What You Should & Shouldn’t Eat to Reduce Your Risk for Rheumatoid Arthritis
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a debilitating disease that affects your joints and their functioning. It can include swelling and a lot of pain, specifically in your hands and feet. RA is a chronic autoimmune inflammatory disease affecting approximately one percent of the population. It mostly affects the small joints, slowly eroding the cartilage and bone, and leading to permanent deformity. It can actually lead to moderate disabilities within two years of diagnosis. Unfortunately, 10 years after being diagnosed, about 50% of people are unable to work. It also lowers your life expectancy by up to 18 years and leaves the majority of sufferers permanently disabled after 20 years. It is a progressive disease caused by both cultural and environmental factors, and it affects women two to three times more often than men. Most people are diagnosed between the ages of 30 and 55, so it is never too early to start preventative action.
Many foods provide health benefits against RA, but your overall weight status is also an important factor. Those who are overweight or obese put added pressure on weight-bearing joints. Since more than 50% of adults are overweight or obese, RA can seriously impede their quality of life. On the other hand, as you age, it becomes more difficult to maintain your weight, as your appetite is poor, so your weight may drop. Having a body-mass index (BMI) that is too low can lead to a poorer functional status. This means if you are too thin, Arthritis will get worse faster!
While dietary recommendations can help prevent or alleviate symptoms, there is conclusive evidence demonstrating that diet can play a modifiable role in the outcome.
When you put the wrong type of gas in your car, it will not run correctly.
If you put the wrong foods in your body, it will not move correctly.
The following are recommendations of the best foods to consume or avoid that are likely to play role in helping prevent the negative effects that RA may have on quality of life. Of course, it is always in your best interest to consume a healthy diet, which will also help reduce your risk of disease.
Recommended Foods to Eat
You have probably heard that an apple a day keeps the doctor away. Apples are richin many different types of antioxidants, including one called “anthocyanin.” This compound has been shown to have powerful anti-inflammatory properties that can aid in preventing arthritic flare-ups and painful side effects. Apples are rich in many nutrients, including vitaminC. While studies have yet to conclude whether high amounts of fruits (and specifically antioxidant compounds) decrease your risk of RA, they have been known to lower overall levels of inflammation.
Cherries are similar to apples in that they also contain an abundance of excellent nutrients and antioxidants. Their RA-fighting power may help reduce the pain and swelling that result from inflammation. Some studies have shown relationships associating lower risks of RA and inflammation with increased consumption of fruits, like cherries, that are rich in antioxidants and vitamin C. In fact, cherries have been shown to reduce inflammatory markers such as your C-reactive protein (CRP) level. However, not all results are significant for each person. Your body may have other needs than the person next to you.
What a hearty way to start off your day: a bowl of oatmeal with some cherries on top! Oatmeal is a heart-healthy ingredient in many delectable dishes, such as cereal, cookies, muffins, and even chicken breading. This is because it is a whole grain that is rich in many nutrients, including fiber. Fiber has been shown to play a role in reducing CRP levels in your blood. Furthermore, it may help reduce other inflammatory biomarkers. It is definitely recommended that a diet include at least 25 grams (g) of fiber for women aged 19 to 50, 21 g for women over 50, 38 g for men 19 to 50, and 30 g for men over 50.
We are talking Steel Oats, not Quaker Oats.
Yogurt & Milk Products
Most dairy products, such as yogurt and milk, are artificially fortified with vitamin D, which should decrease the development of several autoimmune diseases and even reduce the risk of RA. But they are not talking about the commercial milk that you buy at a grocery store in most of the United States and Canada. They are talking grass fed cows. Which is what is only sold in European countries.
For instance, a prospective study following 41,000 women aged 55 to 69 found that those with increased vitamin-D intake had a lower risk of RA. Taking vitamin D is a better option for some, but you cannot take vitamin D alone, and there are many different kinds of Vitamin D to take. So, if you need help, call us!
Further, an observational study of 957 Irish adults over 60 evaluated vitamin-D levels and inflammatory biomarkers. It was found that those who were vitamin-D deficient had a higher level of these inflammatory biomarkers and were at increased risk of heart disease and RA.
Fatty fish, such as salmon, mackerel, and herring, are rich in omega-3 fatty acids and play a protective role against several chronic diseases, such as heart disease and cancer. One of the enzymes that is responsible for inflammation and pain is called “COX-2.” Omega-3 fatty acids play a role in reducing COX-2 enzymes from being active and thus help decrease overall inflammation—especially among inflammatory compounds that are involved in RA development.
Omega-3 fatty acids help prevent an inflammatory response leading to inflamed joints and, as a result, reduce the swelling and pain.
In a review of several studies, it was found that omega-3 fatty acids may have a beneficial role for those with RA. Most studies showed improved clinical symptoms of patients, including number of tender joints, the duration of morning stiffness, and overall decreased pain. There have been mixed results in studies of whether a combination of omega fatty acids is beneficial. However, research shows that long-term consumption can help reduce overall risk for RA, as well as other chronic diseases, such as heart disease. Consume two servings per week of omega-3-rich fish to help keep your heart, brain, and joints healthy!
Not only do fish have an abundance of omega-3 fatty acids, they are also a great source of vitamin B6, which plays a role in breaking down homocysteine. If you have high levels of homocysteine, you put yourself at a much higher risk for heart disease. Vitamin B6 is necessary to keep levels of inflammatory markers down. Low vitamin B6 is associated with increased levels of CRP, and thus, increased inflammation. Unfortunately, low levels are not a result of poor intake or lack of nutrient supplements. In fact, they may not even be due to an unusually high breakdown of the vitamin (catabolism). Its mechanism is not 100% clear, but it is understood that low levels are a result of the overall state of inflammation. Therefore, in order to reduce the risk of chronic inflammation, boosting your B6 levels by increasing your intake may be beneficial. Besides fish, you can find vitamin B6 in foods such as meat, poultry, legumes, non-citrus fruits, fortified cereals, and soy products.
