After 30+ years on medications, Luba has found an alternative method of managing rheumatoid arthritis symptoms based on daily exercise, stress management and a plant-based diet.
We discuss in this interview:
- A long list of the medications Luba has been on, that she had to quit due to side effects or loss of efficacy
- How stress always played a major role in the onset of symptoms
- Her switch to a whole-foods, plant-based diet, which led to normal labs for the first time
- Luba’s extensive research for exercise and stress management methods, that she has organized in a daily routine
- The connection between stress and exercise
- Limitations of traditional medicine in treating her condition
- Healthy diet habits
- Integrating occasional prednisone doses
Clint – If you’ve got rheumatoid arthritis and you have taken medications in the past or you’ve had the disease for a very long time, you’re going to relate to today’s guest. Her name is Luba, she is from the Orlando, Florida area. And we’re going to talk about all of the medications that she has tried over the past 34 years with this disease, and now how she has used a dietary and full lifestyle change to dramatically improve her condition and achieve normalized blood markers for the very first time. And what we’re going to call the Luba method of steroid use, which is an occasional intervention when she has experienced flares or reactions, and how this is all working much, much better for Luba now, even though she’s had this disease for a very long time. Good day Luba, thanks for joining me.
Luba – Hi. It’s good to be here.
Clint – Now, you have had some massive life experiences with this condition. Can you give us the shortest before and after? How are you today compared to, say, your worst in just a very short clip before we go into the details?
Luba – Uh, I’ve come to a place where my method for managing this disease is working far better than the 30-plus years I was on medications. And I feel in control, I feel stable, I don’t worry about additional joint damage happening like I did in the past. I still have occasional flares, but I have figured out how to manage those with only one medication that I take on occasion, and that’s prednisone. And then going on a vegan diet or a whole food plant-based diet really made a huge difference in helping me really manage this disease. So I’m much happier now than I was then. Not only did the medications I was on, many of them just didn’t work. Some I did use for, I think the longest I was on anything was five years. But then after five years I began to experience other problems so I was forced to go off them. And so now I just don’t worry about any of that, I’m calmer, and staying calmer is really important in managing this disease.
Clint – Yes. And you’ve given us some clues here as to the other topics we’re going to cover. We’re going to talk about stress and how that has influenced your condition and how you manage that. We’re also going to talk about exercise. So we’ve got some familiar topics here that we’ve covered in other podcasts. But you know familiarity breeds expertise in this area. So whilst we’ve covered some of these topics before, every person has their different deployment of their strategies, and so I’m looking forward to hearing those from you. We’ve only had a very brief chat before this. So all of this is new to me, I’m really excited. So let’s start with can you remember just almost a bullet point list for us? If you could name as many of the drugs that you’ve tried over the past 34 years, if you can, and your time starts now.
Luba – Actemra, Cinzia, Remicade, Azulfidine, Enbrel. I think I’ve tried all of the DMARDs.
Clint – Remicade?
Luba – I’ve tried Remicade. I’ve tried all the injectables, Humira, Orencia was the last one I tried, and Orencia gave me the biggest problems. So that’s when I said no more. You know, I had enough of all the other ones. I’ve tried Arava, I’ve tried xeljanz. I’ve tried Ridaura that’s how far back it goes. Don’t know if anybody today knows what Ridaura is. Ridaura. I started with injectables, and that’s gold. Those are gold injections. And that actually put me in remission. Um, which was great. I was in remission for three years, and then I moved to California and it flared. It came back shortly after moving to California, triggered by stress because I moved out there in six months. After moving out there, I lost my job, so that was stressful. So it came back.
Clint – Now, throughout those span of medications, would you say that the disease-modifying drugs like sorry, the TNF alphas like the Enbrel, Humira, would you have a more of a response to, say, the TNF alphas, or did you find that there was a different class of drug that helped you best, or was it totally random?
