Rheumatoid arthritis is an auto-immune form of arthritis which affects about 0.6% of the adult population in the United States.
It is characterized by stiffness, pain, and inflammation in the joints, numbness, burning and itching in the extremities of the body (hands and feet) and dry mouth.
Rheumatoid arthritis is chiefly a genetic disorder caused due to the presence of certain genes. Sometimes, environmental and other factors like diet, smoking, infection or Vitamin D deficiency can also act as a trigger for the disease.
There is no known cure for the ailment. Most of the drugs help to relieve the disease symptoms.
However, diet can play a significant role in improving the living condition and reducing the suffering of rheumatic patients.
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Rheumatoid arthritis Diet: What you should include?
Diet is considered to be a major factor in controlling the symptoms of arthritis and reducing flare-ups.
It has been since the 1930s when the scientists had claimed that there exists a link between rheumatoid arthritis and diet.
We do have reports where people claim to feel much better after following some special diet.
However, all this still remains unproven as not much work has been done to find the exact role of diet in alleviating or monitoring symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis.
Nevertheless, the importance of a balanced diet cannot be underestimated. Additionally, studies have proven that some plants and natural products do play a significant role in reducing disease symptoms.
Hence the inclusion of these foods in the diet of the patients will certainly show positive effects. With this view in mind, let us have a look at the balanced diet which a patient suffering from Rheumatoid arthritis must have.
Carbohydrates are the main source of energy to the body. They are important for body metabolism and energy needs.
Hence the inclusion of healthy carbs is very essential for the proper working of the body.
However, a patient suffering from Rheumatoid arthritis must be careful in their intake of carbohydrates.
Most of the starchy foods like white bread or excessive sugar are unhealthy and rather act as a trigger for the patients.
Hence for the patients suffering from the disease, it is advisable to include starch in the form of whole grain or whole-wheat. Such foods are not only rich in carbohydrate but also contain a lot of fibre.
Fibre, in turn, helps to improve the functioning of the digestive system and assists in the maintenance of general health and well-being among humans.
Protein forms the building blocks of the body and is important for the proper functioning of every tissue and organ.
But despite being so essential it is not synthesized by the body. Humans fulfill their daily requirements of protein through food.
Moreover, patients with rheumatoid arthritis, suffer from tremendous muscle weakness and weight loss.
So these patients do require a frequent intake of proteins in small quantities on a daily basis.
But here too, some control is needed. We usually rely on meat and dairy products for fulfillment of our protein requirements.
However, for patients with rheumatoid arthritis, just the contrary functions well.
Various studies conducted in the past few years have proven that a vegetarian or vegan diet helps in reducing flare-ups and disease symptoms in rheumatoid arthritis.
Hence vegetarian options for protein supplementation are required among patients suffering from rheumatoid arthritis.
Good substitutes would be bean, legumes, and tofu (obtained from soy milk).
These foods are not only rich in proteins but also help in supplementing the body with essential vitamins and minerals.
Oils and Fats
Oils and fats are an important constituent of the cell membrane and are required to absorb some vitamins in the body. But again, not all fat is healthy and consumable.
Mainly the saturated fats like that present in red meat and processed food are rich in bad cholesterol and hence should not be consumed in large amounts.
For a patient suffering from rheumatoid arthritis, unsaturated fat is a better option .
It is believed that fatty acids block the production of inflammatory mediators derived from arachidonic acid and thus helps in relieving the joint swelling, pain, and redness among the patients of this disease.
Inclusion of omega-3 fatty acids has shown significant improvement in disease symptoms amongst arthritic patients.
The omega-3 fatty acid can be obtained from plants sources like canola, walnut, pine nut, and grape seed.
But the richest source of omega-3 fatty acids is oily fish like tuna, salmon, mackerel, herring, and halibut.
Again olive oil has also been shown to possess anti-rheumatic property due to the presence of various anti-inflammatory factors, antioxidants, and mono-saturated fats.
Thus inclusion of these healthy oils and fats is suggested for a healthy life for people suffering from rheumatism.
Fruits and vegetables
As has been mentioned earlier, a vegetarian diet is quite effective in ameliorating the disease symptoms in the case of rheumatoid arthritis. Fruits and vegetables are rich source of antioxidants.
