Arthritis and Diet
Researchers continue to find evidence linking a healthful diet to the prevention of disease including Arthritis.
Arthritis is joint inflammation by definition but it’s a term used to describe more than 100 different diseases that affect joints, surrounding joint tissue and other connective tissue. It is common in adults 65 and older but can affect people of all ages, races, and ethnic groups. Currently, according to the CDC, 1 in 5 adults in the US, over 46 million people, are diagnosed by their doctor with some form of arthritis.
Symptoms include joint pain, stiffness, inflammation and swelling. The most common types of arthritis are Osteoarthritis (OA), Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA), and Gout but there is also migratory arthritis and spondyloarthritis.
Osteoarthritis (OA) is often called “wear and tear” arthritis. OA is the most common form of arthritis in the U.S. Over time, the cartilage in joints breaks down, and OA symptoms begin to occur. OA is most commonly found in the knees, hips, hands and fingers, and spine. The wrists, elbows, shoulders, and ankles can also be affected. When OA is found in these joints, there may have been a history of injury or stress to that joint.
Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease where the body’s immune system attacks normal joint tissues, causing inflammation of the joint lining or synovium causing pain, stiffness, swelling, warmth, and redness. RA is an ongoing disease, with active periods of pain and inflammation, known as flares, alternating with periods of remission, when pain and inflammation disappear. RA can affect many different joints. In some people, it can even affect parts of the body other than the joints, including the eyes, blood, the lungs, and the heart.
Gout is an inflammatory condition caused by elevated levels of uric acid which can crystallize in the joint tissues causing the same arthritic conditions as OA or RA. Gout is strongly due to genetics but diet can affect uric acid concentrations so can be used to decrease symptoms.
Migratory arthritis symptoms can flare up and can randomly migrate to different locations in the body. Symptoms of migratory arthritis are similar to that of other arthritis conditions consisting of pain, redness, swelling, stiffness and loss of motion.
Spondyloarthritis is a different beast altogether. It mainly effects the joint vertebra of the spine. It effects more than just the joints and can cause pain in the ligaments and tendons that attach to bones. Acutely spondyloarthritis can cause low back pain, but advanced cases effect the joints of the hands, feet, arms and legs as well, and can cause the arms and legs to swell. Common treatment here is to fuse the spine – no fun!
Helpful Lifestyle Changes
Unfortunately, no one diet is completely effective in treatment or prevention of arthritis. There is however a lot of anecdotal evidence and diet-symptom correlations with certain foods.
- Wheat and corn are common triggers and studies are showing significant decreases in joint pain with gluten free diets. It’s estimated that 25-50% of those with RA also have Celiac disease.
- Acidic foods such as nightshades, coffee and red meat exacerbate symptoms and should be limited.
- Limit inflammatory foods such as sugar, simple carbohydrates, polyunsaturated Omega-6 Fats such as soy, canola and corn oils, corn fed saturated animal fats like dairy and cheeses, and manufactured fats such as trans fats or hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated fats.
- Gout can be affected by a high fat and high animal protein diet or by excessive amounts of alcohol. Also limit organ meat, broths, gravies, sardines, anchovies, and sweetbreads as they may raise uric levels.
- Avoid any food you have an intolerance to which stresses the immune system.
- Increase consumption of anti-inflammatory omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids. They have been linked to decreasing morning stiffness and the number of swollen joints. Sources include walnuts, flax oil, fresh ground flax seed, and cold water fish: salmon, sardines, mackerel, herring and lake trout.
- Increase your sun exposure or take a vitamin D supplement. A recent study from the University of Alabama at Birmingham reported that women who took in less than 200 International Units (IUs) of vitamin D in their diets each day were 33 percent more likely to develop rheumatoid arthritis than women who received more than 200 IUs.
- Increase your intake of antioxidant vitamins C, E, A and minerals such as Zinc, Selenium to combat oxidative stress.
- Include plenty of nutrients for bone health in your diet such as calcium, vitamin D, magnesium, vitamin K, zinc and protein.
Exercise is crucial for people with arthritis. It increases strength and flexibility, reduces joint pain, and helps combat fatigue. Participating in low impact activities such as swimming, using a stationary bike (or regular bike), elliptical machine or stair master may be less painful and helpful for weight management. A healthy, well balanced diet and weight control is very important to arthritis pain management.
Just to provide a little more information, I have gout. I’ve only had three flares in my life, but man were they memorable! The first time it happened was after a birthday celebration where I drank and had a ton of seafood. I also had an attack due, I think, to too much plyometric (jumping) exercises. The last one I had was after a liver and colon detox and luckily that was the last one I ever had. I do drink celery juice often, take milk thistle daily and now do gentler exercise like walking, hiking and yoga.
Hope this helps!
Erin Williams, MSN CN LMP, is the founder of EZBalance.com, a health and wellness company established in 2001. Erin has a bachelor’s degree in Chemistry from Purdue, a master’s degree in Nutrition from Bastyr University, and is currently studying to become a Functional Medicine Practitioner. Erin enjoys sharing her love of natural health and wellness with people through lectures, blogs, and consultations.