Luba – Random? I went on combinations as well of TNF and DMARDs. I went on combinations of DMARDs like hydroxychloroquine and Arava. And that combination lasted the longest with the least amount of, with no immediate side effects. Um, whereas all the others, especially with the biologics, if I was going to experience side effects, they came on pretty quickly. So it was easy to dismiss them soon enough. Things like COPD, gastritis, tendonitis, um, hypertension, Gerd. I have problems anyway, but some drugs just made it worse. And the one that was most problematic, of course, is gastritis, because that always popped up at two in the morning. Um, and, you know, it just would just lay there in agonizing pain for months on end. And then you go through the issue of doctors just not wanting to admit that it’s the medication. And even though you’re presenting them with the paperwork that says, look here, you know, and they’re like, no, that can’t be it. And that that was frustrating. Most of my doctors were great, but you did stumble upon the occasional denier.
Clint – You do get that. I see that, and hear that, from quite a few members of our support group. We’ve got this occasional denial, like the way that you’ve phrased that. Sometimes, they’re doing their best to find a medication that matches your symptoms. And then if they keep trying things and you your body keeps rejecting it as toxins, and they’re running out of options, it’s a frustrating position to be in when you don’t have too many tools in your tool kit.
Luba – Yeah, for them as well, for us, you know? Yeah, I feel bad because I think they’re genuinely there to try to help us. But, you know, if there’s nothing in their toolbox, it must trouble them as much as it, you know, troubles us.
Clint – Throughout this whole time. Were you thinking to yourself clearly, there’s got to be an underlying cause that I can address. And what did you try that didn’t work? Like. Such as? Like did you know, besides the medications, were you on a mission to address leaky gut to reduce stress, to improve your physical strength? Did you sort of have this always in your mind as a priority and what you can do about these things?
Luba – Not until recently, because I followed the traditional path of medicine, you know, for 20 some odd years, just, okay, you know, do what the doctor says, try to sleep better. But in my life, the stress continued to build, and instead of giving me alternatives to how to manage my stress, they just weren’t equipped to address that back then. So they pump me with more medications, Antidepression, hydrocodone. At one point I was probably on more medications than my 89 year old dad with heart disease. Popping 15 pills a day from one for managing stress, one for managing side effects, one for, you know, managing the disease, one for managing tendonitis, the other one for bursitis, the other one for osteo, the other one for rheumatoid. And everybody’s just popping me with pills. After a while, I think the light bulb finally went on and I said, something’s wrong with this picture. There’s got to be a better way to manage this. And, um, and my lifestyle in California was probably not helping, you know, with the not eating the right foods. I was on a, you know, omnivore diet and just didn’t know better. You know, keeping up with friends and drinking and, you know, not really thinking about. Get a better connection to your body because this ain’t working.
Luba – And so it really wasn’t until I moved to Florida. And not knowing anyone and no influences around me that I started looking at a vegan diet. But I started out vegetarian and was on that for six months, and then I went to a vegan diet. And then the first within two months, I was scheduled for labs and I looked at my labs and I’m like, you’re kidding, you’re kidding me. My labs are normal for the first time. And that’s when I realized, okay, there are better options than what I’ve been doing. And I wasn’t ready to give up on medications because I didn’t know what those other options were. And I don’t have the finances to go to doctors who don’t take Medicare. So I had to get creative, and I love research. So I will get on the computer, I will, you know, punch in Google and get on Google’s alerts for new advanced treatments and alternative lifestyles and whatever else for rheumatoid arthritis. And I’ll just read and read and read and find new things. And and with that came, you know, the realization that I have to make stress my main focus. You know, I can certainly improve my diet. It’s better than it was five years ago when I started. I was still like eating some processed foods, you know, beyond meat, burgers and stuff like that. But now I try to stick to mostly a whole food plant based and occasional treat of maybe vegan ice cream, you know, and a cookie or two.
Luba – So I continue to refine my, diet and, you know, like I said earlier, I’ve never been able to correlate a flare with something I just ate. But as soon as I feel stressed, boom, a few hours later, I’m in a flare. So that’s when I realized, I’ve tried various routines for a workout program, and I finally put together a routine I really enjoyed doing. And put it together from Eastern and Western methods of working your body, and it combines mindfulness, gratitude, breathwork, qigong, yoga, and squats, you know, conventional types of workouts, and I do that every day. If I wake up in pain, I will wait to get through my workout before I’m tempted to take a prednisone. And most days that routine works to calm my body down, and on my best days, I’m usually at below three level of pain. That’s good, and that’s very good, because I can get through the day and not recognize if I’m in pain or not, because motion is lotion, as they say.