These antioxidants help in reducing the oxidative damage caused by free radicals thus reducing the pain and inflammation.
Most of the brightly coloured fruits like – carrots, spinach, broccoli, cranberries, red grapes, blueberries etc. - are a rich source of antioxidants.
In fact, there are a number of fruits which have shown beneficial effects especially in the case of rheumatoid arthritis.
For example; apples, pomegranate, avocadoes, and berries.
Ellagic acid found in pomegranate block the inflammatory agents found in the blood that cause cartilage damage and bone destruction during arthritis.
Apart from ellagic acid, it is also rich in Vitamin C, Vitamin E, carotenoids, anthocyanins and polyphenols.
A recent study performed in 2011, demonstrated the positive effects of consuming pomegranate juice in relieving the symptoms of pain and joint inflammation in patients of rheumatoid arthritis.
Similarly, berries are highly effective in alleviating arthritic pain, swelling and joint tenderness.
They are rich sources of antioxidants like quercetin and anthocyanins, both of which help in protecting the body against the damaging effects of the free radicals.
Quercetin can also be found in onions. Research proves that onion as well can help in fighting against the disease symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis.
Thus all these fruits and vegetables can prove to be a natural therapy in treating rheumatoid arthritis.
Minerals are required for the proper functioning of various enzymes and proteins in the body. Some of the minerals play a vital role in combating against rheumatoid arthritis.
One such mineral is Selenium. Brazil nuts have been found to be a rich source of selenium. Past studies have shown that in patients with rheumatism; the level of serum selenium was considerably low.
Research proves that selenium helps in the production of glutathione peroxidase which in turn has an anti-inflammatory role in the body.
Also, selenium has been found to boost the immune response in the body.
As a result supplementation of the diet with selenium is an obvious dietary intervention. As a matter of fact, few studies prove that selenium helps improve disease symptoms among patients with rheumatoid arthritis.
Such results are encouraging and so support the view that inclusion of Brazil nuts in the diet to fulfill the daily requirement of selenium could show good results among patients.
Boron and magnesium are also known to be extremely important for bone health. And these can be supplemented by simple including an apple in your diet chart! Apples are rich sources of boron and magnesium.
Additionally, the apple peel is having Ursolic acid in abundance. Research shows that Ursolic acid found in apple has an anti-inflammatory effect on the patients suffering from arthritis.
Apart from these known categories of food, there are some specific food ingredients which have been found to be effective among patients with rheumatoid arthritis.
These food items are not only healthy but also a tasty option to be included in the diet in order to be relieved of the symptoms and troubles caused by the ailment.
The first item in this list of special inclusions is Turmeric! It would not be wrong to say that turmeric is a wonder food which has shown to be effective as an antiseptic, anti-rheumatic and anti-cancer drug.
This famous spice of the east is well known for its medicinal value across the globe. The curcuminoids found in turmeric renders it effective in reducing the pain and swelling due to arthritis.
Studies done on rat models and humans prove that curcuminoids found in turmeric help in alleviating disease symptoms in rheumatoid arthritis. So the use of turmeric as a spice in some of the recipes should be a welcome change in the diet for patients of rheumatism.
Green tea is yet another easy option for the patients of rheumatoid arthritis.
Tea contains polyphenols which are known for their antioxidant properties.
Hence it helps in scavenging away the free radicals thus reducing pain and inflammation in patients with rheumatism.
A study performed by the University of Michigan Health System showed that green tea carries a compound named epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG) which prevents the production of inflammatory molecules in the body.
Next in this list of special food comes Red wine.
Usually, patients with arthritis are advised to check their intake of alcohol; but red wine is an exception.
Red wine contains resveratrol which blocks the production of inflammatory molecules thus ameliorating the disease symptoms in the case of rheumatoid arthritis.
At present some preliminary research has been conducted on the role of resveratrol in treating rheumatoid arthritis in artificially induced arthritis rats.
The results are promising and have paved the way for further research. Till then, a glass of red wine would do no harm to the patients!
Rheumatoid Arthritis Diet: Foods to avoid
Although fasting has not been proven to be of much help for the patients of rheumatoid arthritis, again elimination diet has shown some positive results in managing the disease symptoms. Hence some of the food items which could be avoided by patients with rheumatism are as follows:
Fried and Processed Food
Fried and processed food are rich in omega-6 fatty acids which causes inflammation and thus must be avoided.
