Acupuncture for Rheumatoid Arthritis

Sloth Wisdom: A Three-Toed Approach to the Successful Treatment of Rheumatoid Arthritis
Dr. Naomi E. Campbell
Pacific College of Oriental Medicine
San Diego Campus
@copyright 2019, all rights reserved.

Sloth Wisdom: A Three-Toed approach to the Successful Treatment of RA

Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) is the most prevalent autoimmune disorder, effecting one percent of the world’s population, and 1.3 million in the United States. Patients with RA experience chronic inflammation in symmetrical body joints, and also other body systems- including the skin, eyes, lungs, heart, kidneys and blood vessels. In RA patients, the immune system attacks the membrane lining of your joints, or synovium, causing joint swelling, stiffness, and pain. These symptoms may be accompanied with fatigue, fever, and weight loss. As with most autoimmune disorders, scientists are not sure how the disease begins, but there is likely a genetic component along with environmental triggers (Rheumatoid, n.d.).

Prescription drugs for Rheumatoid Arthritis range from over-the-counter NSAIDS, corticosteroids, COX-2 anti-inflammatory agents, DMARDS- Methotrexate, biologic agents, and Anti-TNF agents. Prolonged use of any RA drug can lead to severe bodily harm and increase the risk of infection, including tuberculosis (TB). RA patients often cycle through the various drugs at different stages of the disease. Many patients report that the drug “cocktails” prescribed by their doctor stop having an effect after several years, and the side effects became so severe that they search for alternative medicine modalities (Rheumatoid, n.d.). These prescription drugs do not attempt to “cure” the disease, they simply aim to mitigate RA symptoms and improve patient’s quality of life by reducing the body’s inflammatory autoimmune response. But what if RA was naturally “curable” or could at least be put into complete remission without the use of dangerous prescription drugs? The Sloth’s “three-toed” way may be the answer.

The Sloth’s wisdom represents a “three-toed” state of relaxed body and mind, consuming a primarily herbivore diet, and living in complete harmony with one’s environment. This wisdom can be realized in modern-day human beings through the three medicinal toes of proper diet, and the relaxing, mind-body healing effects of Acupuncture and Chinese Herbal medicine. Proper lifestyle and diet combined with Chinese Medical therapies can help rheumatoid arthritis patients live a completely pain free life. I have seen it many times in my own clinic, and the scientific knowledge behind this healing philosophy is growing steadily year after year.

Acupuncture, or the first medicinal toe of Sloth wisdom, has been researched extensively for its positive effect on chronic pain management, and anti-inflammatory modulatory effect. It also reduces mental stress and promotes an alkaline response in body systems. It has been proven and recognized to be the most effective CAM therapy for pain relief. Acupuncture is such a simple yet effective technique which stimulates the release of naturally occurring healing chemicals from the body, such as endorphins, to help a patient heal themselves from both physical and emotional pain (Qassam et al., 2017).

The following research studies show the positive effect of Acupuncture on both the immune system and rheumatoid arthritis patients.

In a 2008 Arthritis & Rheumatism review of eight acupuncture studies involving a total of 536 patients with RA, five studies reported a reduction in erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR), three saw a reduction in C-reactive protein (CRP), and one study described a significant drop in both. Both ESR and CRP are markers of inflammation in the body. Several of the studies also reported decreased pain and a reduction in morning stiffness (Foltz-Gray, n.d.).

The systemic review by Chou & Chu (2018) concluded that “acupuncture alone or combined with other treatment modalities is beneficial to the clinical conditions of RA without adverse effects reported and can improve function and quality of life. Several important mechanisms were summarized including anti-inflammatory effect, antioxidative effect, and regulation of immune system.”

In another randomized controlled clinical trial, sixty-three cases of RA patients were divided into an electroacupuncture group and a simple acupuncture group. Both groups were given the same treatment protocol with and without electrical stimulation, respectively. All subjects were treated once every other day for 20 days as one course. After 3 courses, interleukin levels in both peripheral blood and joint fluid of patients were significantly reduced, electroacupuncture caused significantly more positive effect on Interleukin levels, evident of the anti-inflammatory effect of Acupuncture treatment (Ouyang, 2010).