Clint – You have made the interesting connection in one sentence between having stress, and then you led straight into your exercise routine. So without having chatted prior about this, am I interpreting that your biggest defense against stress is exercise?
Luba – Exercise? Yes. Exercise that really combines mindfulness. I mean, if I had to do them all, it would take me four hours in the morning to sit down and do meditation, then do a workout, then do breathwork. I don’t have the time for all of that, and that’s why I took the time to take pieces of different types of workouts and combine them all in, along with meditation, mindfulness and breathwork and working the body. I’m not interested in sweating anymore, I don’t need that. There are other ways to get rid of toxins, but I need to be able to move my joints and reduce my stress level. And the routine I’ve come up with does that perfectly for me.
Clint – Okay, so we’ve got natural curiosity around what this routine looks like, and I’d like you to describe that the best you can. I can see you laughing, it’s probably hard to describe. Even better would be to get you to set up a camera and film yourself doing this one day, and I’m quite serious about that. So we’re starting to go down this path quite a lot. And I do want to come back to the dietary path as well. But why don’t we stay on this thread for the moment. Let’s continue to explore further your what sounds like again, quite a unique we’ll call it the Luba routine. Just walk us through the stages where you do it, what you begin with, and then please just walk us through the details of this workout slash meditation, slash mindfulness, slash stress reduction Luba system.
Luba – Okay. I’m going to patent that. It starts with, well, do it in the house. Um, and it starts I’m usually up by seven, so that’s how I begin my day. And before I even get into working out, I set my intention. Um, and that is, you know, that’s where the mindfulness and the meditation comes in that I set this time to connect with my body and the universe and my vibration and, you know, higher frequencies. I want to make sure that I’ve elevated my emotions, that I put myself in a happy mood, and that life is good. I set my intention for optimizing my health, and I say that out loud or to myself, and that’s how I begin. So I want to make sure I’m connected to my body. So once I feel I’ve established that, which takes seconds, really, if you practice it enough. I do qigong and my favorite is a seated version of the eight pieces of brocade. And that takes about 12 minutes, that’s enough to loosen all my joints. And I follow along to someone’s video, the gal I use is called, her name Kseny. But another really good qigong guy is Lee Holden. So anyway, I just follow along with her so that I don’t have to count. So while she’s counting and I’m following, I’m saying a mantra to stay connected to my body. And the mantra will go something like, um, and I’ve, I’ve gotten this from people that I follow on the internet, and this mantra comes from, um, I can’t remember her name right now. It escapes me. But she’s a hypnotherapist and you’ve probably seen her, and I’ve adopted her mantra to my workout, which is I direct, instruct, command, and compel my genes to reset my DNA to its original state. And so while I’m doing these workouts, I’m using that mantra. From that go to a core workout, which is your usual mechanical way, your Western way of doing a core workout. It’s seated, it’s about 6 or 7 minutes long to strengthen my core and my spine, and again, I’m always reciting a mantra. From there I go to I have eye problems, so I do a yoga exercise for my eyes, and then I end the seated portion with breathwork, which uses four different types of breaths. And I use each breath to focus on a specific body part. Wim Hof you know who he is? Right? To strengthen my immune system and then a chest breathwork to alkaline my body. And then to strengthen my eyesight I direct the energy up to my eyes. Then I end with Doctor Joe Dispenza’s intense breathwork to bring that energy up to the brain and activate the pineal gland. And so that takes about another five minutes, and then I’m ready to do a standing workout, which is 60 squats along with arms and another 20 squats lifting 20lbs of weight. And I then go into a stretching that combines gratitude and with balance. I do a minute of standing on each leg while working each leg, and that’s the end. That takes about 40 minutes.
