Many people with rheumatoid arthritis rely on medications to ease stiff and painful joints but these can often have unwanted side effects. What if there was a way to get some relief from arthritis symptoms by changing what you eat?
Arthritis is much less common outside of the Western world, and this is now thought to be due to the differences in diet.
Some of the foods we eat a lot of in the West increase inflammation in the body. In relatively small doses, inflammation isn’t a bad thing as it‘s part of the body’s immune response. Problems start when inflammation becomes chronic and this can contribute to a number of different health issues, including rheumatoid arthritis.
Studies have suggested that a plant based eating plan can reduce inflammation and make rheumatoid arthritis less painful and debilitating.
It’s not going to miraculously make your arthritis symptoms disappear but there seems to be some definite potential for making life easier.
Here’s what you need to know about plant based diets and their connection to rheumatoid arthritis.
The Science Behind It
Plant based diets started to gain ground back in 1999, when a key study found that participants who had followed a vegan diet for several months, followed by an “egg free lacto vegetarian” diet for 9 further months saw a big improvement in their arthritis symptoms compared to the control group – who made no changes at all to their diet during the study.
Following a plant based diet enabled study participants to have less pain and stiffness (including in the morning, when joint stiffness is often at its worst), less swelling and tenderness, and better grip control.
There was physical evidence of change too as their blood showed lower levels of C-reactive proteins (CRPs), which is closely linked to inflammation.
How was this able to happen? Experts believe that diet has a strong link to levels of inflammation in the diet, and that a plant based diet packed with fruits and vegetables can have an anti inflammatory effect. This can be beneficial for a range of conditions, including rheumatoid arthritis, and is also thought to be able to reduce the risk factor for developing cancer and cardiovascular disease.
What to Eat for Arthritis
A healthy, balanced diet is always a good bet but some foods are believed to have benefits for reducing inflammation and helping to improve symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis.
Fish: Eating oily fish such as tuna, salmon, mackerel, herring and trout several times per week gives you a good dose of omega-3 fatty acids. This can reduce inflammation, and help to ease arthritis symptoms such as swollen joints and stiffness, especially in the morning. To get the most out of fatty fish, it’s best to eat it boiled or baked.
Fruit and vegetables: The fibre from fruit and vegetables can reduce levels of inflammation. Dark green vegetables such as broccoli, kale and spinach contain vitamin E and this has been shown in studies to have a role in protecting against inflammatory cytokine molecules. Colourful fruits and vegetables contain antioxidants.
Soy: Studies have indicated that the isoflavones in soy can help to lower C-reactive proteins in the blood. 2007 research on mice found that these also had an impact on bone inflammation.
Extra virgin olive oil: Extra virgin olive oil includes a compound called oleocanthal, which reduces inflammation in a similar way to Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs). However, you’re very unlikely toeat enough to have quite the same effects so unfortunately you won’t be able to ditch your treatments off the back of eating this.
Whole grains: Whole grains have a good amount of fibre, which reduce levels of C-reactive proteins in the blood. If you’re intolerant to wheat or gluten, eating whole grains can trigger an inflammatory reaction and potentially make your symptoms worse.
What Not to Eat for Arthritis
Now you know that there is obvious potential for easing rheumatoid arthritis symptoms with a plant based diet, you’re probably wondering which foods are your best bets and which are believed to increase inflammation levels.
Some of the foods that are likely to trigger inflammation in the body include:
Fatty foods: Foods that contain a lot of fat can trigger inflammation. Fried or grilled meats that are cooked at high temperatures can increase the level of Advanced Glycation End products (AGEs) in the blood. Experts don’t know if there is a direct connection to arthritis but people with inflammation often have high AGEs so it’s not advisable for people with arthritis to eat many foods that promote them.
Sugar and salt: Foods that are high in sugar and salt encourage the immune system to go into overdrive and this can cause problems such as joint pain and tiredness.
Corn, safflower and soybean oils: These oils contain omega-6 fatty acids, which can trigger inflammation, especially if your diet contains more of these compared to omega-3 fatty acids.
Adding lots of anti-inflammatory foods to your diet and making sure you avoid the big triggers for inflammation has great potential for reducing rheumatoid arthritis symptoms and there’s promising evidence that following a plant-based diet can relieve joint stiffness, improve mobility and decrease inflammation markers in the blood.