By Stephen T. Sinatra, M.D., F.A.C.C., F.A.C.N., C.N.S., C.B.T.
Do you suffer with arthritic pain? If so, you may be surprised to know that some food can make it better – or worse.
I’ll bet you never knew that hundreds of impressive clinical studies show that what you eat − and, just as important, what you don’t eat − can reduce the painful joint destruction of osteoarthritis (OA) and rheumatoid arthritis (RA).
OA and RA are the most familiar of more than 100 forms of arthritis. OA, the most common form by far, involves the erosion of joints (such as knees, hips, shoulders, etc.) of up to 27 million Americans. It’s also called degenerative or wear-and-tear arthritis. RA, more of an auto-immune condition, affects about 1.5 million Americans (primarily their hands and feet) and can even damage the heart and lungs.
In my book, The Healing Kitchen, I describe how diet and other lifestyle practices can impact health and certain diseases, arthritis among them. I’ve dedicated an entire chapter to OA and RA, and explain how food can come to the aid of your arthritis, or indeed make it worse.
The key is to foil chronic inflammation by eating a diet with foods that have proven anti-inflammatory effects. Less inflammation means less discomfort, pain, stiffness, and joint damage.
Unfortunately, the incidence of arthritis in the U.S. has increased since the early 1900s, which correlates to the time that the public began consuming more processed foods and eating less from natural sources. Many processed and fried foods have definite pro-inflammatory effects. They trigger the release of inflammatory chemicals in the body that make arthritis worse.
Here are some of my main arthritis dos and don’ts for food:
1. Eat a super-healthy diet. I like the traditional Mediterranean and Asian diets, associated with the lowest incidence of chronic illnesses, and have combined the best aspects of each into what I call the Pan-Asian Mediterranean Diet (PAMM Diet).
2. Omega-3 fatty acids, typically provided by fish, can generate a significant reduction in joint inflammation. All fish contain some omega-3s, but the varieties with the highest concentrations are sardines, wild salmon (fresh or canned), tuna, wild trout, herring, mackerel (not king mackerel), Pacific oysters, and anchovies.
3. Extra virgin olive oil should be a staple in every diet. In the Mediterranean region, where olive oil has been widely consumed for countless centuries, the rate of both OA and RA are lower than in the U.S. The oil contains a naturally occurring chemical that blocks the activity of pro-inflammatory enzymes involved in arthritis.
4. Fruits and vegetables deliver potent antioxidants to your body and help protect your joints by impairing the destructive activity of inflammatory free radicals. They also contain salicylic acid, a natural anti-inflammatory pain-reducing substance similar to the active ingredient in aspirin. Some particularly good examples of arthritis-fighting produce are vitamin E rich foods like Swiss chard, spinach, and turnip greens – particularly when combined with vitamin C rich oranges and kiwifruit. Broccoli, cabbage, kale and collards contain compounds that help protect cartilage and block joint pain. Hot peppers, cayenne, and chilies pack capsaicin, a clinically proven pain reliever. Turmeric, with its powerful pigment curcumin, has a powerful anti-inflammatory punch. Garlic and onion contain sulfur compounds that inhibit joint inflammation enzymes. And then there’s pineapple and papaya, both of which contain enzymes and vitamins that counteract inflammation and promote joint healing. Eat them between meals for maximum benefit.
6. Minimize the omega-6 fatty acids in your diet. They are pro-inflammatory. That means reduce or avoid vegetable based oils (corn, cottonseed, safflower, canola, soybean, and sunflower), fried foods, processed foods, chips and crackers, cakes and cookies, store-bought salad dressings and dips, mayonnaise, and microwave popcorn.
7. Reduce, or better yet, eliminate consumption of sugary foods, sodas, and baked goods with white flour. These are refined carbohydrates and pro-inflammatory.
8. Ease up on meat and eggs. While generally healthful foods, they contain arachidonic acid, an inflammatory substance.
9. About 20 percent of arthritis sufferers are sensitive to nightshade vegetables: tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, and peppers. For such individuals, compounds in these foods can block the normal repair of joints, and increase inflammation and cartilage degeneration.
10. Try cutting out gluten. Some people may have a problem with gluten, a protein in wheat, barley, and rye, and a common ingredient in processed foods. Some of my patients who went gluten free experienced significant relief from arthritis symptoms.
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