Studies suggest that depression may be common among people with rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disease marked by inflammation, pain, stiffness, and loss of function in your joints. What's more, depression may be linked to poorer physical health among rheumatoid arthritis patients. However, some research shows that certain alternative therapies may help rheumatoid arthritis patients ease their symptoms of depression, as well as alleviate pain and improve functioning.
Alternative Therapies for Rheumatoid Arthritis and Depression
To date, few studies have tested the effectiveness of alternative therapies in treatment of depression related to rheumatoid arthritis. Still, the available research indicates that the following alternative therapies may be of some benefit to rheumatoid arthritis patients with depression:
In a 2008 study, researchers assigned 144 rheumatoid arthritis patients to one of three treatments: cognitive behavioral therapy, mindfulness meditation combined with therapy designed to regulate emotions, or an education-based placebo treatment. Study results showed that both therapy groups helped improve participants' coping abilities, and that patients with depression benefited most from the meditation-based therapy.
An earlier study of 63 rheumatoid arthritis patients found that six months of treatment with Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (a treatment approach that combines mindfulness meditation and yoga) led to "marginally significant" improvements in symptoms of depression. The program also appeared to reduce the study members' levels of stress.
Yoga may help lessen symptoms of depression among rheumatoid arthritis patients, according to a pilot study published in 2009. After 10 weeks of taking three 75-minute yoga classes per week, 16 female rheumatoid arthritis patients experienced significant improvements in symptoms of depression. Yoga also seemed to decrease perception of pain and improve balance.
3) Tai Chi
In a 2005 study of 20 rheumatoid arthritis patients, scientists discovered that those who took part in twice-weekly, one-hour tai chi sessions for 12 weeks showed improvements in symptoms of depression as well as in numbers of swollen joints, functioning and health-related quality of life.
Should You Use Alternative Therapies to Treat Depression Related to Rheumatoid Arthritis?
While tai chi, meditation, and yoga show promise as natural treatments for rheumatoid arthritis and depression, self-treating with these therapies is not recommended. If you're experiencing symptoms of depression, it's extremely important to talk with your physician and pursue treatment under the care of a mental-health professional. Your doctors can also offer guidance on how to safely use alternative therapies to help relieve depression associated with rheumatoid arthritis.
Bosch PR, Traustadóttir T, Howard P, Matt KS. "Functional and physiological effects of yoga in women with rheumatoid arthritis: a pilot study." Altern Ther Health Med. 2009 Jul-Aug;15(4):24-31.
Katz PP, Yelin EH. "Prevalence and correlates of depressive symptoms among persons with rheumatoid arthritis." J Rheumatol. 1993 May;20(5):790-6.
Pradhan EK, Baumgarten M, Langenberg P, Handwerger B, Gilpin AK, Magyari T, Hochberg MC, Berman BM. "Effect of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction in rheumatoid arthritis patients." Arthritis Rheum. 2007 Oct 15;57(7):1134-42.
Sleath B, Chewning B, de Vellis BM, Weinberger M, de Vellis RF, Tudor G, Beard A. "Communication about depression during rheumatoid arthritis patient visits." Arthritis Rheum. 2008 Feb 15;59(2):186-91.
Wang C, Roubenoff R, Lau J, Kalish R, Schmid CH, Tighiouart H, Rones R, Hibberd PL. "Effect of Tai Chi in adults with rheumatoid arthritis." Rheumatology (Oxford). 2005 May;44(5):685-7.
Zautra AJ, Davis MC, Reich JW, Nicassario P, Tennen H, Finan P, Kratz A, Parrish B, Irwin MR. "Comparison of cognitive behavioral and mindfulness meditation interventions on adaptation to rheumatoid arthritis for patients with and without history of recurrent depression." J Consult Clin Psychol. 2008 Jun;76(3):408-21.
Zyrianova Y, Kelly BD, Gallagher C, McCarthy C, Molloy MG, Sheehan J, Dinan TG. "Depression and anxiety in rheumatoid arthritis: the role of perceived social support." Ir J Med Sci. 2006 Apr-Jun;175(2):32-6.