Arthritis is the most common form of disease across the world and there are over 200 types. Rheumatoid Arthritis and the even more common Osteoarthritis are the two main types.
Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis. It is a slow progressive degenerative disease resulting from wear and tear that affects the hands and weight bearing joints such as knees, hips and the spine. It is identified by loss of articular cartilage within synovial joints and is connected with hypertrophy of bone, joint pain, tenderness, limitation of movement, crepitis and sometimes a mild inflammation. Unlike rheumatoid arthritis, there are no systematic symptoms.
It can occur primarily from abnormal loads to a joint or damage to the cartilage itself. The joints are painful and stiff with restricted movement.
When X-rayed, osteoarthritis is identified by a narrowing of the joint space due to loss of cartilage and the presence of osteophytes (projections of bone) and osteosclerosis (abnormal increase in density).
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA)
Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic multi systematic inflammatory autoimmune disorder which mainly affects the joints that have free motion like the fingers, toes, hands, feet, shoulders, hips and knees (diarthroidal joints). An autoimmune condition is when the body’s immune system attacks its own tissue in this case the joint lining (or snyovium). It normally affects the joints symmetrically and many at a time (polyarthritis) resulting in pain and swelling.
Usually it appears between the ages of 25 to 50 years old, although it can occur at any age. Childhood or juvenile Rheumatoid arthritis has different symptoms.
Symptoms can vary from person to person. Some people may occasionally have mild flare ups. In others, it could be a steady progression or rapid one. It can feel worse when walking and also after long periods of in-activity.
As it is a systemic disease, it is normally accompanied with fatigue, weight loss, muscle pain, a low-grade fever and progressive sweating. More severe cases may have pericardities (inflammation of cavity surrounding the heart and pulmonary fibrosis (thicken and stiffening in the air sacs).
Inflammation is the body’s defensive reaction to tissue damage or injury and is characterised by redness, heat, swelling and pain. The main objective of inflammation is to eradicate the irritant and repair the surrounding tissue. Although inflammation is absolutely necessary for the healing process and survival of the host, chronic or uncontrolled inflammation is detrimental to the host and is involved in many disease states.
Diseases involving chronic inflammation include arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis), asthma, eczema, psoriasis, coronary heart disease and some cancers.
Here are some dietary recommendations that are thought to help with the alleviation of symptoms of arthritis.
- Oily Fish – Salmon, mackerel, sardines and herrings contain omega 3 fatty acids that have anti-inflammatory properties and have been shown to help reduce inflammation in arthritis patients. More so, in Rheumatoid arthritis than in Osteoarthritis.
- Fruits and vegetables – Antioxidants nutrients such as Vitamins A, C, E, Selenium, Zinc and Vitamin D have antioxidant properties that help to scavenge and eliminate free radicals such as ROS (reactive oxygen species) and RNI (reactive nitrogen species) that are produced within inflamed tissue. It is the job of antioxidants to scavenge these extra free radicals produced, therefore slowing down the disease progression. Sources of antioxidants are bright coloured fruit and vegetables such as peppers, tomatoes, broccoli, garlic, carrots, apples, berries, sweet potatoes, squash, kiwifruit, avocado and spinach. Fruit and vegetables also contain fibre, which aids in the elimination of toxins that may contribute to inflammation. Aim for 5-8 portions per day.
- B vitamins - B6, B12, and folate are needed to metabolise Homocystiene levels that have been found in patients with Rheumatoid arthritis. (Please get in touch if you would like more information on homocystiene)
- Legumes – Beans and lentils are good alternatives for meat protein and are also good sources of fibre.
- Complex Carbohydrates – Brown rice, sweet potatoes and wholegrain varieties of foods have a gentler impact on the body’s blood sugar levels. Causing these not to rise up too high or too fast which is thought to increase inflammation.
- Nuts and seeds – Fresh, unsalted, but not peanuts. These are another alternative to animal protein that contains important antioxidant nutrients and polyunsaturated fatty acids.
- Water – Important for so many processes and with fibre, helps to eliminate toxins from the body.
Avoid / Reduce:
- Red Meat – Beef, liver, pork and lamb. It’s also wise to cut down on red meat and meat products as the increase intake of Arochidonic Acid has pro inflammatory properties.
- Saturated fat - Especially the foods high in animal fats and fried foods. It is thought that these fats also interfere with polyunsaturated fat metabolism.
- Alcohol – The occasional glass of red wine is allowed.
- Refined Carbohydrates – Such as sugar, white bread, white rice, white pasta and other white flour products (e.g. cakes, biscuits, pastry)
- Caffeine – Tea, coffee, cola.
- Processed foods – Especially those containing additives and hydrogenated vegetable fats.
- Vegetable oils – Safflower, sunflower, corn, soybean
Also, the identification of food sensitivities/allergies and avoiding these foods is also important for some people.
Foods which are commonly a problem include:
- Nightshade family – white potatoes, tomatoes, aubergines, green and red peppers, chillies, paprika, cayenne
- Dairy products – soya, rice milk, almond milk
- Wheat and gluten
- Citrus fruits – lemons, limes, oranges, grapefruits
- It is not advisable to cut out food groups from your diet without the advice of a qualified health professional.
A large number of people manage arthritis with medication. There are many side effects with using some of these medications such as vitamin and mineral depletion, anemia, oedema, vomiting, nausea, peptic ulcers and gastro intestinal bleeding to name a few.
There are many factors through dietary recommendations and medications that can help with your symptoms. You also want to help support your bodily functions such as:
- The liver, for the elimination of toxins.
- The endocrine system as hormones control calcium balance important for bone health, and stress hormones may play a roll in inflammatory conditions.
- The immune system as it may be suppressed due to medication or stress. The immune system is also important in controlling free radicals produced during inflammation.