Understanding Arthritis and Diet

Derived from Greek and Latin roots, the word “arthritis” appropriately means joint inflammation.  Arthritis affects roughly one fifth of the population of the United States and is the main reason for disability in people over the age of 55 living in industrialized parts of the world.  It is not a single disease, however - there are roughly 100 different types of arthritis. 

The most common forms are osteoarthritis (OA) and rheumatoid arthritis (RA), with both types affecting the musculoskeletal system, particularly the joints.  Symptoms of osteoarthritis can include joint pain, progressive stiffness without visible swelling, and chills or fever during activity.

People who develop rheumatoid arthritis may experience similar symptoms:  painful (and visible) swelling, and stiffness that occurs in the joints of fingers, wrists, arms or legs on both sides of the body – particularly upon waking.  Children developing juvenile RA can experience recurrent fever, reduced appetite and weight loss, anemia, a blotchy rash on the extremities, or joint stiffness and swelling.

Dietary Changes for Arthritis

Since the 1920s, diet has played an important role in the treatment of arthritis, and many studies have attempted to determine what type of diet might be best for various forms of the disease.

Milk and dairy products appear to play a part in the exacerbation of arthritis symptoms:

In 1981, a 38-year old woman suffering with progressive seronegative erosive rheumatoid arthritis for eleven years eliminated all dairy products from her diet and recovered, gaining full mobility.  She was then hospitalized and tested with significant amounts of cheese and milk over the course of three days, after which there was a noticeable relapse of arthritis symptoms.

In a 1985 study, all dairy products were removed from the diets of patients with seronegative erosive rheumatoid arthritis, and seven of the fifteen patients experienced remission.

Diets that are high in saturated fat also appear to have a negative effect on those suffering from arthritis:

In 1981, six patients with RA experienced complete remission when put on a fat-free diet.  Within 24 to 72 hours of eating a meal high in saturated fat, the symptoms returned. 

Finally, cereal foods that contain corn and wheat have also proven to be a problem:

A 6-week, placebo-controlled, single-blind study was conducted on 48 patients in 1986 to determine what types of foods generate arthritic symptoms.  Forty-one of the patients were able to identify specific, symptom-producing foods.  Of these, cereal foods containing corn and wheat generated symptoms in more than 50 percent of the participants.

Because an important component to arthritis is inflammation, it stands to reason that any treatment that fights inflammation would be beneficial – like anti-inflammatory foods.

Joy Bauer, author of Food Cures, recommends anti-inflammatory foods like omega-3 fatty acids found in salmon, herring, sardines, flaxseed and walnuts for people with arthritis. 

She also recommends:

  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • The antioxidants vitamin C, selenium and carotenes
  • Anthocyanidins – found in blackberries, black currants, blueberries, boysenberries, cherries, dark-colored grapes, eggplant, plums, raspberries and strawberries
  •  Quercetin – found in black currants, blueberries, broccoli, cherry tomatoes, kale, leeks and onions
  • Spices like ginger and turmeric

Ms. Bauer also stresses maintenance of a healthy weight for people suffering from arthritis, as extra weight can put stress on the joints.  In fact, every one pound of weight lost amounts to four pounds less stress the knees.  Also, she points out that body fat is metabolically active, generating chemicals and hormones that boost inflammation – so losing fat would therefore reduce inflammation in the body.  

Before beginning any type of dietary regime or exercise program for arthritis, always consult with a healthcare professional.






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