There is no specific diet that can prevent or treat arthritis (apart from gout), despite the fact that new 'anti-arthritis' diets regularly appear in the news. There are, however, four dietary and lifestyle modifications you can make to lessen the joint pain and early morning stiffness.
1. Healthy weight
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 low-kilojoule vegetables and salads.
2. More omega-3 fats
Studies show that high intakes of omega-3 fats from fish can have a 'calming' effect on arthritis, particularly rheumatoid arthritis, reducing inflammation and aching joints. The simplest and healthiest way to boost your omega-3s is to eat oily fish at least three times a week. But the good omega-3 fats will work better if you cut back your intake of the omega-6 fats (their biological opposites). In addition, a regular fish oil supplement of 9000mg a day (9 standard fish oil capsules) is a good idea (check with your doctor first if you're taking any blood-thinning medication).
3. Move it or lose it!
Research shows that 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.
4. Eater beware
View with scepticism any 'new' diet that promises to cure arthritis by eating (or avoiding) certain foods. While they generally cause no harm, often any improvement you notice is due to the fact that you have shed a few kilos and lessened the load on inflamed and sore joints! Remember that food restrictions of any kind (including fasting and vegetarian eating) is known to improve arthritis symptoms in the short term by reducing the immune response. And some forms of arthritis can go into remission - if this occurs at the same time as you try a supposed 'cure', then naturally you feel the cure has 'worked'.
Supplements and food myths - hoax or help?
Doctors are understandably cautious about recommending supplements as many desperate people have been ripped off by 'miracle cures' of dubious benefit, according to the Arthritis Foundation.
Over the years, numerous claims have been made for cider vinegar, but none of them have stood up to scientific scrutiny. Cider vinegar will not magically 'dissolve' deposits of crystals from around the joints and may irritate the lining of the stomach and bowel if consumed in large quantities.
Potatoes, eggplants, capsicum and tomatoes belong to the nightshade family (botanic name Solanus) and have been under a cloud for years. Many sufferers say they cause their arthritis to flare up but there is no proof for this myth, which probably arose because of their association with Deadly Nightshade, a quite different plant.
Bear in mind that there is great individual reaction to foods which may sometimes be due to an underlying food intolerance. Some people always notice a reaction when they eat a culprit food (say tomatoes or red wine), while some only have trouble if they eat them in large amounts and others again can consume them freely. If you feel that certain foods may be triggering problems, talk to a dietitian or your doctor - they may suggest an elimination diet to test for food sensitivities.
Arthritis is not caused by eating foods like oranges, lemons or tomatoes. Even though they taste acidic, their acidity is small compared to the level in our stomach. If you find, however, that they upset you, then this may be an individual food sensitivity (see above).
Glucosamine occurs naturally as a building block your body needs to regenerate cartilage and lubricate your joints. Commercially glucosamine sulphate is extracted from the shells of prawns and other shellfish and is now becoming part of arthritis treatment. Research shows it can relieve pain in osteoarthritis as effectively as most current arthritis medications but with the added advantage of slowing the progression of joint damage. Check with your doctor as it can interact with some medication, affect blood sugars in those with diabetes and cause reactions in those allergic to shell fish.
Alternative practitioners have long believed that ginger has anti-inflammatory properties that may help relieve the pain associated with both rheumatoid and osteoarthritis - and now there's research emerging to confirm this. Try it as a refreshing tea and use plenty in your cooking.
Which type of arthritis?
Arthritis has over 150 different variations, including :
- osteoarthritis - well-known in later years which represents wear and tear of the joints
- rheumatoid arthritis, an inflammatory auto-immune form which occurs between 25 and 50
- lesser known types such as scleroderma and fibromyalgia.