Clint – Yeah. Great. 40. Okay. 45 minutes. That’s fantastic. And you do this most days?
Luba – Uh, six days. Yeah, sometimes five days, but mostly six days a week. Monday through Saturday.
Clint – Now, what’s the difference between if you do it versus don’t do it? How impactful is this for you on symptoms?
Luba – I feel it the following morning, I will wake up in more pain than usual, so it is key. It is the highlight of my day and I wake up looking forward to doing this. The only time I don’t get to do it if something if it’s a schedule, you know something needs to happen at the time. You know, I got to prepare for something or there’s some disaster going on that some emergency or something I need to tend to. But that rarely happens. I always make the time for this.
Clint – This is a very qualitative question, but in your 34 years of RA, how does this routine compare to, say, some of the medications that you were taking?
Luba – Huge difference, huge. When I was on a lot of medications, I had a very busy, active job. I was traveling the globe and the medications, and I think my job was keeping me distracted from the disease. Uh, and then when I, uh, when I stopped working because I lost my job, there was another added level of stress I had nothing to focus on to distract me. Productivity is a very healing thing. When you feel like you’re producing something, you’re not concentrating on what’s going on in your body. And so it wasn’t as disruptive as it started to be after I lost my job. And then I started to see that the medications weren’t working, and there was too much added stress in my life. And so that’s when it really became hard to manage. I started getting frustrated with the system. And that was probably, 15 to 18 years that I was doing okay, even though I had to change drugs constantly. It wasn’t until that happened and the additional stress that I began to see my joints start to deform and a lot more pain and additional inflammatory processes like bursitis, and tendinitis, which were are much harder to manage than an RA flare because they take so long. I tried physical therapies which caused more damage, never really helped. I think physical therapy is great if you need to rehabilitate after surgery. They do a fantastic job, but I’ve tried physical therapy three times for chronic conditions and they don’t seem to know how to address it. And I go home with more pain than I went in there with, so I gave up on that. I tried chiropractic care and, you know, back pain, I had two surgeries for my back and multiple surgeries on my feet. And I just started to realize that there has to be another way because traditional medicine wasn’t going to do it.
Clint – You’ve touched upon little samples of the severity of the condition, the experience that you’ve been through, having had this condition a very long time, and also the beginning of the disease through an era where there wasn’t as great a drug treatment as what there is today as well. Definitely dark age is also when it came to the connection between the gut and the disease and the stress and the disease, which we just entering like a rich vein of awareness at the moment, that’s only going to develop. So you’ve had to come up with a program that isn’t running, that isn’t high impact, that isn’t going to stir up all of these other bits and bobs that you’ve got going on. We haven’t touched upon your feet, I don’t know about your knees, I don’t know about your hands and all the areas that were affected. I can only assume that you’ve had many, many challenges across the years in these areas. And so your routine that you can do at home that incorporates all of these Eastern philosophies, as well as some of the more traditional paths that we use, like squats, gives you that 360 degree kind of approach to a disease that’s presented you with some limitations and challenges with your body. So it sounds tremendous and very, very interested when you were talking about that and all the different parts that you’ve incorporated. Can we now talk diet and just let’s jump straight in and say, what does your breakfast, lunch, and dinner look like? And what aspects of your diet do you think have the biggest impact, whether it be greens, whether it be smoothies, whether it be oatmeal, whether it be black beans or rice? Could you talk us through an example meal for each of those sessions, and which ones you feel are most valuable to you?
