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Diet for Rheumatoid Arthritis Patients
By Owen Pearson Feb 7, 2011
Rheumatoid arthritis causes your body's immune system to attack and damage the synovium, or joint membranes. It typically affects the joints of the knees, elbows, fingers, ankles and wrists, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center, which causes pain and lack of flexibility. Although dietary changes cannot cure rheumatoid arthritis, they may help reduce the symptoms of this chronic disease.
Sulfur-Rich Foods (含硫食物)
Sulfur is a trace mineral that aids in the repair of bone and connective tissue cells, according to Phyllis Balch, author of "Prescription for Nutritional Healing." This mineral may also improve your body's ability to absorb calcium, supporting bone health. Foods containing sulfur may help slow synovium and bone damage associated with rheumatoid arthritis. Boost your intake of sulfur by consuming foods such as onions, asparagus, eggs, garlic, Brussels sprouts and fish.
Hot Peppers (辣椒)
Hot peppers, such as cayenne, jalapeno and habanero contain a chemical compound called capsaicin, which has been used for over 5000 years to treat pain associated with arthritis, according to Michael Castleman, author of "The New Healing Herbs." Capsaicin may block pain impulses to your brain, which may ease joint discomfort associated with rheumatoid arthritis. It may also improve blood circulation, enhancing the availability of oxygen and nutrients for connective tissue healing. Although capsaicin is typically applied externally, you can also obtain the pain-relieving benefits of hot peppers by including them in soups, stews, stir fry dishes and curries. Talk to your doctor if you plan to consume hot peppers -- they may occasionally cause stomach pain and diarrhea. Also, always wear food preparation gloves when handling hot peppers to avoid skin burns.
Pineapple is a tropical fruit best known as a rich source of vitamin C. However, this fruit may also offer healing benefits for rheumatoid arthritis patients. Pineapple contains bromelain, an enzyme that may reduce inflammation of muscles and connective tissues, according to Balch. This may help reduce arthritis-related joint stiffness and pain. Choose fresh pineapple instead of frozen or canned versions as freezing and processing may destroy bromelain.
Ginger root appears prominently in Chinese, Japanese, Thai and Indian cuisine. This pungent spice may offer benefits for rheumatoid arthritis sufferers. The chemical compounds in fresh ginger root may decrease joint inflammation, increasing mobility of your joints, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. It may also inhibit the activity of COX-2, a chemical that may increase pain; however, current studies are not conclusive. Ginger may inhibit blood clotting, and should not be used in conjunction with prescription blood thinners. Check with your physician before using ginger to address rheumatoid arthritis pain.
Foods That Flare Up Rheumatism
Fats, dairy and produce from the nightshade family are some of the foods that may exacerbate RA symptoms.
Last Updated: Aug 16, 2013 By Erica Roth, BA, MLS
Foods That Flare Up Rheumatism
Photo Credit Thomas Northcut/Photodisc/Getty Images
The next time you bite into a juicy cheeseburger or pop a fistful of French fries into your mouth, don’t be surprised if you start to feel joint pain later on. Some of the foods you eat can cause inflammation throughout the body, and may be the source of your increased pain. If you have a rheumatic condition, you can suffer from symptom flares when you least expect it.
In addition to other medical treatments, many arthritis suffers have found relief from joint pain and inflammation by eliminating certain foods from their diet. A 2002 study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine reported that following a mostly plant-based diet may reduce the symptoms of rheumatic diseases in just four weeks.
Editor's note: Article medically reviewed by George Krucik, MD.
Fat and dairy are two major food groups that aggravate symptoms of inflammatory conditions.
Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM)
What Is Rheumatism?
Rheumatism is probably the term your grandparents used to describe an "ache in the bones." This condition now is more commonly referred to as rheumatoid arthritis (RA), an autoimmune disease that affects up to two million people in the United States, according to the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.
As with other autoimmune diseases, in RA, the immune system mistakenly attacks and destroys healthy tissue. In the case of RA, the immune system attacks the synovium, a thin membrane that covers the joints. As a result, fluid builds up in the joints, causing aggressive joint pain and inflammation, which can lead to damaging disfigurement of your joints.
Food Allergies and Rheumatism
Food allergies and rheumatic diseases go hand in hand in many people, according to Arthritis Today. The immune response in food allergies and RA are somewhat similar in that your body mistakes a harmless substance for a foreign invader and produces antibodies, which causes symptoms. Certain foods may trigger an allergic response in the intestines of RA sufferers, including:
• Cereal products
• Cow’s milk
The Link Between Fats, Dairy, and Arthritis
Following a low-fat, dairy-free diet may not be easy, but it could be the ticket to better health. The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) explains that fat and dairy are two major food groups that aggravate symptoms of inflammatory conditions.
Meats, especially red meat, and other foods high in fat such as fried foods, milk, cheese, and other dairy foods may increase inflammation in some people. Foods with high sodium content can also exacerbate arthritis symptoms. Excess sodium results in fluid retention in already inflamed joints. Caffeine may also worsen your symptoms, according to the PCRM.
The Lowdown on Nightshades
Switching to a vegetable-based diet could reduce your number of rheumatic flare-ups, but you still need to pay attention to the foods you eat.
Foods in the nightshade family (Solanaceae) may increase symptoms in people who are sensitive to a substance called alkaloids. Alkaloids affect nerve and muscle function, as well as digestion. They can also cause bone calcium loss, which can worsen joint problems. Foods in the nightshade family include:
• Peppers (hot and sweet)
• White potatoes
• Cayenne pepper and paprika
Not everyone with RA feels the effect of nightshades, and the alkaloid content is lower in cooked forms of these foods than when consumed raw. Additionally, few clinical studies exist to support the claim that nightshades encourage inflammation, and most evidence is anecdotal. However, some arthritis sufferers do report fewer symptoms after eliminating nightshade vegetables and spices from their diet.
What Can I Eat?
Pile the fruits and vegetables on your plate to improve joint health. Rheumatoid arthritis patients and others with inflammatory diseases will benefit most from the antioxidants in produce. Keep meat intake to a minimum, eating a mostly vegetarian or even vegan diet to enjoy less inflammation in your joints.
Ditch saturated fats in favor of healthy fats, which can be found in olive oil, avocados, and nuts. Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids have also shown to impact pain and inflammation -- try adding salmon, sardines, whole grains, and garlic to your diet to boost your intake of omega-3s.
If you believe certain types of foods may be triggering or exacerbating RA symptoms, run a short-term test. Eliminate food triggers for at least a month before adding them back into your diet. This will help you figure out which foods add to your joint pain.
Always discuss major dietary changes with your doctor -- he or she can help tailor an eating plan that best suits your needs and ensures that you get the vitamins and nutrients your body needs.
About the Author
Erica Roth holds a Masters in Library Science and is a freelance health and nutrition writer.
Juicing for Arthritis & Inflammation: Pineapple, Papaya, Ginger, Coconut