I’m An Artist With Arthritis

Posted: June 11, 2017 in life, Roz Abellera, Uncategorized
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About 3 years ago, I started to get pains in my right elbow. It became increasingly worse and was usually accompanied with stiffness to the point where I couldn’t fully straighten out my right arm. Then the pain and stiffness showed up in my toes. I was still stubborn and didn’t go to the doctor, because you know, unfortunately, that’s how some of us men are. We ignore symptoms until it becomes worse or too late.  I ignored it until it showed up in my hands.  I got scared when I could no longer shut a couple of my fingers closed all the way. As an artist, my hands are my tools so I couldn’t ignore the problem any longer.

I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. I was shocked. At the time, I thought arthritis only happened to the elderly. “It couldn’t happen to me,” -I was wrong.  Some researchers believe that arthritis is caused by when something goes wrong with a person’s immune system, an autoimmune disorder, meaning that the body attacks itself. In this case, the joints.

A healthy immune system protects the body. It generates internal inflammation to get rid of infection and prevent disease. But the immune system can go wrong, mistakenly attacking the joints with uncontrolled inflammation, sometimes causing joint erosion and may damage other parts of the body. Rheumatoid arthritis and psoriatic arthritis are examples of inflammatory arthritis. Researchers believe that a combination of genetics and environmental factors can trigger autoimmunity. Smoking is an example of an environmental risk factor that can trigger rheumatoid arthritis in people with certain genes.

With autoimmune and inflammatory types of arthritis, remission is the goal and may be achieved through the use of one or more medications. The goal of treatment is to reduce pain, improve function, and prevent further joint damage.

I tried prescribed medications for a while but didn’t like the way they made me feel, they made me nauseous for some reason. I also don’t like the idea of becoming dependent upon prescribed medications so I sought out another route. That’s when I found my naturopathic doctor, a doctor who practices natural medicine, which is what I prefer.

My doctor explained to me that some people have a sensitivity to gluten. Gluten is a composite of storage proteins which is stored together with starch and found in various grass related grains. It is found in wheat, barley, rye, oat, related and products of these (such as malt). Gluten is appreciated for its viscoelastic properties. It gives elasticity to dough, helping it rise and keep its shape and often gives the final product a chewy texture. So I decided together with my doctor to try a gluten-free diet.

A gluten-free diet meant I would have to alter the way I eat. But I was okay with this. I’d do whatever it would take just to feel normal again. A gluten-free diet meant I would have to say goodbye to wheat, which is in bread and pasta, as I know it. Wheat in all forms including spelt, kamut, triticale (a combination of wheat and rye), durum, einkorn, farina, semolina, cake flour, matzo (or matzah) and couscous. Wheat is found in many bread, cakes, cereals, cookies, crackers, pretzels, pasta and pizza crusts, but it can turn up in other products, too. This meant I would have to read the labels on the foods I buy because even seemingly “safe” foods like licorice candy even contains wheat. This also meant I would have to give up or lower my sugar intake because sugar can also cause inflammation.

Had this occurred to me ten years ago, it would have been harder to go gluten free because back then there really wasn’t a market for it. So this meant you had to make almost everything from scratch at home. Now, you can walk into almost any major grocery store and they have their own gluten free section where you’ll find bread, pasta, cookies, crackers, even pizza, -all gluten free. They make them with either tapioca flour or rice flour instead of wheat flour.

So has the gluten free diet helped me? Yes, immensely. I can now bend my arms all the way and close my affected fingers about 95% of the way. I still have a way to go with this lifestyle (because I slip up once in a great while), but I’m getting better.

I loathe the day that arthritis takes my whole hand and I’m unable to paint or draw because of it. At that point, I would probably tape a paintbrush to my hand and have a go at it (talk about suffering for your art). But I’m trying to prevent from going to that point, this is why I eat this way. I’m not trying to make a point, or trying to be cool or on some fad diet. This is a lifestyle and I do it for a reason.

Another thing I’d like to bring up is that there are reports that a gluten-free diet can be dangerous to some people if your body isn’t compatible with it. So please, consult with your physician first before going on it. I only wrote this because my doctor suggested it and it worked for me.

So if you see me at a party or a get together of some sort and I’m not eating Aunt Mabel’s cake, it isn’t because I’m being picky or mean. I’m only trying to prevent a flare up.

-Roz

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