Many years ago, out in rural central Texas where I lived at the time, my neighbor Gladys suffered severe rheumatoid arthritis. After failing to get relief from a series of medications, Gladys discovered her personal super-food: catfish.
The days Gladys ate catfish, specifically, the days she ate catfish caught in the creek that ran behind both of our houses, her arthritis seemed to go away. Soon she dressed in jeans, long sleeves, and her sunbonnet and carrying a fishing pole became an everyday sight around her farm, and ours. The formerly abundant catfish became much harder to catch, but Gladys enjoyed mobility and freedom from pain she had not known in years.
Although I’ve never heard of anyone else who cured arthritis with fried catfish, my neighbor’s general approach to dealing with her disease was scarcely unique. People who have rheumatoid arthritis and their doctors in their more honest moments will often tell you that some foods aggravate arthritis and other foods make it better.
The problem in treating rheumatoid arthritis with whole foods has been that one person’s “super-food” has no effect at all for someone else, or may even make arthritis worse. Since foods can’t be patented, there have been no millions in research money to research the patterns of foods that may help everyone who has rheumatoid arthritis. Moreover, the research establishment has been debunking food as a treatment for arthritis for over eighty years.
In the early 1900s, many doctors published reports on the use of food to treat rheumatic diseases. Food cures, of course, competed with sales of the new wonder drug, aspirin. In 1932, a Dr. Weatherbee analyzed 350 cases of arthritis and concluded that “Dietary treatments of all types had been tried in many cases [but]...little definite improvement dietary management alone was reported.” As steroid drugs began to appear on the market, criticism of food cures for arthritis intensified.
A comprehensive review of the medical research of its time—1940—concluded, “The incidence of food allergy among rheumatic patients is not significant.” Medical schools had actually taught doctors how to apply food cures in arthritis, but by 1954, the last medical school textbook to discuss the use of diet in the management of rheumatoid arthritis stated, “We cannot approve the emphasis laid on the factor of food allergy in cases of atrophic arthritis; it is neither common nor do we consider it important....Cases of atrophic arthritis with undoubted and repeated articular exacerbations from foods are few and far between.”
A generation later, however, rheumatoid arthritis sufferers were still using the food cures tat medical science rejected. In 1981, the Arthritis Foundation (AF) attempted to educate the public on the need to use prescription medications. An AF pamphlet read in part,” (Every potential)relationship between diet and arthritis has been (completely) and scientifically studied. In our opinion the incontrovertible fact is: no food ever has any relationship with the causes of arthritis and no food is effective in ‘curing” or treating it.” Over the two decades since this pronouncement, dedicated researchers have proven this statement wrong.