Arthritis and Diet
A huge number of adults are suffering from this painful condition popping a number of pills everyday just to get some relief and this is just not fair. I bet if you suffer from arthritis you would try anything to give you some relief and that is just what this post is about. I am really dedicated to helping find ways the diet can improve conditions because food is easily accessible to all. Hopefully you find this post helpful!!
Although diet is not a treatment for arthritis some foods have been shown to improve symptoms, and deficiencies in certain nutrients can exacerbate symptoms. Therefore in this post I am going to give you the top tips to eating for arthritis and these will hopefully give you some relief. I am however not recommending stopping any prescribed medication but simply helping you modify your diet to provide you with overall better health.
Calcium which is found in milk, cheese and yoghurts is particularly important to avoid developing osteoporosis. You may also be at a greater risk of developing osteoporosis if you have been on steroids to treat your arthritis as they block calcium absorption therefore adequate calcium in the diet is crucial. You should aim to eat around three portions per day. It can be beneficial to choose fat free or low fat varieties such as semi-skimmed milk and low fat cheese as being overweight puts extra pressure on your joints and can cause further discomfort. It is important to get enough vitamin D as it helps with the absorption of calcium in the body. Dietary sources of vitamin D are oily fish, eggs and fortified breakfast cereals. However the best source is not from the diet but from the sunshine. During the summer months 15 minutes of sunshine per day on the arms and face is enough to produce adequate amounts of vitamin D in the skin. However due to Northern Ireland it is very rare that I see much sunshine. For others living in the North I must let you know that during the winter months it is quite common for vitamin D deficiency to occur and for this reason supplementation may be needed. You can request a blood test at your GP practice to test vitamin D levels.
Another important nutrient to think about is iron. Many of you who suffer from arthritis could be taking drugs like ibuprofen, aspirin or diclofenac and a side effect of these is iron deficiency anaemia. This can leave you extremely tired with no energy and pale in colour. Chronic anaemia can also be a problem for those suffering with rheumatoid arthritis. The only way to improve anaemia is through increasing dietary iron or iron supplementation. Good sources of iron are red meat and green leafy vegetables. It can be beneficial trying to improve the diet before choosing supplements as these have side effects such as constipation or diarrhoea. To help with iron absorption in the body it is advantageous to include foods that contain vitamin c in the diet. Although easiest way to get enough vitamin c is to eat 5 portions of fruit and vegetables per day.
Omega 3 fatty acid is found in oily fish such as sardines, mackerel and salmon and it has anti-inflammatory properties that can help conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, reactive arthritis and psoriatic arthritis. Once in the body it helps to fight inflammation at joints, this is where the impaired immune response of the body is attacking itself in arthritis suffers.
Folic acid can be extremely important for those suffering from rheumatoid arthritis who are taking methotrexate as this drug alters the breakdown process of folic acid in the body. It is vital to include foods that are rich in folic acid in the diet such as spinach, broccoli, peas, oranges and fortified breakfast cereals. A folic acid supplement may be required if you are failing to include enough folic acid in your diet. Folic acid is an extremely important nutrient in the first twelve weeks of pregnancy to prevent birth defects such as spina bifida. Therefore if you are thinking about pregnancy talk to your GP.
Overall ensuring you eat a balanced diet containing foods from each nutritional group i.e. meat, fish, poultry and eggs, starchy carbohydrates, fruit and vegetables and dairy whilst limiting fatty foods you should be able to maintain a healthy weight and achieve all nutrient recommendations for health.
Rachel Fitzsimons, Registered Dietitian, DT27002