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According to the World Health Organization, an unhealthy diet is one of the major risk factors for a range of chronic diseases, including cardiovascular diseases, cancer, diabetes, and other conditions that are linked to obesity. While there is limited research on possible direct links between diet and arthritis, there is an established link between poor diet and several risk factors for arthritis, including obesity, inflammation, and diabetes.
Osteoarthritis and Diet
A poor diet impacts the risk and symptoms of osteoarthritis (OA) mainly through increasing your weight. Some studies implicate a high intake of fiber with less pain in knee OA, although the link may be underpinned by the fact that fiber increases the feeling of fullness after a meal. Therefore, people who consume more fiber may feel less need to eat large meals or snack between meals, and this limits their weight gain. Other research associates a high intake of saturated fat with decreased joint space (an indicator of how much cartilage remains in a joint) and weaker cartilage.
Rheumatoid Arthritis and Diet
A 2017 study looked at the diet of 208 people with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and found that a high daily intake of monounsaturated fatty acids (healthy fats) doubled the chance of remission in RA, and was associated with a significant decline in erythrocyte sedimentation rates, which is a key marker of inflammation.
Harvard researchers reviewed data on 1,007 women taking part in the long-running Nurses’ Health Study II and concluded that a healthier diet was associated with a reduced risk of RA occurring at 55 years of age or younger. Another study, reported in 2017, looked at diet quality, disease activity, and functional status in 84 people with RA. Only 7.1 percent of the participants ate a diet that was categorized as “good,” while 58.3 percent ate a diet that was “fair,” and 34.5 percent ate a diet that was “poor.” The results showed an inverse relationship between diet quality and morning stiffness and C-reactive protein (an inflammatory marker).
Gout and Diet
Gout is the form of arthritis with the most significant link to diet. To reduce the risk of recurrent attacks of gout, the following foods should be restricted:
- Red meat and organ meats
- Yeast and yeast extracts
- Spinach, asparagus, cauliflower, and mushrooms
- Processed foods
The following foods, beverages, and supplements, however, can help prevent attacks:
- Vitamin C
- Fresh vegetables (other than those on the restricted list)
Avoid Foods That May Worsen Arthritis
Some people are sensitive to the nightshade family of foods, which includes potatoes, eggplant, tomatoes, and green peppers. Sensitive individuals may notice that they experience a flare-up or feel unwell after eating these foods. If you have inflammatory arthritis, it may be worth keeping a food diary for a couple of weeks, and eliminating these foods from your diet before slowly reintroducing them. A dietitian can help you with this process.
Good Hydration Matters
Good hydration reduces inflammation and keeps cells healthy. Dehydration may cause cartilage to dry out and become fragile, especially if you’re overweight. Gouty flare-ups are often linked to dehydration.
The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine recommend that men ingest approximately 66 8-ounce cups (that’s nearly a gallon) of fluids, and women about 11 8-ounce cups each day. This should come from a combination of plain water, beverages, and foods with a high water content, such as fruits, vegetables, soups, and broths. Note that coffee and tea are dehydrating, so follow each cup with a glass of water.
Alcohol and Arthritis
There is some research suggesting that alcohol in moderation has an anti-inflammatory effect and may reduce the risk of developing RA. The sweet spot for prevention is 5 to 10 grams of alcohol—that’s one small glass of wine or beer each day. This advice is not one-size-fits-all: some people with RA find that drinking certain alcoholic beverages triggers a flare-up.
It’s also vital to keep in mind that alcohol and pain-relieving medications do not mix well. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) are associated with an increased risk of ulcers and gastrointestinal bleeding—a risk that significantly increases when NSAIDs are combined with alcohol. Imbibe while taking acetaminophen (Tylenol), methotrexate (Rheumatrex, Trexall), and/or leflunomide (Arava), and you’ll increase your risk of liver damage. Added to those risks, excessive alcohol intake increases the chance of falls and fractures. People with gout also need to be cautious when drinking alcohol. Beer and red wine in particular increase the risk of uric acid buildup, gout flare-ups, and permanent joint damage.
The Power of Tea
Several studies show that tea (green or black) contains powerful antioxidants that reduce inflammation. One 2016 study showed that green tea contains high amounts of anti-inflammatory polyphenols, which reduce free radicals (naturally occurring molecules that damage cells). In the study, RA patients treated with green tea for six months alone or in combination with the biologic drug infliximab (Remicade) or an exercise program showed significant improvement in disease activity. It is certainly worth giving tea a try.
For more information about arthritis and diet, purchase Arthritis Guide to Diagnosis and Treatment at www.UniversityHealthNews.com.