By Carrie Dennett, M.P.H., R.D.N., Environmental Nutrition Newsletter
More than 50 million Americans — one in five adults — have arthritis, according to the Arthritis Foundation, making it the No. 1 cause of disability in this country. The condition is marked by inflammation in one or more of your joints, resulting in joint pain and stiffness.
The two most common types of arthritis are rheumatoid arthritis (RA), in which the synovial membrane that protects and lubricates joints becomes inflamed, and osteoarthritis (OA), which involves the wearing away of cartilage that caps the bones in your joints.
Aging and accompanying body changes may contribute to arthritis onset and progression. When the body’s inflammatory response is functioning normally, it protects and repairs tissue; when stress on the joints or an autoimmune response causes inflammation, it functions in an out-of-control manner that can harm more than it heals. Experts think diet may indeed help ease the pain of arthritis.
Rebecca Manno, M.D., M.H.S., assistant professor of medicine in the division of rheumatology of the department of medicine at Johns Hopkins University, says that a healthy diet can help people stay active, manage arthritis symptoms, and reduce dependence on medications — though it may not be enough to delay the progression of the disease for everyone. Beyond a well-balanced healthy diet, particular nutrition strategies offer promise in managing arthritis. EN provides you with the best-odds approach:
Eat whole, anti-inflammatory foods
A small study published in the journal Arthritis found that a whole-foods, plant-based diet may help relieve OA symptoms. A few other studies have found that a Mediterranean-style diet — rich in vegetables, fruits, beans, whole grains and healthy fat from olive oil, nuts and fish, while limiting meat, refined grains and other highly processed foods — may help reduce RA pain and stiffness. Such plant-based diet patterns may reduce the levels of inflammation in the body. Manno says she advises her patients to “avoid processed foods, cook for themselves, and eat real foods.”
Ramp up the omega-3s
Research supports the anti-inflammatory power of omega-3 fatty acids from fatty fish, such as salmon or from fish oil supplements for the medical treatment of arthritis, Manno says. The Arthritis Foundation recommends two 3-ounce servings of fish per week, and fish oil supplements of up to 2.6 grams twice a day to treat RA and OA. Discuss taking supplements with your health care provider before starting a regimen.
Get enough protein
RA patients tend to have more fat and less muscle, in large part due to increased protein breakdown in the body from inflammation, says Manno. Exercise, especially resistance exercise using weights, resistance bands or even your own body weight, combined with feeding the muscles adequate protein can help preserve lean muscle. Aim to include a good source of protein-rich food — poultry, fish, legumes, low-fat dairy, eggs — at each meal and snack.
Eat your vegetables and fruits
These plant foods are packed with antioxidants and phytonutrients that may help reduce inflammation. Adults should aim for 1.5 to 2 cups of fruit and 2.5 to 3 cups of vegetables per day. Eat the “rainbow” so that you enjoy the full spectrum of nutrients.
Don’t skip nightshades
The claim that nightshade vegetables — like tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants and peppers — aggravate arthritis pain has no research to back it up. In fact, nightshade vegetables contain antioxidants and phytonutrients that may have anti-inflammatory benefits.
Ward off a “D”eficiency
Although vitamin D is important for health, research results conflict on whether vitamin D deficiency contributes to the progression of knee and hip OA. Aim to meet your daily requirement of 600 IUs for adults, which may not be enough if a blood test indicates you are D-deficient.
Maintain a healthy weight
Excess body weight can increase joint pain and inflammation. Thus, weight loss can offer relief by reducing pressure on the joints, as well as cutting inflammation in the body that results from inflammation-promoting compounds found in body fat tissue.
Studies show that regular exercise may help reduce joint pain and stiffness, making movement easier. It also increases muscle strength and produces endorphins, which help control pain and improve your overall health and wellbeing. The Arthritis Foundation suggests that you ask your health care provider what types of activities are safe and appropriate for you based on your current health.
Keep a food log
Certain foods may trigger an autoimmune response in people with RA, according to Manno, but because trigger foods vary from person to person, she advises keeping a food log. “Pay attention to what you eat, and if you notice something that affects how your joints feel, don’t ignore it,” she adds.
(Reprinted with permission from Environmental Nutrition, a monthly publication of Belvoir Media Group, LLC. 800-829-5384. www.EnvironmentalNutrition.com.)