Research has also been completed on the effect of Chinese Herbal therapy, or the second medicinal toe of Sloth wisdom, plus acupuncture for the treatment of Rheumatoid Arthritis. According to one such clinical trial by Wang (2014), 122 patients with rheumatoid arthritis were divided into acupuncture with herbs group and drugs only group. “The drug group received the NSAID diclofenac sodium in sustained release tablet form. The dosage was 75 mg, once per day. In addition, the drug group took methotrexate tablets. The dosage of this anti-rheumatic drug was 10 mg, once per week.” The acupuncture with herbs group received modifications of the herbal formula Gui Zhi Shao Yao Zhi Mu Tang. Acupuncture protocol and moxibustion were applied once every 2 days for a course of 30 days. The total treatment consisted of 2 courses, and results were compiled after 2 months of treatment. Acupuncture plus herbs had a 95% effective rate while the methotrexate drug group had effective rate of 68.85%. Negative side effects were reported in 18% of the drug group, and only 3% in the acupuncture group. The researchers conclude that Gui Zhi Shao Yao Zhi Mu Tang combined with acupuncture is a superior approach to rheumatoid arthritis treatment compared with routine biochemical treatment using NSAIDs with methotrexate.

Acupuncture and Chinese Herbal therapy are clearly effective for RA patients, but due to time constraints and financial restrictions in modern western society, patients need to learn dietary and lifestyle habits which will help them to continually heal outside of the clinic. Clinical experience has shown that long-term remission of RA requires an anti-inflammatory, nutrient rich diet and balanced lifestyle- the third medicinal toe of Sloth wisdom.

The fact that RA joint pain and deformity occurs symmetrically in the body, indicates that it is a systemic issue stemming from internal inflammation, especially in the gut. The mechanism of gut inflammation causing joint pain is not entirely clear yet thru modern science, but there are a platitude of clinical observations correlating joint pain and gut inflammation. Loren Cordain, founder of the Paleo Diet, provides in her review article published in British Journal of Nutrition (2000), evidence that dietary lectins adversely affect enterocyte and lymphocyte structure and function in the gut. This increases gut permeability and promotes translocation of pathogenic antigens to peripheral tissue. In genetically susceptible RA patients, this antigenic stimulation will result in molecular mimicry at the joint space, causing inflammation, pain, and eventual deformity (Cordain, 1999). The lectins may also cause a bacterial overgrowth in the gut, especially of E. Coli and Lactobacillus lactis (Banwell et al. 1988). Therefore, by eliminating dietary lectins such as grains and legumes, patients can rebalance their gut flora, strengthen the intestinal wall lining, and prevent pathogenic antigens from wreaking havoc on various body systems (Cordain, 1999).  

Dr. Terry Wahls incorporates this idea of an anti-inflammatory, elimination diet and goes one step further with a nutrient dense dietary protocol of 8 cups vegetables and fruit per day to “Heal your Mitochondria,” and thus your body from systemic disease. Dr. Wahls created her protocol by examining the role of mitochondria in cellular health, and how best to feed your mitochondria for optimal functioning with the proper nutrients. Mitochondria are the “work-horse” of all cells in the body and require sufficient micro-nutrients to function properly. Mitochondria are especially abundant in both the brain and gut, (more about this connection in my next article). Dr. Wahls went from almost bedridden due to Progressive Multiple Sclerosis to riding a bike within 6 months of adapting the “Wahls Protocol” into her life. The diet can also be successfully applied to Rheumatoid Arthritis patients as well as other autoimmune disorders, as it heals the body from the inside-out, at the cellular “gut” level (Wahls, 2014). Thus, the third toe of Sloth Wisdom is a useful way to find proper balance with one’s environment thru diet.