Olive oil, coconut oil, sesame oil are a few of the cooking oils that have been shown to have similar effects as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), which are more commonly known as aspirin or ibuprofen. These work on the COX-1 and COX-2 enzymes and reduce their production in or order to reduce inflammation and overall pain. About 3.5 tablespoons (tbsp) of a good cooking oil can have the equivalent effect of 200 milligrams (mg) of ibuprofen.
While studies have shown inconclusive results on olive oil itself, consuming olive oil in place of other unhealthy fats, such as saturated fats or fats that are abundant in omega-6 fatty acids, can reap many health benefits. Olive oil is rich in antioxidants and monounsaturated fats. It has already been shown to have anti-inflammatory effects in other diseases, such as cancer and heart disease, and it may even have a protective role in reducing the risk of RA.
A study done at Standford University has shown that there are no real olive oils in the United States. They are all fake olive oils.
While I am not one to endorse regular alcohol consumption, drinking in moderation may have several health benefits. You may have heard that red wine is abundant in some great nutrients, such as antioxidants, which include resveratrol. Enjoying just one glass of wine can help you clear your mind and relax you, since it has been shown to lower the production of enzymes that are responsible for increasing inflammation. In other words, extensive research has been performed on the effects of alcohol, and it has been found that by reducing inflammation, it reduces your risk of developing RA.
A research study found that those with a low to moderate consumption have a reduced risk of RA, but the protective effects were not found in those with high consumption. It is safe to consume about 15 g of alcohol per day, which is equivalent to one standard alcoholic beverage.
Recommended Foods to Avoid
Vegetable Oil, Corn Oil & Canola Oil
One study evaluating the beneficial effects of omega-3 supplementation recommended that people minimize their intake of omega-6 fatty acids. While symptoms such as joint pain were not shown to be reduced, inflammatory markers were lowered.
Unfortunately, omega-6 is a major component of vegetable oils. Omega-6 has been associated with increased activity of the COX-2 enzymes. This means that there will be more joint inflammation leading to increased joint pain and swelling—something you definitely want to avoid. While a modest amount (a couple of tablespoons) may promote good health, excessive amounts may be detrimental—especially if you are suffering from RA.
Vegetable oils are still recommended as the better option for cooking over saturated fats such as butter. However, try to limit your intake of foods that are abundant in omega-6 fatty acids, such as cooking oils, processed foods, and fried foods. Long-term effects of limiting omega-6 fatty acids may be beneficial—especially for other health ailments, such as heart disease.
Limiting your servings of red meat may be beneficial in reducing symptoms of RA. We already know that having reduced amounts of red meat decreases your risk for diseases such as cancer and heart disease, but it may also help reduce risks for inflammatory diseases, such as arthritis.
One study evaluating over 25,000 individuals between the ages of 45 and 75 found that those who developed RA ate more red meat compared to those with no arthritis who ate less red meat. Red meat is also a very good protein source.
It is not certain whether high-protein diets may have debilitating effects on symptoms, and current evidence has been shown to be inconsistent. Some studies have shown that high levels of protein intake significantly increase inflammation, which can lead to increased joint pain. One study found that those consuming lower amounts of calories from protein compared to overall calorie intake showed a lower risk of RA. However, the protein source was not significant.
While red meat is an excellent source of protein, it is also a great source of iron. While iron is a significantly essential mineral, too much of it has been shown to increase inflammation. Since the research is limited in this area, you should consider other sources of protein and iron in order to protect your joints and your heart and avoid inflammation.
Coffee is one of the most consumed beverages worldwide. It is also quite the controversial drink as to whether it is detrimental, beneficial, or has no bearing whatsoever on your health. Three studies performed in the U.S. found that coffee was not detrimental for those at risk for RA, whereas a Finnish prospective study found that those consuming four or more cups of coffee daily compared to those consuming three or fewer had a higher risk of RA.
While the verdict is still out as to whether caffeine has a negative impact on your risk for RA, researchers
found that consuming caffeine may intervene in the effectiveness of methotrexate, which is a drug that is used to manage RA symptoms. Israeli researchers investigated 39 individuals over a three-month period and analyzed their symptoms and diets, including caffeine intake. It was found that those consuming the highest amount of caffeine had the least improvement in morning stiffness and joint pain compared to those with the lowest intake. It was determined that consuming 180 mg of caffeine can impede the effects of the drug.
For regular coffee drinkers, moderation is key. One cup per day, which contains about 120 mg, likely will not cause any harm. Research is still very scarce in this area, and unfortunately, there is no strong conclusive evidence supporting the role of dietary interventions.
Furthermore, those with RA are at an increased risk of death as a result of an increased risk of heart disease. It is not well understood why this may be, since some risk factors, such as high cholesterol levels, have been found to be lower in those with rheumatoid arthritis compared to healthy individuals.
Of course, it is always best to take preventative actions, even if there is a limited chance that it may be beneficial, because there is no downside to incorporating healthy, nutrient-rich foods in your diet.
You have only been given one body, that is unique, and different than anyone else’s. So, what works for you may not work for another. Please call us or write to us and let us help you work out a personalized health care plan just for you.
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