Arthritis is a disease of the joints and musculoskeletal system that affects more than 50 million American adults. The tell-tale symptoms of arthritis include swelling of the joints accompanied by pain and stiffness in the body.
What you might not know is that arthritis is actually a general term that describes over 100 medical conditions including osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and infectious arthritis, which are the 3 most common forms of the disease.
What is happening in the body to cause the development of arthritis depends on what form of the disease is present: it could be that the cartilage surrounding your joints is wearing away, there could be a lack of lubricating fluid being produced to surround the joint cavity, infection might be present or your body is attacking itself (autoimmunity).
There is a combination of factors that can lead to the progression of arthritis including genetic makeup, a physically demanding job, previous injury, infections or allergic reactions causing short term arthritis, autoimmune disease or obesity which places extra strain on the joints.
In the past, arthritis was not commonly thought of as being a nutrient-related disease, but new research supports the notion that a healthier diet including foods that contain anti-inflammatory properties can ease the painful symptoms of arthritis.
If you suffer from arthritis, there are certain food factors you should consider that can either soothe or exacerbate your arthritis pain.
Arthritis and diet – 8 factors to consider:
Four Food Soothers
1. Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega 3’s have been getting a lot of attention in recent years as they offer an array of health benefits. Once in the body, omega-3 fatty acids inhibit the production of an enzyme that produces hormones that promote inflammation.
Studies have shown that adequate amounts of omega-3 fatty acids reduce inflammation and pain related to rheumatoid arthritis. For best results, food sources of omega-3′s like fatty fish (salmon, tuna, mackerel and sardines), walnuts and walnut oil, flaxseed and flaxseed oil are preferred over supplements.
Consuming adequate amounts of dietary fiber appears to lower a protein in the blood called C – reactive protein (CRP), an indicator of inflammation.
A study conducted by Dana King, MD at the Medical Center of South Carolina showed that individuals who either ate a high fiber diet containing 27-28 grams of fiber per day or received supplemental fiber saw a significant decrease in their CRP levels. When blood levels of CRP are high, it is a strong indicator that something is causing an inflammatory response in the body.
While it cannot be officially said that eating high fiber foods will treat arthritis specifically, eating a diet high in fiber will lower CRP levels, reducing the inflammatory response.
3. Olive Oil
Aside from being a monounsaturated fat, olive oil contains oleocanthal, a compound that blocks the same arthritis-related inflammatory pathways as ibuprofen and aspirin, two medications that are commonly used to ease arthritis pain. Use olive oil to substitute other oils when cooking or use as a dressing on salad.
4. Beta-Cryptoxanthin and Anthocyanins
Both of these compounds are found in fruits and vegetables.
Beta-cryptoxanthin is a type of carotenoid found in pumpkin, winter squash, persimmons, papaya, red peppers, apricots, corn and oranges and is known to reduce the risk of inflammatory disorders, particularly rheumatoid arthritis.
Anthocyanins are an antioxidant found in berries, cherries, eggplant, grapes and plums that contribute to the health of connective tissue and inhibit the production of inflammatory chemicals.
Four Food Irritators
1. Omega 6 Fatty Acids
Your body needs a balance of both omega 6 and omega 3 fatty acids for normal growth and development.
However, unlike omega 3’s which produce an anti-inflammatory effect in the body, omega 6 fatty acids produce pro-inflammatory chemicals that can aggravate arthritis pain.
Omega 6 fatty acids are commonly found in oils, such as corn, safflower, sunflower, grape seed, soy, peanut and vegetable oil which are all used in a variety of processed foods.
Mayonnaise and salad dressings are also a rich source of omega 6 fatty acids. You don’t need to avoid omega 6 fatty acids completely, but focus on decreasing your intake of them ad increasing omega 3 as previously discussed.
2. Refined Carbohydrates and High Sugar Foods
Your body prefers carbohydrates over any other energy containing nutrient for energy production, so when choosing anti- inflammatory foods to combat arthritis pain, it is important to understand which carbohydrates can make it worse.
Pro-inflammatory carbohydrates include sugar (found in cake, cookies and candy) and refined carbohydrates that are made from “enriched” (white) flour such as white rice, white breads, white pastas, pizza crust, bagels, crackers and most packaged cereals.
When it comes to carbohydrates, choose “whole” grain over refined grains to ease arthritis pain.
3. Additives and Sweeteners (MSG, Aspartame)
Almost all fast food and packaged food products contain additives and artificial sweeteners. These chemicals have been shown to increase muscle and joint pain related to arthritis.
MSG, which is a flavor enhancer found in prepared Asian foods, salad dressings, deli meats, fast foods and prepared soup mixes, is one food additive that triggers pathways of chronic inflammation.
Likewise, aspartame which is an artificial sweetener found in many sugar-free products like diet sodas and sugar-free gum, is a toxin that is recognized by your body as a foreign substance. In turn, your immune system attacks the chemical, triggering an inflammatory response.
Excessive alcohol consumption has detrimental effects on the liver and other organs which, in turn, can cause inflammation in the body. If you suffer from arthritis, drinking large quantities of alcohol will only worsen the pain, which is why it is recommended to eliminate alcohol or drink it in moderation.
As you can see, your food choices can significantly influence the degree of your arthritis pain. Eating balanced meals that contain fiber, whole grains, fruits, vegetables and healthy fats and are limited in processed foods will enhance your quality of life.