Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune and inflammatory disease affecting the joints. It also involves flares and symptoms that may affect the entire body. Osteoarthritis is more common. It involves degeneration of joint cartilage over time leading to friction between bones, wear and tear of the joints, chronic pain and inflammation. Most people with arthritis take anti-inflammatory medications or pain relievers every day, but have you ever thought about how foods might either aggravate or alleviate the symptoms? Are there other natural approaches to managing the discomfort of arthritis?
Foods that reduce inflammation or have antioxidant properties can be especially beneficial for people with arthritis. These are foods like:
- Fruits and vegetables, like blueberries and spinach
- Spices, like turmeric and ginger
- Fish and nuts that provide omega-3 fatty acids
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Green tea
Foods that promote a healthy gut microbiome can also indirectly benefit people with arthritis because of the microbiome’s influence on immune function and inflammation. These are foods like:
- Fruits and veggies that are high in fiber
- Yogurt, kefir, or other foods rich in probiotics
On the other hand, foods to promote inflammation are best avoided in anybody with arthritis. These are foods like:
- Sugary drinks
- Hydrogenated oils and trans fats Processed and refined foods
- Too much red meat
- Nightshade vegetables (tomatoes, peppers, eggplant) present problems for some people with arthritis
There is also research to suggest that some supplements (like vitamin D, probiotics, and others) may help to support joint health. The takeaway here? Just because you have a diagnosis of a chronic or autoimmune condition does not mean that it has to control your life. You can profoundly influence your quality of life by the choices you make and the foods you eat.
Are you looking for natural therapies to support your joint health? Here are some things you can do to promote healthy joints that do not involve having to go to the doctor or take pharmaceutical medications.
Work on your weight if your Body Mass Index is above 26 and especially if above 30. Losing weight will improve your mobility, decrease future damage to your joints and reduce the pain involved with arthritis of weight bearing joints
Exercise will help strengthen your muscles and joints as well as help with weight maintenance. You will gain flexibility and those natural feel good endorphins. Focus on low impact exercise such as walking, swimming, elliptical, cycling, tai chi and yoga to avoid stressing your knees and hips
Meditation has proven helpful for managing pain by reducing stress, inflammation and cortisol. Anxiety and depression are very common in those with chronic pain syndrome and mindfulness meditation is helpful for managing stress response in your body.
Acupuncture is an ancient (2000 years) Chinese method of medical treatment based on life energy called qi (chee) that flows through 20 invisible channels called meridians. Small needles are introduced into the body that connect to these meridians. It may be that these needle insertions trigger a neurotransmitter response in the body involving natural pain lessening endorphins and enkephalins. The Arthritis Foundation has conditionally recommended acupuncture in conjunction with other treatment modalities. Acupuncture will not stop the progression of RA or OA but may provide less joint stiffness and better pain relief.
Heat and cold treatments can provide symptomatic relief. Heat may consist of warm baths or showers and using electric blankets for overnight pain relief. Cold compresses and gel packs can reduce swelling, pain and stiffness of joints. In addition, capsaicin, from chili peppers, is found as a component in many over the counter ointments and salves to help with joint pain.
Turmeric is the most studied supplement we have for its anti-inflammatory properties. It contains curcumin and can be taken as a capsule. Turmeric is a common spice used in Indian cuisine. As turmeric is a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory supplement, research has found that it can reduce the pain and swelling of arthritis.
Massage therapy not only feels wonderful, it may help reduce the stress response that occurs in your body from dealing with the pain and discomfort of arthritis. Research is lacking on its effectiveness in arthritic treatment, but there are really no risks involved and will most certainly help you with your stress level.
Boost the amount of fresh fruit, vegetables and natural whole foods in your diet. Avoid processed and packaged food and food that has added sugar. Drink water, not soda or sugar laden fruit drinks. If food is not nature based, your brain and body won’t recognize it or what to do with it so those calories are typically stored as fat. Increased body weight will not be comfortable for your joints and will compound the problem of arthritis pain.
Glucosamine is involved in cartilage health and supplements of glucosamine sulfate at 1500mg per day will strengthen cartilage and may reduce the pain of arthritis. It is a natural compound in your body and levels decline with age which can lead to breakdown of your joints. Cartilage is the “rubber” that cushions your joints. When it deteriorates, so does the strength of your joints.
Herbal supplements will not treat arthritis, but many may provide relief from arthritis pain. The following supplements are frequently used for joint pain: ginkgo biloba, stinging nettle, devil’s claw, bromelain, boswella and thunder god wine. Make sure you get your supplements from a reputable company like Life Extension (they fund and do their own research) or Fullscript which sells practitioner formulated gluten free and vegetable based supplements. We have an affiliation with both and here are the links for nature based supplements:
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Gioia C, Lucchino B, Tarsitano MG, Iannuccelli C, Di Franco M. Dietary Habits and Nutrition in Rheumatoid Arthritis: Can Diet Influence Disease Development and Clinical Manifestations. Nutrients. 2020; 12: E1456. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32443535/