Rheumatoid Arthritis: a Functional Medicine Approach

by Dr. Kilcup | Oct 5, 2017 | Arthritis, Articles

rheumatoid arthritisI just Googled rheumatoid arthritis–talk about depressing! Here is my summary of what I found, “If you have rheumatoid arthritis you’re doomed to live the rest of your life in pain and deformity. Get ready to buy lots of drugs to help with the pain (while slowly ruining the rest of your health for the rest of your life) because there is nothing else you can do”.

What a bunch of nonsense!

If you’ve been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) don’t listen to this garbage! There is so much you can do that will not slowly kill you, and in many cases will cure this terrible disease. In this article I’m going to explain a functional medicine approach to rheumatoid arthritis, and I hope it gives you hope that you are not cursed with pain and deformity for the rest of your life.

The basics of rheumatoid arthritis

Generally anything that causes joint pain is called arthritis. There are two basic categories of arthritis. There is arthritis that is from a joint getting injured or just good old fashioned hard work. Some of the joints in my hands are showing signs of this arthritis from years of working on people. The names used for this kind of arthritis are osteoarthritis or degenerative joint disease. There are no blood tests that diagnosis this kind of arthritis. Most of the time this kind of arthritis can be diagnosed by simple observation and if necessary an x-ray.

The second major category of arthritis happens as a result of something in the blood hurting the joints. These types of arthritis have nothing to do with use mechanical wear and tear. Rheumatoid arthritis is the most common arthritis of this category. Blood tests and x-ray can be very helpful in diagnosing RA.

What triggers rheumatoid arthritis?

Even with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, no one has literally had rheumatoid arthritis from birth. So what triggers it? Even with JRA most kids “outgrow” it. So what changes in the body that causes or stops RA? This is the heart of functional medicine. Functional medicine isn’t about treating RA or any disease. Unless a functional medicine doc can figure out what has gone wrong to cause a disease, he or she can’t do much for it.

Intestinal Infections

Science is full great studies linking various infections to rheumatoid arthritis. Infections in the intestinal tract are an example of this. I wrote about these links in this article. If you haven’t, please read this article.

In addition to gut infections, there are other pathogens that have been linked to RA.


Mycoplasmas are the smallest of all bacteria. There many kinds of mycoplasmas and they can infect pretty much any cell in the body. This means that mycoplasma that can cause everything from respiratory problems to chronic fatigue, and even rheumatoid arthritis. Mycoplasma is often a co-infection with Lyme disease.

As early as 1939, research has linked mycoplasma to RA.[1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17737031] Since then, as technology as advanced, more research has linked mycoplasma to RA.[2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11128659] [3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11752504]

The tough part with the mycoplasmas is that they  (like Lyme) can be difficult to diagnose. There are blood tests that can show them, but a negative test is no guarantee that a person is not suffering from a mycoplasma.

Dental infections

Periodontitis has been linked to RA.[4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18050377] [5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20151800] [6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20595268] Turns out that the bacteria that causes gum disease can also trigger RA. Needless to say if you have RA you need to take really good care of your teeth. Well actually, there are plenty of reasons to take good care of your teeth!

In some people a root canal can trigger RA.[13. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12175115] A tooth that has had a root canal can be the perfect place for bad bugs to make a home and make a person sick. Because the tooth is dead and has no blood flow, bacteria can hide safely and proliferate in the many tiny tubules of the tooth. The pathogen can set up headquarters there and go out and wreak havoc in other parts of your body. If you have RA and you have a root canal it might be worth having that tooth pulled.


Viruses like Epstein Barr Virus, Cytomegalovirus and even Herpes viruses are suspected to trigger RA.[7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10857780] [8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15044921] [9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8164203] [10. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8156301] [11. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8343184] Thankfully diagnosing these viruses is pretty straight forward with blood testing.

Leaky Gut

If you are not familiar with a condition known as Leaky Gut please read my article HERE for the whole story. Leaky gut causing conditions like RA are well documented [12. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s12016-011-8291-x]. So here is the big take away–anything that can potentially cause a leaky gut can trigger rheumatoid arthritis. Again please see my article on leaky gut for all the specifics.


Why doesn’t everyone with one or more of these triggers get rheumatoid arthritis? Great question! I have lots of patients with one or more of these triggers and they don’t have RA. The best answer we have thus far is genetics. People with certain genetic types will develop RA from these triggers.


The particular trigger or triggers that cause rheumatoid arthritis dictate the treatment. Isn’t that beautiful? Functional medicine doesn’t try to force people into cookie cutter treatments.

If you have RA and have been told there is nothing you can do but take a bunch of drugs, I want you to know there is hope! Take the initiative and get started working on this with a good functional medicine doctor!

Darrell Kilcup, DC, CFMP

Hi there! I’m Dr. Kilcup. You know that health problem you’ve been dealing with – the one that doctors can’t seem to solve, that’s stealing way too much of your time, energy and joy? I can help you get to the bottom that. I am passionate about using the best of science and nutrition to find and fix root causes of health issues. Start your journey towards healing and relief today.

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