Rheumatoid Arthritis: The Smoking Gun

Rheumatoid arthritis and smoking, the effectsRheumatoid arthritis is a fairly common autoimmune disease, with approximately 1.5 million people in the United States affected in some way. Also known as RA, this chronic illness can progress quickly and is able to do major damage to the body if not treated properly and acutely. Essentially, the immune system within the body accidentally attacks joints and cartilage (detected through rheumatoid factor or CCP antibodies), instead of foreign bacteria and viruses that can cause sickness. This attack on the joints causes inflammation, and results in pain. (1) Typically, this damage and irritation to joints is noticed in knees, hands, ankles, and elbows…. however, rheumatoid arthritis has been known to affect other systems within the body as well, such as the respiratory system (including the lungs and airway). (1)

Research has shown that the movement of this disease into the lungs and corresponding respiratory system makes up 10-20% of people that pass away from this illness, and progresses differently in each person diagnosed. (2) What’s interesting is that even though it’s difficult to confirm how or when someone might get this disease, there’s one thing for sure that’s a key factor – smoking. While rheumatoid arthritis occurs more often in females than males, males tend to show more scarring within the lungs, which correlates with the fact that smoking is a risk factor for this type of lung disease. Granted, there are cases of rheumatoid arthritis and lung disease/scarring that can happen in folks that don’t smoke – but there is a prevalent connection between the two. (2)

The goal of catching rheumatoid arthritis early is so that it can be treated quickly and hopefully reduce symptoms and progression. However, studies have shown that males who were diagnosed with RA later in life and had a history of smoking (and continued to smoke, even through treatments and therapy) had the largest risk and chance of the disease progressing and lung function deteriorating. (2)

arthritis made worse with smoking

There’s no question that smoking is a big risk factor for the onset and progression of rheumatoid arthritis. (4) Smoking not only impacts our bodies on the cellular level, but it also essentially takes the body into an inflammatory state, which impacts the immune system and increases the risk of infection. This inflammation and infection are both correlated as common causes of rheumatoid arthritis, and the oxidative stress that is placed on the body with smoking has shown to also increase inflammation that would otherwise be fought with antioxidants that are no longer working due to massive amounts of free radicals from the smoking chemicals. (3)

Unfortunately, there are some people out there that have resorted to smoking marijuana to try and manage the pain and corresponding symptoms that go along with rheumatoid arthritis; this means of treatment has many negative side effects, including making the airways inflamed, and putting more resistance on the airways – effectively making it harder to breathe. (6) Marijuana can also increase the risk of heart attack and stroke, which would put someone with rheumatoid arthritis whose disease has progressed to the cardiovascular system in an even more precarious position.  The desire to relieve pain is incredibly powerful in conditions like this and it would appear that THC would be a great alternative to biologic drugs like methotrexate (chemo drug), plaquenil, enbrel or certainly prednisone – but unfortunately the physical act of heating any material and inhaling it only perpetuates the vicious circle of autoimmune arthritis!

In the end, research has shown us that people who have rheumatoid arthritis and who do not smoke have better responses to therapy for treating this chronic disease than those who do smoke; smoking can worsen the side effects and symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, and can even lead to other cardiovascular diseases and heart issues. (5) If you have questions or need to speak to someone in regards to natural treatment for RA, contact your local Boulder/Denver functional medicine doctors and they can help you set up a treatment plan that works for you and the progression of your illness!

Ian Hollaman, DC, MSc, IFMCP

Want a 15 consult to discuss your case with Dr. Ian?  We recently started up our “meet the doc” appointments due to high demand!  Call 303-882-8447 to see if we can let your health soar.

(1)  Arthritis Foundation. What Is Rheumatoid Arthritis?

