Arthritis is Hitting People Young; Diet Can Help Battle the Pain
Arthritis is not just one condition, but actually a general term encompassing conditions that share joint pain, inflammation and swelling as some of the symptoms. According to Chandigarh based orthopaedician, Dr Pankaj Garg, "Arthritis has more than 140 variations rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, gout and psoriatic arthritis." While osteoarthritis is labelled as being a 'senior citizen condition', because it is about the wear and tear of joints, rheumatoid arthritis is an inflammatory auto-immune form that can affect people as young as 25!
A typical treatment of arthritis and related conditions involves inflammation and pain-reducing medications, because there actually is no cure. While there is no single diet to follow, certain foods have been shown to fight inflammation, strengthen bones and boost the immune system.
Experts believe that adding anti-inflammatory foods in your diet and limiting foods that may trigger joint pain can help ease the symptoms of your arthritis.
According to Delhi-based nutritionist and wellness coach, Avni Kaul, founder, NutriActivania,
Patients suffering from rheumatoid arthritis are encouraged to eat nutritious well-balanced meals like everyone else. Their meals should have something from each food group so that it is balanced. Plenty of grains, vegetables and fruits should be included. Diet with low fat and sugar is recommended.
Whether you call it a Mediterranean diet, an anti-inflammatory diet or simply an arthritis diet, here’s a look at key foods to focus on – and why they’re so good for joint health.
Some types of fish (salmon, tuna, herring, anchovies, scallops and other cold water fish) are good sources of inflammation-fighting omega-3 fatty acids. According to Avni Kaul, "There are two kinds of inflammatory proteins that cause inflammation of joints - C-reactive protein (CRP) and interleukin-6. Having fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids reduces the amount of these in the body and thereby reduces joint swelling and pain, duration of morning stiffness and disease activity among patients of rheumatoid arthritis. Those who don't eat fish should consumer 700-1000mg of fish oil daily."
Vitamin D-rich foods, such as salmon, tuna and mackerel, cheese and egg yolks, are equally important since Vitamin D help your body absorb calcium from food. Unfortunately, it’s nearly impossible to get all of the vitamin D your body needs from food sources.
Nuts & Seeds
“Multiple studies confirm the role of nuts in an anti-inflammatory diet,” explains Avni Kaul, adding, "Nuts are jam-packed with inflammation-fighting monounsaturated fat. And though they’re relatively high in fat and calories, studies show noshing on nuts promotes weight loss because their protein, fiber and monounsaturated fats are satiating. Just keep in mind that more is not always better and just a handful of mixed nuts - walnuts, pine nuts, pistachios and almonds is enough for you."
Fruits & Vegetables
Fruits and vegetables are loaded with antioxidants that are the body’s natural defense system, helping to neutralize unstable molecules called free radicals that can damage cells. "The best thing to do is to have a colourful rainbow plate of fresh fruits and vegetables," insists Avni Kaul, elaborating,
Anthocyanins found in cherries and other red and purple fruits like strawberries, raspberries, blueberries and blackberries have an anti-inflammatory effect. Citrus fruits – like oranges, grapefruits and limes – are rich in vitamin C that is essential in inflammatory arthritis and maintaining healthy joints. Spinach, lettuce and cabbage are rich in Vitamin K that dramatically reduces inflammatory markers in the blood.
As a thumb rule, Dr Vinayak Chopra, orthopaedic nutrition expert in Birmingham says, "The darker or more brilliant the colour or the fruit or vegetable you eat, the more antioxidants it has. Aim for nine or more servings daily (one serving = 1 cup of most veggies or fruit or 2 cups raw leafy greens)."
Olive oil is loaded with heart-healthy fats, as well as oleocanthal, which has properties similar to nonsteroidal, anti-inflammatory drugs. “This compound inhibits activity of COX enzymes, with a pharmacological action similar to ibuprofen,” says Dr Vinayak Chopra, adding, "Inhibiting these enzymes dampens the body’s inflammatory processes and reduces pain sensitivity."
But be careful and choose extra virgin olive oil as it goes through less refining and processing, so it retains more nutrients than standard varieties.
"Beans are loaded with fiber and phytonutrients, which help lower C-Reactive Protein (CRP), an indicator of inflammation found in the blood. At high levels, CRP could indicate anything from an infection to rheumatoid arthritis," says Dr Chopra.
His views are seconded by Avni Kaul, who says, "Beans are also an excellent and inexpensive source of protein, with about 15 grams per cup, which is important for muscle health. Red kidney beans or rajma and black eyed beans or rongi are the best sources. It is absolutely fine to have three cups in a week."
Whole grains are winners in the battle against arthritis as well. This is because they contain plenty of filling fiber – which can help you maintain a healthy weight. Additionally, as Dr Pankaj Garg insists, "Fiber and fiber-rich foods can lower blood levels of the inflammatory marker C-reactive protein. Some people may need to be careful about which whole grains they eat. Gluten – a protein found in wheat and other grains – has been linked to inflammation for some people."
What To Avoid To Prevent Pain
Researchers at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine examined disease prevention through diet. In their 2009 study, they found that decreasing the amount of fried and processed foods can “reduce inflammation and actually help restore the body’s natural defences.”
According to Dr Vinayak Chopra, "Avoiding foods that contain high levels of purines is a critical part of managing gout. These foods include meats (particularly beef, pork and lamb), most seafood (both fish and shellfish) and meat-based broths and gravies. Sugar-sweetened soft drinks and food with fructose also increase uric acid levels. There is a strong association between alcohol intake, especially beer, and an increased risk of gout attacks."
As with any other illness, disease or health condition, the battle against arthritis has to be fought on many fronts. A good diet is just one of them. Having a balanced, nutritious diet is an important part of achieving and maintaining a healthy weight. That's good news for your joints, not just your wardrobe.
"Being overweight increases the load on weight bearing joints such as knees and ankles and impairs mobility. So if you're carrying excess, it's time to watch your diet, make portion sizes modest, keep total fat down and increase your intake of vegetables and salads," recommends Avni Kaul.
Regular exercise, even if it is moderate, is an absolute must so that a healthy weight is maintained. Consumption of alcohol should be in moderation. Processed foods should be avoided as much as possible. According to Dr Pankaj Garg, "Exercise can bring the greatest relief after medication. It helps to avoid stiffness, strengthen muscles and burn off excess fat. Walking, swimming, yoga, pilates, tai chi, stationary cycling and dancing are excellent.”
(Aarti K Singh is an independent writer with close to two decades' experience in various media. Having worked in radio, TV and print media, she is now indulging in her passion to rediscover the world, besides juggling a PhD and raising her son.)