What to Eat to Treat Arthritis
Arthritis affects the nervous and musculoskeletal immune centers.
Rheumatism and rain do not go together, despite the old wives’ tale. But super immunity foods and sore joints do. And you’re right as rain if you reach for a spoonful of Mustard Greens Pesto or Olive-Oil Mayonnaise when your joints are jumping, either from rheumatoid arthritis (RA) or osteoarthritis (OA).
Contrary to conventional folk wisdom, arthritis (“fire in the joints”) is really little affected by the thermometer. So if you are one of the millions of Americans with one of the more than one hundred forms of what is known by the umbrella term arthritis, you can leave the umbrella home when you are symptomatic and think guacamole, grilled tofu, toasted walnuts, and garlic sauce.
Arthritis is the result of inflammatory compounds known as prostaglandins (a kind of hormone) disturbing cell membranes’ health and integrity, producing pain and impaired movement. Arthritis can strike any joint, causing stiffness, pain, and deterioration as cartilage breaks down. Most commonly affected areas are joints of the thumb, fingers, neck, toes, hips, knees, and lower back. Sad to say, what is often the first line of defense—aspirin, ibuprofen, and steroids should be the last, since these medications only mask the discomfort; deplete other nutrients important for proper immune function, such as folic acid, iron, potassium, vitamin C, zinc, and vitamin B complex; and even promote further damage. (If you take them, take the nutritional supplement resveratrol, too, to reduce risk.)
But anti-inflammatory foods plus targeted supplements, specific exercises, and other smart strategies can make all the difference between easy living and compromised movement. Preventing and healing arthritis is a matter of what you do and don’t eat, as well as what you do and don’t do.
What to Eat
There are plenty of low-allergen options for the joint-healing bowl and plate, especially whole-grain breads and pastas (look for the new multigrain pastas using bean and oat flours), carrots, cabbage, lettuce, olives, and olive oil. Avocados and soybeans both supply unsaponifi able oil (ASU). Joints also need a good supply of potassium-rich foods, so think spinach, broccoli, sea vegetables, and soybean miso. Broccoli and zucchini also supply salicylates, which turn off COX-2 enzymes, which in turn triggers inflammation. Onions and garlic supply joint-feeding sulphur (found in joints supporting muscles, tendons, and ligaments) or methylsulfonylmethane (MSM), also found in some fruits, vegetables, grains, sunflower seeds, lentils, garlic, and yogurt. To absorb MSM better, take with vitamin C and vitamin C–rich foods.
Anti-Inflammatory Foods. Walnuts provide inflammation-taming omega-3 fatty acids; pineapple supplies the anti-inflammatory and anti-allergen enzyme bromelain. Other raw, steamed, or juiced foods that boost joint well-being include cherries and dark berries, grapes, brussels sprouts, and mustard greens. The curcumin found in turmeric used in curry powder (and also sold as a supplement) is another natural anti-inflammatory.
The microalgae spirulina supplies phycocyanins that help decrease arthritic flare-ups and protect cartilage (as well as the essential fatty acid gamma-linolenic acid [GLA]). Try a scoop of spirulina powder stirred into vegetable juice or yogurt every day.
More Water, More Tea. Drink up. Joint cartilage, which acts as a cushion between joints and surrounding bones, is 75 to 80 percent water. Soup is an important lubricant, along with water, followed by herbal teas and fresh juices. Rosehip tea provides vitamin C and bioflavonoids; in high doses as a supplement, it relieves pain and improves range of motion.
Get Plenty of Vitamin D. Osteoarthritis is linked to low vitamin D levels. A chronic shortfall of this nutrient can lead to chronic muscle and joint pain, even hypertension and osteoporosis. Eighty percent of all back pain victims are vitamin-D-deficient, say experts. In a study of more than 30,000 middle-aged women over an eleven-year span, those taking vitamin D supplements were 34 percent less prone to RA. Soak up the sun and include plenty of vitamin D source foods in your diet—egg yolks and oily fish or cod liver oil (if you eat them), and even mushrooms that have been exposed to ultraviolet (UV) light are sources of vitamin D, along with ten to fifteen minutes of unfiltered sunlight daily. (SPF 8 sunblock reduces vitamin D production in the body by 95 percent.) Sunlight also increases production of serotonin, which helps turn off pain.
What Not to Eat: Foods to Subtract
Avoid Saturated Fats. Don’t use saturated fats found in animal products that cause an accumulation of inflammation-accelerating arachidonic acid in the tissues. In addition, people with arthritis are often allergic to both meat and dairy. Trans fats still found in many processed foods are another don’t.
Avoid the Nightshades. The Foundation for Integrated Medicine in New York City estimates that 25 percent of OA sufferers have food allergies—some of those sensitivities may be to the nightshade family vegetables, including eggplant, tomatoes, peppers, and potatoes. (Tobacco, besides what it does to the rest of the body, is also a nightshade member and threatens joints as well.) Other problem foods that may exacerbate symptoms include fatty fish, egg yolks, coffee, and dairy products and sugar.