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Diet and Arthritis - The Link is Complex

The Type of Arthritis and Kind of Diet Must Be Considered

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Updated January 21, 2012

Nutritious Eating Is Important

It is well-recognized that a healthy diet is important for everyone. Arthritis patients, however, sometimes look beyond this notion of healthy eating and look to diet for a cure. The link between diet and arthritis is complex.

There is evidence that diet can influence some types of arthritis, but to fully understand this, the type of arthritis and the kind of diet must be considered. One example is gout, which is affected by high uric acid levels. A diet which is low in alcohol and purine-rich foods can lower blood uric acid levels and lessen the likelihood of a gout attack. Purines are natural substances found in certain foods. Alcohol is known to alter purine metabolism. Dietary changes may decrease the severity or frequency of gout attacks. Dietary modifications may also be preferred by people who cannot tolerate gout medications.

Excess Body Weight

Excess body weight influences arthritis by putting extra strain on already burdened joints. Clinical experience has shown researchers that people who are 20% or more over normal body weight have more problems with their arthritis. Seemingly the weightbearing joints are most affected by carrying the extra weight. The extra load placed on the weightbearing joints (more specifically the knees, hips, ankles, feet, and spine) can increase the pain in those joints.

The increased pain, resulting sedentary lifestyle, and further weight gain can become a vicious cycle. Osteoarthritis patients commonly deal with this problem of battling weight gain. Rheumatoid arthritis patients who are on corticosteroid therapy (i.e. prednisone) are warned about increased appetite, fluid retention and unavoidable weight gain as side effects of the therapy.

Allergens May Trigger Flares

It is believed by some people that particular foods act as allergens which can trigger arthritis flares. Although no specific food has been implicated as a cause of arthritis it is known that foods can alter the function of the immune system. Examples of immune-mediated reactions include asthma, rashes, and hives.

With regard to arthritis, possible offenders may include:

  • caffeine
  • dairy products
  • nightshade vegetables (tomatoes, peppers, etc.)
  • sugar
  • additives and preservatives
  • chocolate
  • red meats
  • salt

Even if food allergy was a cause of arthritis, not every person would be found to be allergic to the same food. The way to test for a food allergy is to try an elimination diet. By eliminating a specific food from your diet, you can observe whether arthritis symptoms improve.

Dietary Guidelines - Eating Healthier

Seven Dietary Guidelines originally published by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services:

  • Eat a variety of foods: Eat from all 4 basic food groups (breads and cereals, fruits and vegetables, meats, and dairy) to obtain the needed forty-plus essential nutrients to maintain good health.
  • Maintain your ideal weight: Less weight equates with less strain on weightbearing joints. Less strain equates with less pain.
  • Avoid too much fat, saturated fat, cholesterol: Increased amounts of fat contribute to weight gain and obesity.
  • Eat adequate amounts of starch and fiber: Starches such as bread, rice, beans, pasta, and potatoes give the body energy. Fiber, the undigested portion of the plants we eat, adds bulk and helps with the process of elimination.
  • Avoid too much sugar: Sugar provides empty calories and little nutrition, contributing to excess weight gain.
  • Avoid too much sodium: Excess salt can contribute to high blood pressure and water retention.
  • Avoid alcohol: Alcohol can deplete the body of vitamins and minerals besides being high in calories. It also potentially can interact with medications for arthritis.

Diet And Arthritis: The Bottom Line

Well-balanced nutritious meals are important for the overall good health of everyone. Maintain as close to your ideal body weight as possible. Avoid fad diets and unproven diet claims that may end up robbing your body of essential nutrients.

Sources:

The Duke University Medical Center Book of Arthritis, by David S. Pisetsky, M.D., Ph.D. with Susan Flamholtz Trien (1995).

Arthritis: What Works, by Dava Sobel and Arthur C. Klein

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