In summary, Rheumatoid Arthritis patients can utilize the Sloth’s three-toed wisdom to become pain-free by incorporating a primarily herbivore & anti-inflammatory diet, Acupuncture, and Chinese Herbal therapy into their lifestyle. All three toes have been scientifically researched, and clinically proven to be effective for the treatment and remission of RA, with little to no side effects. Utilizing Sloth Wisdom, RA patients can once again live naturally healthy, pain-free, and harmonious lives.

About the Author:

Dr. Naomi E. Campbell D.A.C.M., L.Ac is a Licensed Acupuncturist and certified herbalist in the state of Colorado. She enjoys seeing patients at her integrative healthcare clinic- Enso Acupuncture & Herbal Wellness LLC, located in Denver, Colorado. She successfully treats a wide-range of dis-eases with acupuncture and other forms of Chinese medicine, including chronic pain, digestive issues, autoimmune disorders, stress, fertility, and much more. She earned her Doctorate of Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine (D.A.C.M.) through the Pacific College of Oriental Medicine in 2019, and her Masters of Oriental Medicine (M.S.O.M.) in 2013 from the Southwest Acupuncture College in Boulder, CO. She began her study of Chinese Medicine in Boulder CO at the Southwest Acupuncture College in 2008. During this time, she was very fortunate to have a 3-year clinical internship with Jack Shaeffer D.A.C.M of Mountain West Wellness. Here she learned the Yin Style Bagua internal Qi Gong system for healing both herself and patients. Along with practicing Chinese Medicine, Naomi also enjoys listening to music, studying Buddhism, practicing yoga, and playing outside with her dog, Dune. She is an avid lover of all things natural, including Sloths. She believes Chinese Medicine is simply an extension of natural healing forces, and loves watching people heal themselves thru this ancient, time-proven medicine.


Banwell J.G., Howard R., Kabir I., Costerton J.W. (1988) Bacterial Overgrowth by indigenous microflora in the phytohemagglutinin-fed rat. Canadian Journal of Microbiology. 34, 1009-1013.

Chou, P.C., Chu H.Y. (2018). Clinical Efficacy of Acupuncture on Rheumatoid Arthritis and Associated Mechanisms: A Systemic Review. Evidence Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 12. Doi: 10.1155/2018/8596918.

Cordain, L. (1999, August 30). Review article: Modulation of immune function by dietary lectins in rheumatoid arthritis. British Journal of Nutrition (2000), 83, 207-217.

Foltz-Gray, D. Can Acupuncture Help Relieve RA? (n.d.) Retrieved from


Ouyang, B.S., Che J.L., Gao J., Zhang Y, Li J, Yang, H.Z., Hu T.Y., Wu Y.J., Yang M. (2010) Effects of electroacupuncture and simple acupuncture on changes of IL-1, IL-4, IL-6 and IL-10 in peripheral blood and joint fluid in patients with rheumatoid arthritis. Chinese Acupuncture and Moxibustion, 30(10), 840-4. Retrieved from []

Qaseem, A., Wilt, T., McLean, R., Forciea, M.A. (2017, February 14) Noninvasive Treatments for Acute, Subacute, and Chronic Low Back Pain: A Clinical Practice Guideline from the American College of Physicians. Annals of Internal Medicine. Retrieved from []

Rheumatoid Arthritis. (n.d.) Retrieved from []

Wahls, T., Adamson, Eve. (2014 December 30). The Wahls Protocol: A Radical New Way to Treat All Chronic Autoimmune Conditions Using Paleo Principles, 18-80 

Wang, Zizhen. “Clinical observation on treating rheumatoid arthritis with the Gui Zhi Shao Yao Zhi Mu decoction plus acupuncture.” Clinical Journal of Chinese Medicine 6.4 (2014): 89-90.

© 2024 Enso Acupuncture & Herbal Wellness. All Rights Reserved.


Website design and development by Big Walnut Design