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.
Arthritis and Diet control
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.
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
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
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.
The anti-oxidant effect of vitamins C, D, E and beta-carotene may
offer protection from certain types of arthritis, in the following ways.
Getting adequate amounts of these nutrients is easy; a diet rich in
fruits and vegetables should provide you with quite enough.
- 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.
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:
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.
- no animal meat
- more fruits and vegetables
- less fat
- more Omega-3 fatty acids
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.
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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