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Arthritis and Diet control

Forty million Americans have some form of arthritis today -- and the number is growing fast. As our population ages, the number of Americans affected will increase to 60 million by the year 2020. That is one in every five people.

 Can a nutritional approach help those who suffer chronically from the pain, swelling and joint stiffness of arthritis? There is some evidence that it can.
 

Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids, primarily found in oily fish, may reduce the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. They appear to suppress the immune system response that causes joint inflammation. In studies involving large doses of fish oil supplements (2.4 to 5 grams a day), there was some evidence of reduced stiffness and pain; the results were relatively meager -- but promising. Fish that are rich in Omega-3 fatty acids include:
  • salmon
  • mackerel
  • herring
  • sardines
  • tuna
  • anchovies
Check with your doctor before taking large doses of fish oil, since it can also affect blood clotting, and it may interact with medications you are taking.

 The Omega-6 fatty acid GLA, or gamma-linolenic acid, may suppress the production of prostaglandins that trigger inflammation. Two studies have shown promising results from using one to three grams a day. Finding a good source of GLA is more problematic. Evening primrose oil contains some, but it is quite expensive. Unfortunately, other herbal preparations may be weak or inconsistent in their dose.

Vitamins
The anti-oxidant effect of vitamins C, D, E and beta-carotene may offer protection from certain types of arthritis, in the following ways.

  • Vitamins C and D may help with osteoarthritis. One promising study showed a slowing in the progression of osteoarthritis of the knee at doses of less than 150 milligrams of vitamin C (the equivalent of two 8-ounce glasses of orange juice) and 400 IU of vitamin D.
  • Vitamin E has been shown to reduce pain and inflammation.
  • Low beta-carotene levels have been linked to rheumatoid arthritis.
Getting adequate amounts of these nutrients is easy; a diet rich in fruits and vegetables should provide you with quite enough.
 

Diet Regimens
A vegetarian diet has been shown to be effective in reducing the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis in at least one study. The diet regimen in this study consisted of:

  • no animal meat
  • more fruits and vegetables
  • less fat
  • more Omega-3 fatty acids
However, it is not clear which component or combination of them was responsible for the positive results. If you decide to try a vegetarian diet, it is very important to make sure you are getting enough protein.

Another common diet remedy, avoiding the "nightshade" vegetables, has not been proven reliable in research studies. Some accounts suggest that arthritis could be triggered by certain foods, the same way food allergies are triggered. If you suspect that a particular food is somehow associated with your arthritis flaring up, try eliminating it for a couple of weeks and then reintroducing it back into your diet to see what happens. To avoid the risk of adverse nutritional consequences, do not try to eliminate entire groups of foods at one time.

Latest Cure?
Jason Theodoskis' controversial best seller, The Arthritis Cure, recommends using the dietary supplements glucosamine and chondoitin to treat arthritis. (These compounds supposedly stimulate the growth of cartilage.) While both substances are safe to use and have been shown to provide pain relief, the skeptics would hardly call them a "cure." In addition, because they are supplements, they are not regulated, so the actual dose and purity of the various forms that are available may vary. Buyer beware.
 

What else can you do?

  • Control Your Weight: Excess weight has been associated with increased risk of arthritis of the knee (and of gout, in men). If you have arthritis, maintaining your ideal weight will increase your mobility and balance and reduce the strain on your joints.
     
  • Exercise Regularly: Strength training increases muscle strength and, therefore, joint support. Low-impact exercise helps improve flexibility and conditioning. And regular joint motion and weight bearing can protect against the progression of arthritis. Best of all, exercise can improve functioning without increasing symptoms. A lack of exercise, on the other hand, leads to weakening and breakdown of cartilage.
     
  • Eat Right: Get at least five servings a day of fruits and vegetables, drink two to three classes of vitamin D-fortified milk, and consider a vegetarian diet.
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