Researchers continue to find evidence linking a healthful diet to the prevention of disease. But what do we know about diet and arthritis? There are many forms of arthritis and unfortunately nothing that confirms one particular diet is effective in treatment or prevention. But we do know that a healthy, well balanced diet and weight control is very important to arthritis management.
Weight: There is a vicious cycle that occurs with arthritis. Joint pain and decreased activity contribute to weight gain. Weight gain contributes to decrease mobility. Dr. William Faloon, an orthopedic surgeon from Spokane sees this cycle in many of the patients.
"Being overweight can increase the pain from arthritis in weight bearing joints,” said Dr, Faloon. “For many of my patients who are overweight and have painful, arthritic joints, I recommend that they lose weight as a first step prior to surgery (i.e. joint replacements). Unfortunately, this is often easier said than done."
Weight loss tips: eat slowly, plan meals, focus while eating, check yourself for fullness when you’ve eaten three-quarters of your meal and STOP eating if you are feeling full. Avoid emotional eating and load your plate with half a plateful of fruits and vegetables, one-quarter plate of protein and one-quarter carbohydrates.
Exercise: Patients who have painful arthritis of their weight bearing joints, such as the hips, knees, ankles and feet, can aggravate their pain while exercising, especially when participating in "impact type" activities, such as running. However, according to Dr Faloon, participating in "low impact" activities such as swimming, using a stationary bike (or regular bike), elliptical machine or stair master may be less painful. Patients who have painful, arthritic joints may be considered for joint replacement surgery in order to alleviate their pain. However, occasionally overweight patients can loose enough weight, so that their arthritic pain decreases and therefore they can avoid or delay having surgery.
Nutrients: The American Dietetic Association recommends 500 milligrams a day of omega-3 fatty acids, or two servings of fatty fish per week, as part of a balanced diet. Omega-3 fatty acids may decrease the pain and swelling of arthritis. They have been linked to decreasing morning stiffness and the number of swollen joints. Fish high in omega-3s include cold water fish: salmon, sardines, mackerel, herring and lake trout.
Vitamin D may also have a protective role. 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. There are 100 IUs in just one glass of milk or fortified orange juice and a multivitamin has between 200-400 IUs.
Folic Acid is sometimes deficient in those who take Methotrexate to treat arthritis. You can find folic acid in green vegetables and fortified grains and cereals.
Anti-oxidants—Vitamins C, E and Beta-Carotene-- prevent the body from making free-oxygen radicals that may be linked to joint damage. Fruits and vegetables are high in antioxidants.
Lastly, if you feel that some foods aggravate your arthritis pain, try to eliminate these from your diet for several weeks, but make sure to supplement your diet with the nutrients that these foods provided. Always communicate with your doctor regarding any dietary changes that you undergo.