A study performs at Mount Sinai in the year 2009 proved that avoiding the consumption of fried and processed food helped reduce the uptake of harmful toxins by the body and thus improved the general health of the 350 participants.
It has been found that such snack foods contain high level of Advanced Glycation End Products (AGEs).
These AGEs are toxins and have various harmful effects on the body; one of them being increased pain and swelling in rheumatoid arthritis.
It is thus advisable that patients with Rheumatoid arthritis prefer baked or broiled food over fried or grilled options.
Meat and Dairy Products
Meat despite being a rich source of protein could prove to be harmful to patients with Rheumatoid arthritis.
The fats found in meat can easily be metabolized into pro-inflammatory factors that might result in a flare-up among the patients.
Similarly, some proteins found in some of the dairy products might induce allergic reactions, thus increasing the disease symptoms in case of rheumatoid arthritis.
There have been reports where the higher intake of meat had resulted in increased serum cholesterol levels among patients thus increasing the risks of not just arthritis but also cardiovascular complications.
Vegetarian or vegan diet, on the other hand, has been credited for relieving the disease symptoms for rheumatism.
Thus a rheumatic patient must try cutting back their intake of meat and dairy products.
Refined sugar and Sweet
Refined sugars like high fructose corn syrup are rich in calories but show no health benefits.
They are harmful to the general population as a whole. But special care is advised for the patients with rheumatoid arthritis; as chronic inflammation due to arthritis reduces the body’s capacity to break down these sugars.
As a result, elevated symptoms in addition to other health risks become common among individuals.
Hence patients must avoid consuming foods like candies, white four bread goods, processed food, and sodas as these are rich sources of refined sugars.
Coffee is a favorite beverage drink all over the world. But it has been known to trigger harmful effects in patients with rheumatoid arthritis.
Its inclusion in this list could appear controversial as we have mixed reports of harmful or no effects among patients with arthritis.
However, the thing to note is that no health benefit of coffee consumption has ever been reported for patients with rheumatism.
On the contrary, a 2007 study showed that coffee drinking is linked with the development of rheumatoid arthritis due to the production of anti-CCP .
Thus keeping these evidence in mind, arthritic patients must try to reduce their daily intake of coffee to keep the disease symptoms at bay.
Many people with rheumatoid arthritis have been found to be suffering from various food allergies.
Consumption of such allergens elevates the disease symptoms in the patients. Hence it is advised that patients identify these allergic food items and then eliminate them from their diet in order to relieve their suffering.
This fact has been proven by Panush and colleagues who demonstrated improvement in disease symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis by exercising diet elimination and monitoring studies on variously known food allergens among the patients
Clinical studies also show that consumption of allergenic food results in the production of various pro-inflammatory factors thus ruining the condition of rheumatic patients.
The common food allergens in humans are: corn, meat, dairy products, eggs, potatoes, tomatoes, citrus fruits and coffee.
However, even other uncommon items may function as a trigger. Hence a controlled observation needs to be performed before inclusion or exclusion of any food in the diet.
Patients suffering from rheumatoid arthritis must thus maintain a diet chart noting down the daily ingredients consumed and their subsequent effects on the signs and symptoms of the disease.
If a particular food shows a pattern of the flare up in disease symptoms for a couple of times then this food item should be eliminated from the diet.
After removal of this item from the diet, the effects must be monitored for a month or two, after which one must try and consume it once again to achieve conclusive results.
Thus in this way, a patient gets to know their own body and tailor their diet accordingly.
Thus rheumatoid arthritis is a disease that considerably affects the lifestyle of the patients.
Painful joints and constant flare-ups decrease bodily movements and affect the general health of the affected.
However, managing one’s platter could show numerous beneficial effects among individuals.
Food, as we say, is a reflection of our health.
Thus maintain a healthy and balanced diet could ensure improved immunity and protection against severe disease outcomes.
Thus living with arthritis is made easy by including healthy food like fruits, vegetables, minerals and vitamins and excluding harmful agents like refined sugars, processed snacks, and meat from the diet.