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Arthritis and Diet

Although there are no diets or dietary supplements that will cure your arthritis, some people do find that a change in diet can improve their symptoms. But because people are all different and there are many different types of arthritis, what works for one person and their symptoms may not work for another.
Many people living with arthritis, particularly rheumatoid arthritis, also say there is a link between certain foods and the flare-ups they experience.

There are many food myths surrounding arthritis, but some studies suggest certain foods may help to reduce pain and inflammation and slow the progression of arthritis. Some people say dairy products cause arthritis and that cider vinegar and honey will cure it.Others believe acidic fruits, such as lemons, oranges and grapefruit, and nightshade vegetables, such as potatoes, aubergines and peppers, can make symptoms worse.
Whether or not the above myths are in fact true, it is still worth thinking about your diet for the following reasons:

  • If you’re overweight, losing some weight will reduce the strain on your joints so you may find you don’t need to take painkillers quite so often.
  • A good diet can help to protect you against some potential side-effects of drugs.
  • A healthy diet can also help to protect against heart disease (which can sometimes be a complication of certain types of arthritis).
If you have arthritis, the following are likely to help:
  • Eat a balanced and varied diet to maximise your intake of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and other nutrients.
  • Change the type of fats and oils you eat and include oily fish and olive or rapeseed oil.
  • Eat a more Mediterranean-style diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables.
  • Get regular exercise.

Certain foods are believed to help reduce the pain and inflammation caused by arthritis and slow down the condition's progression.  For example, if you are taking steroids over a long period of time you are more likely to develop osteoporosis. You can reduce this risk, however, eat foods rich in calcium and vitamin D. Sunlight is our main source of vitamin D but it can also be found in oily fish and fortified foods, such as cereals and margarines.  Calcium-rich foods include dairy products (milk, cheese and yoghurt), nuts, seeds and fish, such as sardines or whitebait (particularly if you eat the bones).

Iron is important in preventing anaemia and many people with arthritis are anaemic. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) help the pain and stiffness of arthritis but may cause bleeding and stomach ulcers in some people, leading to anaemia. The other main cause of anaemia in arthritis is anaemia of chronic disease, which often occurs with rheumatoid arthritis and similar conditions and doesn’t improve with iron supplements. If you’re anaemic your doctor can tell you if more iron is likely to help.
Good sources of iron are:

  • red meat
  • oily fish e.g. sardines
  • pulses e.g. lentils and haricot beans
  • dark green vegetables e.g. spinach, kale and watercress.

Your body absorbs iron better if you take it with vitamin C, so have fruit juice or a good portion of fruit or vegetables with your meal. It is best not to drink tea with your meal as this reduces the amount of iron that your body can absorb.
Foods rich in omega-3 are believed to have an anti-inflammatory effect, which may reduce the pain associated with inflamed joints. Omega-3 is found in oily fish, such as sardines, mackerel and salmon.  Omega-3 is also found in nuts and seeds (particularly linseed or flax seed), and is regularly used to fortify margarines, cereals and bio-live yoghurt drinks.

The Mediterranean diet is also believed to be good for arthritis as well as a number of other conditions. This diet includes plenty of fruit and vegetables, fish, grains and pulses and a moderate amount of red meat.

Green tea may play a preventive role in the development of arthritis, as it contains compounds that block the enzyme that destroys cartilage.

Diet, coupled with exercise, can have an impact on arthritis.  Whilst exercise may seem a daunting task, non-weight bearing exercise, such as swimming or cycling, is beneficial for people with arthritis, but more 'alternative' exercise, such as yoga, can help too. Whatever activity you do,itis important to be aware of the right pace for you.



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