(2) Lake, F., and Proudman, S. (2014). Rheumatoid Arthritis and Lung Disease: From Mechanisms to a Practical Approach. Seminars in Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, 35(02), pp. 222-238. DOI: 10.1055/s-0034-1371542

(3) Chang, K., Yang, S. M., Kim, S. H., Han, K. H., Park, S. J., & Shin, J. I. (2014). Smoking and rheumatoid arthritis. International Journal of Molecular Sciences, 15(12), pp. 22279–22295. doi:10.3390/ijms151222279

(4) Rydell, E., Forslind, K., Nilsson, J. Å., Jacobsson, L., & Turesson, C. (2018). Smoking, body mass index, disease activity, and the risk of rapid radiographic progression in patients with early rheumatoid arthritis. Arthritis Research & Therapy, 20(1), pp. 82. doi:10.1186/s13075-018-1575-2

(5) Kandola, A. (2018). Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA): Prognosis. Medical News Today. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/323631.php

(6) Volkow, N. D., Baler, R. D., Compton, W. M., & Weiss, S. R. (2014). Adverse health effects of marijuana use. The New England Journal of Medicine, 370(23), pp. 2219–2227. doi:10.1056/NEJMra1402309

Stem Cells: Can They Help Paralysis?

stem cells, can they help paralysisUnfortunately, injuries of the spinal column are not an uncommon thing.  Studies have shown that incidences like these happen in up to 80 million people each year. Typically, these accidents are caused by falls, violence with knives or guns, and car accidents, along with arthritis or cancer. Spinal cord injuries can cause damage that interferes with normal functioning of motor skills, as well as sensory perceptions.(1)

There are set standards as to how severe and impairing these injuries to the spinal column can be, and they are determined by the American Spinal Injury Association. The worst is complete paralysis, and with it comes an increased risk of death, since there can be complications with breathing, blood clots, infections, and long-lasting nerve pain, just to name a few.(1)

Thankfully, because of stem cells and their ability to differentiate into multiple types of cells, they have been vastly studied in regards to helping improve and treat spinal cord injuries. This is imperative, seeing as how less than 3% of people with injuries such as these regain any type of functional strength back.(2)

Research has been done for more than twenty years on using stem cells for spinal cord injuries, because of the fact that repairing tissues and improving the networks between the nervous systems is what can lead to better treatment of people with injuries like this. Stem cells have the ability to renew themselves as well, so paired with being able to make themselves into different cell types is best for spinal injuries.(2)

Studies have shown that after damage to the spinal cord, the body actually tries to repair itself; however, scar tissue is formed by some cells, which inhibits re-growth. This is where stem cells come in to help decrease the amount of functional loss. Promoting growth in areas of damage seems to help repair certain areas of the body, especially the spinal column! Amazingly, research has shown that stem cells have the ability to differentiate into neural cells, which can then assist in the recovery and repair process.(3)

The outlook for stem cell research is very promising! A fantastic example is a recent one…a man was paralyzed in 2016 from injuries due to a car accident. In order to hopefully promote function back into his limbs and increase quality of life, he underwent treatment with stem cells that were aimed to stimulate growth of nerve cells as well as forming new blood vessels that could bring fresh oxygen and blood to the site of injury. Amazingly enough, this man was able to regain function and participate in activities of daily living after about 3 months of treatment!(4)

Although there is much research still needing to be done in regards to the extent at which stem cells can be utilized in order to help renew, regenerate, and repair injuries that can lead to full or partial paralysis, the future is promising. Granted, just stem cell therapy in and of itself is not enough to fully heal the devastating effects of paralysis and spinal cord injuries; however, combining these regenerative and protective cells with other therapeutic modalities will hopefully help begin to heal and treat many injuries that are out there today and get people back to functioning normally.(1)

If you have questions about potential treatments for spinal cord injuries or improving/increasing your quality of living after suffering from an injury such as this, contact your local functional medicine doctors around the Denver area and they would be more than happy to speak with you about your options!

(1) Gazdic, M., Volarevic, V., Harrell, C. R., Fellabaum, C., Jovicic, N., Arsenijevic, N., & Stojkovic, M. (2018). Stem Cells Therapy for Spinal Cord Injury. International journal of molecular sciences, 19(4), 1039. doi:10.3390/ijms19041039
(2) Shroff G. (2016). Human Embryonic Stem Cell Therapy in Chronic Spinal Cord Injury: A Retrospective Study. Clinical and translational science, 9(3), 168–175. doi:10.1111/cts.12394
(3) Nandoe Tewarie, R. S., Hurtado, A., Bartels, R. H., Grotenhuis, A., & Oudega, M. (2009). Stem cell-based therapies for spinal cord injury. The journal of spinal cord medicine, 32(2), 105–114.