Because there are more than 100 forms of arthritis, it is impractical to promote any one diet or treatment for everyone with the disease. Yet current research does point to numerous possible connections between diet and the inflammatory response in joints.
Let's start with an incontrovertible connection: weight. In most cases, people with any form of arthritis should maintain an appropriate weight. Excess pounds will put additional stress on hips, knees and other weight-bearing joints. Obesity is strongly associated with osteoarthritis and may hasten degeneration. Conversely, if you are overweight, losing those extra pounds can slow down further arthritic progress. A 1992 study found that overweight, middle-aged and older women significantly lower their risk of developing osteoarthritis of the knee by losing weight. And the best way to maintain a healthy weight is to exercise regularly, increase fruit and vegetable intake, and practice moderation in your intake of fats and sugars.
Research shows a clear link between diet and gout. People with gout have difficulty processing the chemicals called purines, which are in such foods as coffee, organ meats, sardines, herring, scallops and anchovies. Once you have your first gout attack, your doctor may suggest that you eliminate or reduce these foods if they were a significant part of your diet. An important trigger of gout in many patients is alcoholic beverages.
Osteoporosis, a condition characterized by weakened bones, may lead to arthritis, nerve injury and changes in posture if fractures occur. The best way to prevent osteoporosis is by having strong, healthy bones, and the first step toward maintaining bone health is to have a diet rich in calcium and vitamin D. Even women who have developed osteoporosis do better if they consume adequate amounts of calcium. If they never smoked or consumed alcohol heavily, they do even better.
Although research is looking into the relationship of diet and the appearance of arthritis symptoms, other studies are focusing on how certain foods can help ease arthritis pain and swelling. Early results, for example, indicate that certain foods or supplements, such as omega 3 fatty acids and gamma-linoleic acid, can reduce the number of tender joints and sometimes lessen morning stiffness in patients with rheumatoid arthritis. It appears that people who consume between three and five grams of these acids daily (most commonly found in cold-water fish) experience slight relief within 12 to 14 weeks. However, it is difficult to maintain such a diet over a long period, and it is not clear whether the benefit to the joints may be offset by the increased fat and caloric intake.
On the other hand, many diets claim to cure arthritis or promise remarkable benefits. Yet there is no scientific evidence to backup these claims. Diets that eliminate certain components (such as dairy products or nightshade vegetables, including potatoes, tomatoes, bell peppers and eggplant) are not supported by any reliable arthritis studies. Therefore, the sacrifice made to maintain such diets will likely lead to disappointing results.
When all is said and done, the Arthritis Foundation recommends the following diet guidelines:
Even when certain dietary changes seem to help your symptoms, it is important that you review your diet with your doctor or nutritionist to avoid endangering your overall health.
Sometimes, maintaining a healthy diet, especially during flares, is not easy. When you are in pain, you may not have much of an appetite. Some medications, such as prednisone, can increase your appetite. Precautions must be taken to avoid excess caloric intake. Even when the disease is relatively inactive, you may experience fatigue and low energy. Because some of the healthier foods grains, fresh vegetables and beans, for example can take longer to prepare, you may shy away from them. Nevertheless, it is important that you take the time and trouble to eat sensibly and nutritionally.