Rheumatoid Arthritis: Can Diet Help?

3 minutes

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is the most common type of autoimmune arthritis which affects around 7 million Indians. It causes chronic (long term) inflammation of the joints. Although RA is a chronic illness patients may experience long periods without symptoms. The joint inflammation of RA causes swelling, pain, stiffness, and redness in the joints. The inflammation can also occur in tissues around the joints. In some people chronic inflammation leads to the destruction of the cartilage, bone and ligaments, causing deformity of the joints.

The disease is three times more common in women as in men. It affects people of all races equally. It can begin at any age and even affects children, but it most often starts after 40 years of age and before 60 years of age. The cause of RA is unknown. It is believed that the tendency to develop RA may be genetically inherited. It is also suspected that certain infections or factors in the environment might trigger the activation of the immune system in susceptible individuals. Environmental factors like smoking, exposure to silica mineral, and chronic gum diseases all increase the risk of developing RA. As it is more common in women so it is intuitive that hormonal factors may also play a role.

RA symptoms come and go, depending on the degree of tissue inflammation. When body tissues are inflamed, the disease is active and when tissue inflammation subsides, the disease is inactive. During active disease the person may feel fatigue, loss of energy, lack of appetite, low-grade fever, muscle and joint aches, and stiffness. Muscle and joint stiffness are usually most notable in the morning and after periods of inactivity. Joints frequently become warm, red, swollen, painful, and tender. Symptoms in children include limping, irritability, crying, and poor appetite.

There is no known cure for rheumatoid arthritis. To date, the goal of treatment in RA is to reduce joint inflammation and pain, maximize joint function, and prevent joint destruction and deformity. Optimal RA treatment involves a combination of medications, rest, joint-strengthening exercises, joint protection, and patient (and family) education. Although RA is an auto-immune disorder still its incidence or severity can be decreased by adhering to few dietary and lifestyle modifications.

There is no special RA diet. There are no specific foods or food groups that should be universally avoided by individuals with rheumatoid arthritis. Nevertheless, there are some home remedies that may be helpful. Fish oils, such as in salmon, and omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to be beneficial in some short-term studies in RA. The anti-inflammatory effects of turmeric may be beneficial in reducing symptoms. Supplements such as calcium and vitamin D are used to prevent osteoporosis.

Antioxidants: A variety of health benefits have been attributed to consumption of fruits and vegetables containing vitamins C and E, lycopene, caroteinoids and flavonoids.

Red Meat: Decreased red meat consumption is positive for RA patients

How to prevent RA flare ups? Diets that are higher in fish, grains, and vegetables are shown to decrease the risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis and also improving the symptoms, while the diets including more processed meats increased the risk.

Proper regular exercise is important in maintaining joint mobility and in strengthening the muscles around the joints. Swimming is particularly helpful because it allows exercise with minimal stress on the joints. Heat and cold applications can also ease symptoms before and after exercise.

Though living with RA is a tough job but once you start eating right, exercising and focusing on the positive things in life, it is much easier to manage.

Image Courtesy: Practical Pain Management

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