Nine diet tips that can help manage arthritis
Certain foods and lifestyle behaviours can help slow the progression of arthritis, and have a huge impact on a patient's well-being, writes nutritionist Gaye Godkin
Arthritis is an inflammation of the joints that results in pain and in some cases, immobility. It ranges from mild to severe. It is now better understood and is recognised as an inflammatory illness. Inflammation regulation is the job of the immune system.
The relationship between diet and arthritis is now becoming more apparent due to our understanding of the role diet plays in the immune system. Although there is no specific diet for arthritis, studies have shown that certain foods and lifestyle behaviours slow the progression and can have a preventative effect.
Collagen and cherries
Osteoarthritis is caused by the breakdown of cartilage which is the connective tissue that covers the surface of joints. Collagen is the most abundant protein in connective tissue. Increasing foods that build collagen is particularly important after the age of 50. Joint pain is commonly thought of as a concern for the elderly, but the truth is it can affect anyone.
Athletes, especially, are vulnerable to joint pain and need to take proper steps to ensure their joints remain healthy. The body is constantly making collagen but less is produced during ageing. Vitamin C is vital for collagen production. Vitamin C is also an antioxidant and helps support your immune system.
Cherries are a good source and contain other bone-supporting nutrients. Citrus fruits such as oranges, lemons and grapefruit, red peppers, strawberries and sweet potatoes all contribute a significant amount to your vitamin C intake.
Watch your weight
Two of the biggest risk factors for the development of the most common form of arthritis called osteoarthritis are the ageing process and being overweight. Maintaining a healthy weight can have a huge impact on your overall well-being and may prevent the development of arthritis.
Carrying extra weight on the joints is very taxing for them. We know that exercise is so important for bone and joint health. Excess fat cells produce inflammatory proteins which erode the delicate cartilage in between the joints.
Broccoli has been showing great promise as a food that may help prevent the onset of arthritis. Broccoli contains a compound called sulforaphane. This is also found in sprouts and cabbage. Sulforaphane has been shown to slow down the destruction of cartilage in between joints. Other sulphur containing vegetables are turnips and onions. They speed up the detoxification process and support the production of collagen which acts like a pillow in between bone. As with all dietary intervention designed to support good health, it is dose dependent. Aim to incorporate into the diet often for the best results.
Red and yellow foods
Free radicals are neutralised in the body when we consume antioxidant foods. Beta carotene is a potent antioxidant. Foods such as red and yellow peppers are a great source of beta carotene. Carrots, squash, sweet potato also contain good amounts of this nutrient. Interestingly, beta-carotene is more bio-available to the body for use when these vegetables are cooked. During the winter months, roasting them brings out more of this particular nutrient. As with all foods that contain healthy nutraceuticals it is important to eat them several times per week to feel the real benefit from them.
Reduce meat consumption
Meat is a food which is high in nitrogen and as such is hard on the system. It is difficult to break down and in excess has a direct association with gout which is a form of arthritis. Irish people are eating far too much meat. Furthermore many people are following fad diets that recommend eating lots of meat. This is not a good plan. It is not good to eat meat twice daily regardless of which animal it comes from. Processed meats are particularly harmful to health and there is a direct association between processed meats consumption and inflammation.
Increase fish consumption
According to research from the Karolinska Institute in Sweeden, consumption of omega 3-rich oily fish twice weekly reduces the risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis by 52pc. RA is an auto-immune disease which requires immune regulation. Omega 3 oils communicate on the cell membrane with the immune system and have the ability to down regulate excess immune activity.
Omega 3 is nature's most potent anti-inflammatory food source. To maximise their effects on the body, we need to consume them twice or three times weekly. Its primary source which the body can use and absorb is from oily fish in the form of EPA and DHA. Omega 3 can be obtained from flaxseeds, chia seeds and some nuts, however it is in a vegetable form which is not readily available for use by the body so these are not considered a good source of omega 3.
Fish also contains a protein called elastin which is a vital component in collagen production.
Sunshine & vitamin D
Vitamin D is an essential vitamin which supports and strengthens immunity and has a potent anti-inflammatory effect on the body. Due to our northerly latitude, we do not get sufficient sunshine in Ireland. Particularly during the winter months, we are deprived of this essential vitamin.
The best source of vitamin D is from sunshine. Food sources do contain small amounts of vitamin D. Foods such as oily fish, butter, eggs, liver and milk contain D but not sufficient for the body's needs during the winter months.
Vegetarians and vegans are most at risk of vitamin D deficiency as it is only bio-available to the body in the animal format D3. During winter months it is advisable to supplement with vitamin D.
Another useful natural agent for osteoarthritis is ginger, which has been shown to reduce the production of inflammatory substances in the body. Ginger tea, made by steeping some freshly grated, chopped or sliced root ginger in hot water for five or 10 minutes, makes an ideal brew for sufferers of osteoarthritis. Cooking with warming spices in general can provide an anti-inflammatory effect. Warming spices such as black pepper, cloves, cardamon and cumin, contain plant chemicals that protect the cells from damage and ageing.
Turmeric is a root plant. The principal component of turmeric is curcumin which gives it it's yellow pigment. It is traditionally used in Indian and Middle Eastern cuisine. Turmeric is well known to the scientific world for many years now. It is now widely accepted that turmeric has potent anti-inflammatory properties. It works by blocking an enzyme involved in the inflammatory cascade and it has a very positive effect on the immune system. Turmeric is absorbed across the gut wall only if it is cooked in oil. Therefore taking turmeric pills or adding it to water or tea is ineffective. Adding black pepper to cooked turmeric enhances it's anti-inflammatory properties which has been shown to protect the joints.
Health & Living