Each year, more than 2 million Americans suffer excruciating pain from inflamed and swollen joints, crippled hands that can’t hold a glass and even complete loss of some of their joints. The cause: Rheumatoid arthritis (RA). And within five years, 7 percent of these RA sufferers will be seriously disabled—and those are the ones who are currently on doctor-prescribed prescription drug therapy.
RA is a “systemic” disease. Simply put, it affects the whole body. Besides the tissues around the joints, RA also affects the glands of the eyes and mouth, the lining of the lungs and the pericardium (the protective area around the heart). It can reduce both red and white blood cell count, which lowers a person’s immune response to viruses and infections. Rheumatoid nodules (hard lumps) can appear around the elbows and fingers, frequently becoming infected. And the most serious complication is blood vessel inflammation, or vasculitis—impairment of the blood supply to the tissues, which leads to tissue death.
The traditional course of treatment has been a mixture of rest, exercise and a two-pronged drug therapy attack. While no one would dispute the benefits of relaxation and exercise, the drugs used to treat RA have serious side affects—possibly even death. And the sad fact is they do not even cure the disease! At best, the drugs can mask an RA victim’s pain or slow the disease’s progress. And even at that, they are not 100 percent effective.
Worldwide research toward finding the cause and cure for RA is very active. And at last the hard work appears to be paying off. Scientists at Case Western Reserve University (CWRU) carried out two impressive studies. The first shows that a cup of tea—specifically green tea—not only reduces the severity of RA but also, in some cases, prevents it all together! The second study offers even more promising hope as to the healing power of green tea for RA sufferers.
RA is non-discriminating as to whom it affects. Yet research is finding ethnic background and race do play a part in progression and outcome. It is likely, however, that this is due to societal factors rather than biological ones. RA is more prevalent in women than in men. Approximately three times as many women will suffer from this life-robbing disease than men. Any age group can be affected, but onset is usually around 40 to 60 years of age. There is a form of RA called juvenile rheumatoid arthritis which usually affects children under the age of 16.
The truly sinister aspect of this disease is the extreme difficulty in diagnosing it. There isn’t one test that doctors can use to determine if someone has RA. Nor do all cases display the same set of symptoms. There are cases (approximately 10 percent) where the patient has an immediate initial flare up. Usually, though, the progress of RA is slow and insidious. So when the person is finally diagnosed, she can have already suffered irreparable damage.
With the findings now coming out of CWRU, this agony may soon be a thing of the past. What has already been proven to combat cancer is now showing it can do the same for RA. Next to water, tea is the second most consumed beverage in the world. And if that tea is green, it might possibly save your life, which is a far cry better than damaging your body with synthetic drugs.
Toxicity of Bio-Med Treatments
The usual prescription for a patient diagnosed with RA is bed rest and a regulated exercise program. But the mainstay of treatment is a two-tiered drug therapy. The first tier consists of what is known as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). These range from common over-the-counter analgesics—pain medications like aspirin and Bufferin®—to similar prescribed drugs which do nothing but lower the level of pain. Meanwhile, the person’s body is still slowly crumbling away.
Once the cornerstone of RA therapy, NSAID usage is declining because these drugs have been found to be more toxic than once believed. A recent study from the University of Pennsylvania Medical Center found that some of the new NSAIDs just recently approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) might increase the risk of heart attacks, strokes and other harmful cardiovascular problems! Additionally, almost all NSAIDs can cause serious gastrointestinal side effects—including ulceration, bleeding and perforation—at any time and without warning.
Second-line drugs are called disease modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs). These drugs actually address some of the causes of arthritic pain, such as inflammation and swelling. The belief is that their use may help prevent any further damage to the joints. But the price RA victims pay for this “cure” can be very high.
Among the least harmful side effects of the more commonly prescribed drug, Methodtrexate®, are headaches, upset stomach, loss of appetite and mouth sores. More dangerous is the drug’s potential to reduce the patient’s white and red blood cell counts and even to cause kidney damage! Cytoxan®, another commonly used DMARD, can increase the risk of developing leukemia and bladder cancer and can cause temporary or permanent sterility in both men and women!
From the work being conducted at CWRU and other laboratories, scientists are now learning that they don’t have to use a sledgehammer to knock out RA and that something as gentle and soothing as a cup of green tea can do the job nicely.
Nature’s Healing Bush
It’s old news that green tea has natural medicinal qualities. In 1211 A.D., the Buddhist monk Eisai wrote about the healing wonder of green tea in his book, Maintaining Health by Drinking Tea. Green tea, like all true tea, comes from the leaves of the camellia sinensis tree. And 90 percent of the world’s supply of tea is still produced in China.
What makes green tea so powerful is a chemical compound called polyphenol, which occurs naturally in plants and works as an antioxidant. Polyphenols work to protect the body from the oxidative stress that causes diseases. Specifically, the polyphenol epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) is an extremely powerful antioxidant. In fact, EGCG antioxidant activity is more powerful than the antioxidants found in vitamins C and E.
After 15 years of working with green tea in his cancer research, Dr. Hasan Mukhtar started looking at the possible benefits this drink could have for people with RA. Realizing that both disorders were inflammatory in nature, his team began testing to see if green tea would have the same healing affect on RA as it does on cancer and cardiovascular disease.
His first paper, Prevention of Collagen-Induced Arthritis in Mice by a Polyphenolic Fraction of Green Tea, was presented to the National Academy of Sciences in April 2005. The results were astounding. Out of the 18 mice that were given green tea extract, 10 never developed any arthritic symptoms and symptoms in the remaining eight were a much milder form of arthritis. The amount of green tea given was the equivalent of drinking four cups a day. Lead author of the paper, Dr. Tariq M. Haqqi said, “Taken together, our studies suggest that a polyphenolic fraction from green tea that is rich in antioxidants may be useful in the prevention and onset and severity of arthritis.”
Three independent and controlled experiments were conducted. Using a widely accepted animal model that is very similar to RA, the mice were injected with collagen to induce arthritis. Two groups were studied for 40 days, while a third was examined for 85 days to verify that the green tea did not simply delay the onset of the disease.
Green tea, unlike the more widely used black version, is not fermented. Instead of crushing the tea leaves, thereby removing the polyphenols, green tea is first dried, and then heated. One teaspoon steeped in hot (not boiling) water contains anywhere from 100 to 200mg of EGCG. Milk should not be added, as it negates the tea’s beneficial properties. According to this study and others that were done for other diseases, two to four cups a day is usually recommended.
In a second study, researchers found further evidence that green tea is a powerful tool in the fight against RA. They discovered that the polyphenol ECGC could protect human articular chondrocytes from being destroyed in what is known as apoptosis, or cell suicide. These chondrocytes are cells that are responsible for releasing cartilage, the very thing that RA attacks. Dr. Haqqi said this exciting discovery, coupled with their earlier study, offers RA patients new hope. Though the existing damage RA may have caused will not be repaired, it seems green tea will aid in halting any further progress. And by sipping several cups of green tea every day, those who are genetically predisposed to RA may never have to suffer from its disastrous effects.
Human trials are currently being developed. In the meantime, however, Mukhtar and Haqqi both strongly encourage people to start drinking green tea. Nobody has shown any form of toxicity associated with tea, and with the tremendous amount of data showing its many beneficial qualities, it is a wise and wholesome preventive measure.
Yours in self-directed wellness,
—Dr. Mark Wiley