Friday, August 6, 2010

What Are Your Triggers?

Some blame tomatoes. Some blame the weather. Some blame their spouse. Are any of them right? Having lived with rheumatoid arthritis for five years, I’ve yet to draw a conclusion on what causes flares. But I have made a few observations.

What are your triggers? I believe that the answer to this question will be different for everyone. It takes a lot of time, and attention to one’s body, before it can be answered.

When I was newly diagnosed, I did extensive research on this topic. An idea is circulating indicating that nightshades – fruits and vegetables such as tomatoes, eggplants, and peppers – are at the root of the inflammatory response, and should not be consumed. I experimented with elimination and re-introduction of these foods, and found absolutely no foundation for this claim. I read similar accusations against corn, and came up with the same conclusion: it was harmless for me. Dairy? Same story. Yet again, I eliminated and re-introduced it to my diet, and found that it had no effect. I tried limiting my protein intake, eating only plant-based foods, supplementing with glucosamine and chondroitin. I played guinea pig for months. None of it had an effect on me.

Yet I do notice that if I go a little crazy on sugar…pow - flare. I haven’t read a single report that even hints at a relationship between arthritis flares and sugar. Yet I have observed a pattern in my own body: too much sugar → arthritis pain. So I avoid it.

We’ve all heard old wives' tales about elder-folks who forecast weather via aches and pains. Can you tell if the humidity has increased, or that a storm is coming, by the way your joints react? I, quite often, can. Yet there seems to be no proof that weather causes flares.

On the other hand, stress has been proven to cause flares. In fact, it is suspected that stress may even be capable of triggering the onset of the illness. Stress can wreak havoc on our lives in so many ways. This is going to sound cavalier, but I mean this sincerely, we need to avoid it. That may mean yoga, or meditation, or breathing exercise. It may mean taking a walk, or turning off the news once in a while. Learn what de-stresses you, and start doing it!

Another known set of triggers – even less controllable than stress – are viruses and bacteria. While we can’t control what’s floating around out there, we can do the little things – like washing hands more frequently and wiping down the shopping cart before taking a spin around the store.

Conversely, I’ve found that exercise decreases flares. If I stop working out, I start having more and more pain.

In my experience, keeping a journal was a tremendously helpful tool for identifying patterns of flares. What was I eating? Experiencing? Feeling? What was the weather like? Knowing what brings on a flare is empowering. Who couldn’t stand a little of that?

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