New arthritis med comes with huge risks

An FDA panel has signed off on a first-of-its-kind drug for rheumatoid arthritis -- but if you're suffering from this painful and even debilitating condition, don't get your hopes up.

The drug, tofacitinib, reduced pain in clinical trials by such small amounts that you might not even notice a difference.

And in return for the possibility of what amounts to just a little bit of relief, you could face big-time risks -- including the possibility of lymphoma and infection.

It's not clear yet how big those risks are, but the FDA panel isn't interested in waiting around to find out. And if the FDA itself signs off on that recommendation, as it usually does, it'll be one more case of "approve first, ask questions later."

Let's ask the questions now for a change -- especially the biggest one of all: Why don't RA drugs work very well?

Answer: Because RA is an autoimmune disease with many possible causes.

In some cases, it can be genetic. But it's more often caused by food allergies, infections (bacterial, fungal or viral), poor digestive function, hormone imbalances, exposure to toxic metals, or the presence of certain antibodies.

In some cases, RA can even be the body's response to stress.

But drugs don't treat any of that. They're more about symptoms, not the cause -- and even then, it's with very limited effectiveness.

Case in point: The 20 percent improvements seen by patients who took tofacitinib in a company-funded study. And the FDA says X-rays tracking the rate of joint damage were inconclusive.

So the best we can say about the drug is that it might mask the pain a little even as joint damage progresses. At some point, you have to wonder if the damage will be so great that the drug can no longer mask the pain even a little.

Clearly, this drug isn't the miracle you'd expect from something being rushed through approvals -- and along with possible links to lymphoma, the drug can cause bronchitis, headache, infections and the usual array of nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.

If you're suffering from RA, I understand your pain. I understand how badly you want relief.

You can get it, too -- if you know where to look. Start with a holistic doctor who can identify and treat the cause of your RA rather than the symptoms. I've found it can usually be done with some combination of dietary changes, proper nutrition, and natural hormones.

Not drugs.