By now, you probably know that arthritis literally means "joint inflammation." While there are different types of arthritis, different underlying disease pathologies, and different manifestations of arthritis, it is clear that inflammation is the chief culprit. Inflammation is associated with joint damage, joint stiffness, joint swelling, and joint pain. Reducing inflammation is necessary for the disease to be managed and, ultimately, well-controlled.
Inflammation is at the root of many chronic diseases, not just arthritis. Inflammation plays a role in heart disease, asthma, and certain cancers, too. Let's consider some ways to reduce inflammation.
Many people with arthritis are prescribed medications to reduce inflammation. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are commonly prescribed for inflammation related to arthritis. NSAIDs include ibuprofen, naproxen, Celebrex, and aspirin. (Note: Acetaminophen, a popular over-the-counter pain reliever and fever reducer, is not an anti-inflammatory drug.)
Other arthritis drugs, such as DMARDs, corticosteroids, and biologics, also battle inflammation but they target different molecules in the immune system. The risks and benefits of treatment must be weighed when considering medications to reduce inflammation.
Fish oil taken in capsule or liquid form can be beneficial for reducing inflammation. Dr. Andrew Weil recommends two to three grams a day of a fish oil supplement that contains the omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA.
An anti-inflammatory diet is highly recommended for people trying to control inflammation or for those who just want to eat as healthy as possible. An anti-inflammatory diet focuses on cutting your intake of saturated fats and trans fats while increasing your intake of foods rich in alpha-linolenic acid.
The Mediterranean diet, considered a good example of an anti-inflammatory diet, is based on the consumption of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, beans, and legumes. Fish and seafood is consumed at least a couple of times per week. Poultry, eggs, cheese, and yogurt are included in moderation. Sweets and red meats are generally avoided but considered acceptable on rare, special occasions.
For a beverage, green tea is thought to possess anti-inflammatory properties.
Maintain Your Ideal Weight
Overweight and body fat distribution contribute to a pro-inflammatory state. A large waist circumference (35 inches for women and 40 inches for men) is typically associated with excess inflammation.
Researchers recognize that there is interplay between inflammation and obesity, although more needs to be learned. At the very least, you should know what your BMI is currently, as well as your ideal BMI. Work towards maintaining your ideal BMI. Reducing your weight by 5-10% significantly lowers your level of inflammation.
Exercise is a great way to reduce inflammation. Experts recommend 30-45 minutes of aerobic exercise, 5 days a week. Many people with arthritis steer clear of regular exercise. Some believe they cannot do enough to have a positive impact, while others feel exercise makes arthritis worse. Remember that doing something is better than doing nothing. Start slow -- at whatever pace you consider do-able -- and then build on that.
Studies have shown that smokers with arthritis have higher inflammatory markers. This is true for any environmental toxin. If you are currently a smoker, snuff out that butt!
Cut Out Stress
Stress has been linked to higher levels of inflammation in the body. While it is not known how stress does this, reducing stress or practicing stress-relieving techniques may help to reduce inflammation.
Get Adequate Sleep
Inadequate sleep has been associated with increased inflammatory markers. When trying to determine how much sleep is adequate, remember that it is not precisely the same for everyone. According to the Better Sleep Council, "It differs for every person. Some people may need as much as 10 hours a night and others need much less. The average person needs 7-8 hours a night."
Determine how much sleep you require to feel well. Then, be aware of how much sleep you are getting on a regular basis. A healthy sleep pattern will help reduce inflammation.
6 Ways to Reduce Inflammation - Without a Statin or a Heart Test. Deborah Kotz. US News & World Report. November 11, 2008.
Anti-inflammatory Diet and Pyramid. WEIL. Dr. Andrew Weil. Accessed 10/14/2013.
Mediterranean Dietary Pattern and Chronic Diseases. Panico S. et al. Cancer Treatment and Research. 2014;159:69-81.
Mediterranean Diet. US News Best Diets. US News & World Report. Accessed 10/14/2013.
Sleep and Inflammation. Simpson N. et al. Nutrition Reviews. December 2007.
Obesity and the role of adipose tissue in inflammation and metabolism. Greenberg A. et al. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. February 2006.