Luba – I generally eat a large breakfast, sometimes that’s oatmeal with fresh fruits and nuts and coconut shreds, and nut milk. I like my oat milk, my oatmeal kind of cerealish like. Other times I take the quick route when I’m pressed for time. And that might be a bagel, you know, with something smeared on it and a powdered, like, vegetable and protein and, you know, something in powdered form. And I make a latte out of that and have that with my bagel, and then I’ll include a couple of fruits with that, probably a banana, maybe some grapes or some kind of fresh fruits. Lunch is either super salad, some kind of vegetable soup, broccoli. I have a favorite Broccoli, cauliflower and nutritional yeast, and potato soup or a salad with beans, lots of beans, and some greens in there. And dinner is one of my favorite recipes is a mushroom, I love mushrooms, so it’s like a mushroom stew. I used to throw beyond Meat meatballs in there, but I keep those out now. So the mushroom stew is kind of nice and thick, it’s got nutritional yeast in there. And to thicken it up, throw gnocchi’s in there. So that’s one of my favorites. And then there’s a bean, coconut, and tomato stew that I got from a gal I follow on YouTube. Her name is Nisha, and she’s got all these wonderful Indian flavors that she throws in there. So her recipes are usually good. And those, like, are the really healthier ways that I cook. I’m about to purchase a air fryer so I can try to reduce my oil intake, but I do still love extra virgin olive oil and try to make sure that I’m not getting the ones that are a little corrupted by institutions. Where they’ll put anything in there, and you don’t know if it’s really extra virgin olive oil. So I try to pick cold pressed olive oil and avocado oil are the only two oils that I use.
Luba – I cook for myself, so, I’m probably not one that can come up with really great vegan recipes. I can refer you to really great vegan cookbooks, but recipes off the top of my head. I Eat beans, I eat lentils, I try to come up with follow really good sauces, I like good sauces. And then I try to incorporate greens as much as I can. Not a fan of kale, so I try to cook my kale, and I make a really nice kale, spinach, walnuts, cranberry, and a mustard sauce. Uh, sauteed vegetable dish to finish my evening meal with. So those are probably the better recipes I like to repeat on a regular basis.
Clint – All right. Lovely. Well, I think that we can make even some slight adjustments there that could even reduce some inflammation a little bit further. When you get the air fryer, I think that that’s going to give you that sense of freedom from the oil. The research shows that olive oil does not act in an anti-inflammatory way to those people with inflammatory arthritis. We’ve covered a lot about olive oil in other podcast episodes and some training that I’ve put on YouTube, but it’s not a healing strategy, Olive oil. But you know, it’s inside my Zinzino Omega 3 supplement, where it acts as a specific vehicle to reduce oxidative stress on the omega 3. And so in that capacity, I like it. But we’re not creating a more anti-inflammatory environment. If we have a chronic inflammatory disorder and adding olive oil to our salads. So nor necessarily are we worsening our condition. If it is, like you say, cold pressed and it is a little bit and it’s not heated, the real issues occur when we heat the oils. So from a purist point of view, I like the salads without the oil. But this is something that you can experiment with when you get your air fryer, if that’s the stake in the ground that you see as the one that gets you away from it, then great. Now, last thing I want to ask you, your use of drugs now, it used to be incessant. It used to include all of the most expensive and most black box label types of medications available to the public. Now you’re taking none except you intermittently use prednisone as on a discretionary basis. And tell us about how you do that. Because you mentioned something before we hit record here that I hadn’t heard before, where you kind of jump on it like stepping on a on a grass fire really quickly with a significant dose of steroid, and then you step away from the steroid again for some time. Can you clarify that?
Luba – Well, I’ve been on prednisone on and off over the years since day one, and I started getting concerned that being on prednisone was just another way of adding to my stress because of the fact that it elevates cortisol. And I started this is coming out of my head, whether it’s scientific or not, I have no clue. But I started thinking, has my body gotten so used to prednisone, it’s forgetting how to produce its own cortisol? And so I started thinking, okay, I was at 10 milligrams for the longest time, and then I got down to 5 milligrams, and then I started weaning down to one. And I’d get down to one and I’d began flaring again and I’d say, oh shit, I got a oops, excuse me, I got to increase my dose again. And so I did that for like three rounds, and I said, well, this isn’t working either. And I said I’m just going to jump on this and stop it altogether and see what happens. Because if I’m flaring it one, and I’m taking this every day, then I’m never going to get my body used to producing its own cortisol. So I went off the prednisone, and I was fine for about three weeks and I’d get a flare. So I would take some prednisone, 5 milligrams. In the morning and in the afternoon, it just didn’t seem like enough, and I’d take a little more. By the end of the day, my body was fine, I’d get up the next day and I’m okay.
