By: Laurie Edwards for Knee1
For people who suffer from arthritis, the old adage “you are what you eat” takes on a new meaning. It seems like we hear conflicting news about what we should and shouldn’t eat at every turn, but experts have pinpointed specific foods and supplements that can actually decrease the pain and inflammation caused by arthritis when combined with regular exercise. And does slicing, chopping, and opening bottles seem daunting? There are simple, effective ways of preparing these foods that are easy on the stiffest of joints.
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1. President Bush has declared the decade of 2002-2011 National Bone and Joint Decade, so expect even more research into treatments of arthritis and other joint disorders.
2. Virtually everyone will experience some degree of osteoarthritis by age 70; with people living longer than ever before, that’s a lot of stiff knees and hips! Introducing joint-friendly foods and activities is an important counter-defense to this statistic.
3. Women are three times more likely to experience Rheumatoid arthritis than men and face a hugely increased risk of osteoporosis. So for women, incorporating low-fat, calcium-rich foods into their diets is certainly a good idea.
4. There are a lot of “remedies” such as bovine cartilage, gin-soaked raisins and low-acid diets that have no basis in human studies, so before you make any radical changes in your diet, consult your physician.
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Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and osteoarthritis affect millions of Americans each day, so it is no surprise that in an age of hyper-vigilant attitudes towards nutrition and health, the link between food and disease is such a significant one. In RA, the autoimmune system reacts to a stimulus – such as an infection, virus or genetic predisposition – by attacking the tissues surrounding joints and eroding them, causing pain, inflammation and stiffness. People with osteoarthritis experience similar pain and inflammation found with RA, but from a different cause; in most cases, osteoarthritis is the result of an injury to a joint or repeated stress to joints that over time, erodes the cartilage, making it extremely common among the elderly.
The treatment for arthritis usually focuses on medications that reduce inflammation, which decreases pain and increases mobility. This is where nutrition comes in: Adding and subtracting certain foods can result in similar anti-inflammatory benefits. The most important item to include in joint-friendly diet is protein, a building block of muscle and tissue repair. “When you don’t eat enough protein, you don’t just lose fat, you lose lean body mass and muscle that your body burns off for energy, then tissue repair,” said Susan Underwood, RN, RD, manager of Nutrition services for the Visiting Nurse-Choice of New York. If the thought of slicing thick chicken breast or meat makes your hands ache, softer foods including eggs, salmon, tuna and cottage cheese are high in protein and come in low-fat varieties. New pouch-packaging can even eliminate the need to open cans or lids.
Like cottage cheese, low-fat yogurt is also a great source of calcium, which helps minimize the effects of bone loss. Using yogurt, frozen fruit and soy powder to make smoothies is another effective way to include protein in your everyday diet. Monitoring caloric needs is especially important for people with severe limitations on mobility, so making sure those calories really work for your body is essential.
Worried about fats in your diet? Not every fat is a bad fat. In fact, studies have found that omega-3 fatty acids actually reduce inflammation. Unlike chicken and meat, which contain the omega-6 fatty acids known to cause inflammation, foods such as salmon, mackerel, trout and oils like olive and flaxseed decrease the level of inflammation in joints. In addition, fish oil is a known pain-reliever for people with RA.
There are many compounds and supplements that have advantageous effects as well. Diets that are high in boron, a compound found in fresh vegetables and fruits, show a decreased rate of arthritis, so stocking up on fresh produce is helpful. A compound from the avocado and soybean oils – ASU – relieves pain, helps the body repair damaged cartilage, and can even reduce the need for some anti-inflammatory medications. Other supplements that have been in the news a lot lately – glucosamine and chondriton – help the body repair damaged tissue, slow down joint degeneration and improve joint function and mobility. Experts worry, though, that with so much conflicting reports on food patients wi
ll start eliminating entire food groups or adding too many supplements. Just as it is for people without arthritis, maintaining a balance in the foods you choose is important, and while exercise is important for overall health, for people with stiff joints and decreased mobility, it can really help offset the consequences of this condition. “The best advice is to eat a healthy, well balanced diet and stay close to your ideal body weight so affected joints have less extra weight to carry around,” said Dr. Christine Gerbstadt, a Pittsburgh-based rheumatologist and dietician.