Rheumatoid arthritis plagues 21 million Americans at some point in their lives, creating pain, discomfort and disability. Although it attacks various areas of the body—knees, shoulders, and feet—one of the most common and painful places it invades are the hands. The simplest tasks like getting dressed, brushing your teeth, or eating becomes a painful struggle.
Unfortunately, there is no cure for rheumatoid arthritis and it’s typically treated with anti-inflammatory medication, working to varying degrees of effectiveness.
There are, however, lifestyle options you can take advantage of to ease the pain and severity of arthritic flare-ups. These options work to reduce inflammation and promote strength and blood flow in affected areas.
It might not come as a surprise to learn that a healthy diet and exercise are proven to help manage arthritis. After all, they seem to help with most other chronic conditions. Eating certain healthy foods helps reduce inflammation leading to pain, while providing other benefits helpful to people with arthritis like lowered blood pressure and weight loss.
A good framework for an arthritis diet is the Mediterranean diet, or, in other words, a diet high in fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, fish, and beans.
Here’s an example of foods to eat and how they can possibly reduce arthritis pain.
- Contains substantial servings of omega-3 fatty acids that are shown to reduce inflammation
- Research shows people who regularly consume omega-3s have lower levels of inflammatory proteins in the bloodstream
- Helps reduce joint swelling and pain, duration of morning stiffness, and disease activity in people with rheumatoid arthritis
- A study shows people who increased their daily omega-3 consumption were able to discontinue use of anti-inflammatory drugs and noticed no flare-ups
Nuts and Seeds
- A 15-year study showed people who consume nuts regularly showed a 51% reduced chance of dying from an anti-inflammatory disease.
- Vitamin B6 is found in most nuts, and a study found people low in vitamin B6 had high levels of CRP (C-reactive protein, which rises when there is inflammation in the body) and oxidative damage.
- Can help with weight loss
- Try and eat 1.5 ounces per day
Fruits and Veggies
- These are high in antioxidants. Antioxidants protect your cells from free radicals that can cause damage. Your body produces oxidants that can lead to inflammation and antioxidants neutralize them
- Eat a wide variety and go for all the brightest colors. Different antioxidants are in different foods, so eat the color of the rainbow
- Try to get nine or more servings (combined fruits and vegetables) per day
- The monounsaturated fat act as an anti-inflammatory
- A way to get valuable polyphenols from olives
- Oleocanthol, a compound in olives, can lower inflammation by working like ibuprofen
- Reduces pain sensitivity and limits the inflammatory process
- Try to eat two to three tablespoons daily
- Eating about a cup a week can lower CRP, which limits inflammation.
- Protein to promote and maintain muscle
- Contain antioxidants to lower inflammation
The arthritis diet is a great way to reduce inflammation and give your body the nutrients it needs to fight the painful symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. As much as eating these foods can offer help, they can’t do it alone.
In order to give yourself the best defense against arthritis you need a two-pronged attack featuring the right diet and exercises. Check out part two of this article for the right exercises to beat arthritis pain.
Paturel, A., “The Ultimate Arthritis Diet,” Arthritis Foundation web site, 2014; http://www.arthritistoday.org/what-you-can-do/eating-well/arthritis-diet/the-arthritis-diet.php, last accessed March 7, 2014.