Luba – And so I tried that for a while, and I talked to my rheumatologist about doing it that way, and she said, yeah, if it works, keep trying. Because for me, it was more important not to take prednisone on a regular basis than to pop 10, 20mg if I have to in one day. And whatever I needed to take to calm my body down is what I would do, and some days that would keep me good for a month, six weeks sometimes. Again, it all depends on my stress levels. Some days I might have to do that again within a few days, but that’s how I’m managing it. And so some days I’m fine with five milligrams. Some days I have to take up to 20, but it’s never more than 20mg, and that’s enough to sustain me and keep me off the prednisone for quite a few days. And then I also might, you asked me about my joints. I’m fine in most of my joints, where I have the most amount of damage is in my wrists, and so I have no cartilage in my wrists. And that’s where most of the destruction has happened. So I decided I don’t want to have to keep popping the prednisone on a regular basis. So I thought, what could I do to calm my right wrist down? So I get steroid injections in my right wrist, and I do that every five months and that helps. That sort of helps me keep me off prednisone more frequently than I want to be.
Clint – Gotcha. Okay. So let me just summarize and see if I can get a nod and a yes if this makes sense. You’ve started with rheumatoid 34 years ago. You’ve been through every one of almost every one of the medications with ups and downs and have experienced many different side effects. And you’ve eventually discovered decades later that when you change your dietary patterns to whole food plant-based, you’re able to normalize your C-reactive protein for the very first time. Despite all the meds for so many decades that were unsuccessful at achieving that. You’ve been taking steroids throughout that entire time alongside these other long term disease modifying and biologic drugs. And eventually, what you’ve now settled upon is a way of moving your body and eating foods that enables you, despite all the challenges over so many years, that have caused lots of problems with your joints. To stay off the long-term drugs and only continue to use the steroid intermittently in a way that helps you to remain less dependent on it, because it’s not consistent every single day, and you use it as necessary. Sometimes when you use it, you get 4 or 5 days before you need to take it again, and sometimes you’ll need to take it for a day or two to achieve that kind of duration interval. The mindfulness that you do alongside the physical exercise keeps the stress levels down, which therefore also enables you to manage your condition. And the risks that were worst affected, you get your injections once every five months and that keeps them at bay. Given that they’re the worst joint that settles down, your stress calms down the whole feeling of the disease for you and enables you then to continue just with the intermittent steroid use to feel like you’ve got things under control. Does that sound like a good summary?
Luba – Excellent, exactly!
Clint – Awesome.
Clint – Well done. Each of us have a different set of cards that we have to work with. And you’ve taken your set of cards and you’ve said, okay, this, this and this, this is what works for me. And you’ve put it together into a into a wonderful routine. I think we can all look at this and think about our own routines. What I’ve done over the years is similarly, use some steroid injections for a couple of my pip joints, which have always been my like ones that want to battle the hardest and resist lifestyle changes. And I think that we’ve got some tools that really work. And sometimes we want to be able to say, hey, you know, I’m doing everything I can. I can lean into a medical intervention that helps me that’s low risk and low systemic side effects. I’ve talked about in the past, the use of steroid injections, particularly into the joints of the knees, which can often be resistant to change despite everything we throw at it too. My left knee responded for like nine years to one steroid injection. So we’ve got to be able to use these things if they work for us.
Clint – Luba, thank you so much. Thanks for being part of our support group. If anyone wants to connect with Luba, I have what I consider the world’s best online support group, where we have myself, medical doctor Renee Thomas, alongside a physical therapist, functional movement coach and all of the community like Luba in there, we help each other. If you’d like to talk to me or one of my team about joining, set up a free call. We’ll go through what’s involved and see if you’re a good fit. Luba, thank you so much. Really appreciate your time and we might meet each other because I’m visiting Florida from time to time. So one day we might actually get a chance to meet in person.
Luba – Please do. Yeah, that’d be great. Okay.
Clint – So thank you so much and all the best and I’ll see you online.
Luba – Thank you for giving me this opportunity. See you soon.