When you have arthritis or a related condition, getting the right nutrients can help to alleviate pain and inflammation and positively affect overall health. Research suggests that what you eat may influence the progression and symptoms of certain types of arthritis and related conditions.
Although there is no magic potion at the supermarket, studies have shown that certain foods have anti-inflammatory properties and specific benefits for rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and other inflammatory forms of arthritis, osteoarthritis, gout and osteoporosis symptoms.
A gout diet is designed to help you:
The general principles of a gout diet follow typical healthy-diet recommendations:
Weight loss. Being overweight increases the risk of developing gout, and losing weight lowers the risk of gout. Research suggests that reducing the number of calories and losing weight — even without a purine-restricted diet — lower uric acid levels and reduce the number of gout attacks. Losing weight also lessens the overall stress on joints.
Complex carbs. Eat more fruits, vegetables and whole grains, which provide complex carbohydrates. Avoid foods and beverages with high-fructose corn syrup, and limit consumption of naturally sweet fruit juices.
Water. Stay well-hydrated by drinking water.
Fats. Cut back on saturated fats from red meat, fatty poultry and high-fat dairy products.
Proteins. Focus on lean meat and poultry, low-fat dairy and lentils as sources of protein.
Recommendations for specific foods or supplements include:
Organ and glandular meats. Avoid meats such as liver, kidney and sweetbreads, which have high purine levels and contribute to high blood levels of uric acid.
Red meat. Limit serving sizes of beef, lamb and pork.
Seafood. Some types of seafood — such as anchovies, shellfish, sardines and tuna — are higher in purines than are other types. But the overall health benefits of eating fish may outweigh the risks for people with gout. Moderate portions of fish can be part of a gout diet.
High-purine vegetables. Studies have shown that vegetables high in purines, such as asparagus and spinach, don't increase the risk of gout or recurring gout attacks.
Alcohol. Beer and distilled liquors are associated with an increased risk of gout and recurring attacks. Moderate consumption of wine doesn't appear to increase the risk of gout attacks. Avoid alcohol during gout attacks, and limit alcohol, especially beer, between attacks.
Sugary foods and beverages. Limit or avoid sugar-sweetened foods such as sweetened cereals, bakery goods and candies. Limit consumption of naturally sweet fruit juices.
Vitamin C. Vitamin C may help lower uric acid levels. Talk to your doctor about whether a 500-milligram vitamin C supplement fits into your diet and medication plan.
Coffee. Some research suggests that drinking coffee in moderation, especially regular caffeinated coffee, may be associated with a reduced risk of gout. Drinking coffee may not be appropriate if you have other medical conditions. Talk to your doctor about how much coffee is right for you.
Cherries. There is some evidence that eating cherries is associated with a reduced risk of gout attacks.
Although there are no specific nutrition guidelines for people with RA, researchers have found a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants and phytochemicals supplies the body with powerful anti-inflammatory nutrients. These foods are commonly part of a Mediterranean-style diet of fish, olive oil, fruits, vegetables, nuts/seeds and beans. This diet has been analyzed in small studies for its impact on RA symptoms. Results showed improvements in pain, morning stiffness, disease activity and physical function.
Cold-water fish high in omega-3s have shown to be particularly beneficial. Researchers have found that oleocanthal, a key compound in extra virgin olive oil, has a significant impact on inflammation and helps reduce joint cartilage damage. Earlier studies showed that oleocanthal prevents the production of pro-inflammatory COX-1 and COX-2 enzymes – the same way ibuprofen works.
In the 1990s, a combination vegetarian/vegan diet for arthritis was the focus of a small study of 53 RA patients. The participants started with a vegan diet that also excluded several other foods. Milk, dairy and gluten were reintroduced after nine months for participants who didn’t have an intolerance to these foods. After one year, participants sustained improvements in tender, swollen joints, pain, duration of morning stiffness and overall health, leading study investigators to suggest that some people with RA may benefit from a vegetarian diet. Since then, additional small studies have reported symptom improvement among very small groups of patients.
Researchers have also found that green tea significantly reduced the severity of arthritis by causing changes in various immune responses. They showed that an antioxidant in green tea blocks the production of molecules that cause joint damage. In May 2015, researchers reported on the superior anti-inflammatory effect of green tea when compared with black tea.
C-reactive protein (CRP) in the blood is a marker of inflammation associated with RA. Several studies have reported that a high fiber diet helps to reduce CRP levels. Oatmeal, brown and wild rice, beans, barley and quinoa are excellent sources of whole grains.
Having a balanced, nutritious diet is an important part of achieving and maintaining a healthy weight. That's good news for your joints, not just your wardrobe. A small study in 2015 reported on a 6-week intervention of 40 individuals with osteoarthritis who were placed on a plant-based diet of fruits, vegetables, legumes (beans, peas, lentils) and whole grains. The group experienced significantly reduced pain and improved physical function.
Experts have long known that milk is good for bones, but its effects on joints were less clear. A study showed that women with knee OA who drank milk regularly had less OA progression than those who didn’t. But high cheese consumption appeared to make OA worse.
An earlier study revealed that a compound called sulforaphane, found in Brussels sprouts and cabbage but especially in broccoli, could be key in slowing the progress of OA and the destruction of joint cartilage.
A 2010 study reported that people who regularly eat foods from the alium family – like garlic, onions and leeks, showed fewer signs of early OA. Researchers think the compound diallyl disulphine found in these foods may limit cartilage-damaging enzymes in human cells – making it a great choice if you have OA.
Protect bone health with calcium-rich foods, including low-fat dairy products; green, leafy vegetables; shellfish; and calcium-fortified foods. Vitamin D-rich foods, such as salmon, tuna and mackerel, cheese and egg yolks, are equally important since Vitamin D help your body absorb calcium from food. Unfortunately, it’s nearly impossible to get all of the vitamin D your body needs from food sources. On the plus side, the body can make 10,000 international units (IU) of vitamin D in just 15 minutes of unprotected exposure to sunshine. A staple of the Mediterranean diet, virgin olive oil, when combined with vitamin D, may protect against bone loss based on the results of an animal study.