Arthritis and Diet

Arthritis has many forms, causing different patterns of swelling and pain in the joints.

Two common types are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Eating a balanced diet (and taking regular exercise) to maintain a normal body weight is recommended; the elimination of certain foods may bring relief to some sufferers.

Osteoarthritis is a degenerative disease that develops as a result of wear and tear of the cartilage in a joint. Cartilage is a body tissue that cushions joints and ensures smooth motion; when it becomes worn away or damaged, the bones of the joint rub together, causing pain and stiffness. Obesity increases the risk of osteoarthritis by putting undue stress on the joints.

Rheumatoid arthritis is an inflammatory disease in which the immune system turns against itself and starts to attack the joints, which become inflamed, causing pain, swelling and stiffness. The cause is not known.

Dietary therapy

Most doctors do not make dietary recommendations for the treatment of osteoarthritis beyond maintaining a normal weight. However, dietary therapists recommend a healthy, well-balanced diet that includes plenty of wholegrain cereals, fresh fruit and vegetables, and seeds and nuts. Stimulants such tea, coffee and sugar should be avoided. Although available evidence is weak, some nutritionists advocate the elimination of plants in the solanaceae family from the diet. These plants contain solarium alkaloids (organic compounds), believed to promote joint degeneration or prevent collagen repair. Examples include tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, aubergines and tobacco. For some rheumatoid arthritis sufferers, a food allergy or intolerance may be a contributing factor. In order to pinpoint the problem foods, an elimination diet should be undertaken with medical supervision. Common allergens include wheat, eggs and dairy products.

Studies have shown that diets rich in omega-3 fatty acids can help to reduce the pain, inflammation and stiffness of rheumatoid arthritis; these fatty acids have an anti-inflammatory effect on the joints. Herring, halibut, kippers, mackerel, pilchards, sardines, salmon, trout and tuna all contain omega-3 fatty acids. Sufferers should include oily fish in their diet two or three times a week (although it may take up to four months to see any improvement). Some experts believe that fish oils work better if a person’s diet is low in animal fats.