrease inflammation if taken daily over a period of months.

Clearly, more research needs to be done on this debilitating illness, but I am greatly encouraged by the results I've seen using a combination of mainstream and natural therapies.