ARTHRITIS AND DIET
Dietary changes that can improve your arthritis symptoms
One of the many challenges of living with arthritis is learning to manage the condition so that you can live as full a life as possible. Although changing your diet or taking dietary supplements is not a substitute for your prescribed medication – and won’t offer a magical cure for your condition – watching what you eat can help alleviate your symptoms. While there is no prescribed diet that works for all patients and all forms of the disease, medical research consistently supports the theory that a change in a sufferer’s diet and taking dietary supplements can help improve their symptoms.
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A healthy, balanced diet can help accelerate weight loss so that your joints are subjected to less strain, which will, to some degree, alleviate pain. Choosing the right foods and dietary supplements will nourish your body with the vitamins and minerals necessary to alleviate some of the side effects of your medication. A good diet will also reduce inflammation and contribute to improved cardiovascular health, which can be affected by some forms of the disease, such as rheumatoid arthritis.
Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids
Omega-3 fatty acids have been proven to be beneficial to patients with rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis and reactive arthritis, due to the body’s ability to manufacture inflammation-reducing chemicals using omega-3 and omega-6. A diet rich in oily fish, such as sardines, tuna, mackerel, salmon and herring, will help to increase your intake of omega-3 fatty acids; a serving of between 85 g and 120 g twice a week is recommended. Omega-6 fatty acids can be found in a variety of foods, including poultry, walnuts, whole grain breads and most vegetable oils.
The benefits of a diet rich in oily fish for rheumatoid arthritis sufferers may not be noticed immediately, so it is important to maintain the diet for a period of several months in order for the body to produce inflammation-reducing chemicals.
If the thought of oily fish doesn’t set your taste buds tingling, plant-based alternatives exist. Tofu, which is derived from the East Asian soybean and is widely available in supermarkets, is high not only in omega-3 fatty acids, but protein and fibre as well, making it a viable and healthy alternative to other foods.
As well as being rich in vitamins C and K, the leafy green vegetable broccoli also benefits from sulforaphane, a compound that has been known to slow or even prevent the progression of osteoarthritis. Broccoli also boasts high levels of calcium - essential for strengthening bones – which can help alleviate the painful symptoms of arthritis. Sulforaphane can also be found in other green vegetables, including brussels sprouts, kale, cauliflower and rocket. It is also available as a food supplement.
Polyphenols are antioxidants known to reduce inflammation and cartilage damage. The good news is they are present in hundreds of different foods, from cloves and plums to dark chocolate and red wine. However, for an optimum dose, turn to green tea. Greatly favoured by health fanatics, 90% of green tea extract is polyphenols and it is available in both drink and capsule form.
Switch to whole grains
As well as being generally regarded as healthier alternatives to white bread and cereal products, whole grains can make a significant difference to the inflammation associated with rheumatoid arthritis by lowering levels of C-reactive protein in the blood. High levels of C-reactive protein are associated with joint inflammation, so switch to whole grain cereals and breads, brown rice and oatmeal.
Studies have demonstrated that a diet high in vitamin D can help prevent the onset of arthritis in otherwise healthy individuals as well as reduce the progression of osteoarthritis in patients. Available as a food supplement, vitamin D is not naturally occurring in many foods, with oily fish being the main exception. While dairy products are often fortified with vitamin D, some studies suggest that dairy may cause arthritis symptoms to worsen, so increasing your intake of these foods may not be beneficial. So ensure you consume oily fish on a regular basis, take daily food supplements, and take a walk in the sunshine – the best and most natural way to increase your vitamin D intake.
Fruit and vegetables – especially those found in a Mediterranean diet – have long been known for their high levels of antioxidants, which are important in helping reduce the inflammation that causes arthritis patients constant pain. Brightly or deeply coloured foods, such as carrots, peppers, blueberries, oranges, melons, tomatoes and sweet potatoes, are high in antioxidants and are therefore ideal choices.
Which foods should I avoid?
While making improvements to your diet by increasing the amount of recommended foods and supplements is important, this should also be balanced by reducing the intake of foods known to have a detrimental effect. Research has suggested that reducing consumption of processed and fried foods can help decrease inflammation, especially when this approach is combined with increasing the amount of fruit and vegetables in the diet. Similarly, salt can exacerbate inflammation and therefore increase pain, so avoid ready meals in particular (which are high in sodium) and reduce or eliminate the amount of salt you add to fresh food during cooking.
Take time to experiment
While it is known that certain foods and supplements can have powerful and positive effects in terms of alleviating the symptoms caused by arthritis, there is no agreed diet that sufferers should follow. Patients should therefore take a trial and error approach to modifying their diet to learn which foods help make the greatest difference to their symptoms. Above all, however, it is likely that maintaining a healthy body weight and enjoying a balanced diet will enable you to manage your arthritis symptoms most effectively, and offer you a host of additional health benefits.
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