Many diseases, including arthritis are caused by chronic low-grade inflammation. It is now widely accepted that some foods fuel inflammation, while others make it better.
The inflammatory response is connected with the body’s immune function. A big part of the immune system is located in our digestive tract. Therefore, it’s no surprise that when the gut is not looked after, this causes a domino effect. It disturbs normal immune reactions and turns a healthy protective mechanism (which inflammation essentially is) into a foe.
Types of Arthritis:
It’s important to distinguish between the two types of arthritis:
- Osteoarthritis (OA)
- Rheumatoid arthritis (RA)
They have similar symptoms and both affect the joints, but the origins are different.
While OA is usually an age-related condition caused by the wear and tear of joints, RA develops any time in life and is considered an auto-immune condition.
Osteoarthritis – New Findings
Traditionally, OA was considered a non-inflammatory type of arthritis. However, new findings suggest that in both cases, low-grade inflammation is a major driver of ongoing joint degeneration, and that the distinction might not be as big as once thought. Therefore, the diet recommendations described below can often refer to both types of arthritis.
Before implementing any (drastic) dietary changes, discuss it with your medical team.
Arthritis and Food
There is no ‘arthritis diet’ as such. It is generally recommended to eat a balanced diet, maintain a healthy body weight and reduce your stress levels.
According to Arthritis Research UK, some studies show that people who eat a lot of red meat are more likely to develop joint inflammation.
It has also been suggested that vegetarian and vegan diets can reduce the risk of rheumatoid arthritis. If you do follow such diets, you just need to make sure you provide your body with sufficient amount of nutrients from plant sources. The most common deficiencies in vegetarians and vegans include:
- Calcium – check out these sources of calcium that are better than dairy products
- Selenium – try to eat a lot of nuts (especially Brazil nuts) as mentioned in my post about the health benefits of nuts and seeds
- Vitamin B12 – read my post about the warning symptoms of B12 deficiency
- Vitamin D – read my post about the 12 common diseases cause by vitamin D deficiency
If you think you might not be getting enough of these nutrients with your daily diet, consider a good quality supplement.
What to Eat to Improve Arthritis?
1. Fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids:
Research suggests that omega-3 fatty acids prevent inflammation. They are readily available in oily fish, salmon being the prime example. Actually, all fish contain omega-3, so you needn’t limit yourself. The highest doses, however, are available in salmon, sardines, anchovies and herring. For example, a 3 ounce serving of salmon provides you with 2 grams of these healthy fatty acids.
I’ve already mentioned the health benefits of omega 3 and the fact that consumption of oily fish can reduce the risk of breast cancer. Taking omega 3 is also one of the 70 habits featured in my e-book 70 Powerful Habits For A Great Health which will guide you how to take positive steps to improve your wellness and overall health.
Plant sources of omega-3 are not as good:
Unfortunately for vegetarians and vegans, plant sources of omega-3, such as flax seeds and walnuts, don’t contain a full spectrum of essential fatty acids. They contain only ALA (alpha-linolenic acid). The body needs to convert the short-chain version (ALA) to a long-chain version (EPA and DHA) in order to make use of it, however some studies indicate that the conversion of ALA to DHA and EPA is relatively small.
Omega-6 to omega-3 ratio
Another important point I’ve written about before is the omega-6 to omega-3 ratio. Modern diet contains too much omega-6 and not enough omega-3 fatty acids. The imbalance itself is often a cause of inflammation and needs to be addressed by increasing omega-3 intake and reducing omega-6. Omega-6 fatty acids are present in vegetable oils, so are often consumed with the abundance of fried and processed goods we eat these days.
Your best bet to get it right is to increase fish consumption, and use oils that are low in omega-6, such as coconut oil and olive oil.
2. Extra-virgin olive oil:
As I mentioned above, olive oil reduces your omega-6 intake and is a vital part of the Mediterranean diet, which has been linked to the reduction in RA symptoms, according to webMD.
Studies have shown that a compound in olive oil inhibits the production of chemicals that cause inflammation, which is very similar to the mechanism of pharmaceutical anti-inflammatory drugs. For more useful information about olive oil, read my post on how to use olive oil as a natural medicine.
3. Fruits and vegetables rich in antioxidants:
Consuming food that contains a lot of antioxidants is another way to reduce your inflammation. Nutritionists often recommend eating colorful food – the reason for that is not esthetic, but health-related. Fruits and veg that are bright get their rainbow colors from flavonoids and carotenoids, which are powerful antioxidants. Checkout my post about the 5 reasons to eat multiple colored fruits & vegetables.
Fruits and veg high in antioxidants:
- Sweet potatoes
4. Whole grains:
According to The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, whole grains reduce inflammatory markers in the body and in this way prevent exacerbation of arthritis.
What about gluten and arthritis?
Following questions from readers who are worried about a link between gluten and aggravated symptoms of arthritis – The Arthritis Foundation wrote an article about “The Connection Between Gluten And Arthritis” in which the current recommendation is to avoid gluten if you have a gluten sensitivity or Celiac disease, but there is no general recommendation to avoid gluten if you suffer from arthritis but don’t suffer from gluten sensitivity or Celiac disease.
While the research is still debating about this point, bear in mind that not all whole grains contain gluten (like amaranth, buckwheat, millet, quinoa, oats, brown and purple rice and sorghum), and you can still include these in your diet.
Ginger has been counted amongst the natural anti-inflammatory remedies. The study results have not been uniform, but, according to some reports, the root is supposed to act in a medicinal way and reduces inflammation. Ginger is also one of the ingredients in my ultimate anti inflammatory smoothie and in my anti inflammatory turmeric ginger tea. You can get more information about ginger in my post on how to use ginger as a natural medicine.
I wrote in the past about the amazing health benefits of turmeric. Curcumin, the component which gives turmeric its golden color and its many health benefits, has been well-studied over the years. It works as a powerful antioxidant and has anti-inflammatory and antiseptic properties. Turmeric is used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and Indian Ayurvedic medicine to treat arthritis. It is claimed that turmeric reduces arthritis joint pain, inflammation, and stiffness related to arthritis. Turmeric is also one of the superfoods mentioned in my e-book about superfoods which is part of the Natural Health Revolution Program. This program will help you to achieve your health, nutrition and weight loss goals.
7. Vitamin C:
This vitamin also works as an antioxidant and has been shown to reduce the risk of developing RA by 30%. Good sources include:
- Bell peppers
Berries are especially high in vitamin C and you can find easy and nutritious berry recipes in my e-book The Healing Berry Guide. This e-book will teach you how to transform your health with berries and their amazing health benefits.
You should stick with dietary sources of vitamin C, as big doses of supplements have been linked to arthritis flare-ups.
Foods to Avoid if You Have Arthritis:
- Sugars – they provide you with nothing but empty calories and increase your blood sugar levels. This has a negative impact on inflammation development and your overall health.
- Saturated and trans fats – these fats are most common in processed foods, so try to avoid processed foods as much as possible. A small amount of saturated fat that comes from natural unprocessed sources is fine.
- Dairy and red meat – excessive consumption of both has been linked to inflammatory reaction.
- Salt and sodium – you often consume salt without even realizing – it’s present in processed foods many people like to munch on. Overdoing it on salt can bring your blood pressure up – another risk factor for many chronic diseases.