September 04, 2019
Anyone living with rheumatoid arthritis, the more common osteoarthritis, or gout (another form of arthritis), knows the tremendous pain and discomfort of inflamed joints. Fortunately, tweaks to your diet may help ease symptoms and also benefit your overall health. It’s also worth bearing in mind that when you go through a particularly rough time with arthritis, especially rheumatoid arthritis, you can lose a lot of weight quickly and feel more frail, which can be the last thing you need.
Osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis
Osteoarthritis is a degenerative condition that develops when the cartilage around your joints, especially weight-bearing joints such as the knees and hips, wears away and new bone tissue grows beneath, preventing the joints moving as smoothly as they should and causing painful inflammation. Over time, the joints may become distorted, causing further symptoms as muscles become strained and nerves get trapped.
Risk factors for osteoarthritis:
- a genetic predisposition to the condition
- trauma or injury to a joint
- being overweight
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease that affects young as well as older people and is a complex inflammatory condition. Studies show links between specific foods and rheumatoid arthritis symptoms, but it appears that relatively simple changes to what you eat may reduce flare-ups of other types of arthritis, too.
Unlike most forms of arthritis, gout tends to be short in duration. It’s an extremely painful inflammation that usually only affects one site – typically, the joint at the base of the big toe. Although women can suffer from gout, it does seem to be more common in middle-aged and older men, especially those who love rich food. There is, however, also a strong genetic link.
Gout is caused by the release of crystals of monosodium urate monohydrate, which usually comes from the natural production of uric acid. Some people are less able to get rid of unwanted uric acid and it builds up in the body. A diet rich in purines can also increase uric acid levels and trigger gout.
Purine-rich foods include:
- Game, offal and meat extracts such as stock cubes and yeast extract
- Pâtés and sausages
- dried fruits, peas, asparagus, cauliflower, spinach, lentils, mushrooms and mycoprotein (Quorn)
- wheatgerm and bran
- smoked meats and fish
- mackerel, sardines and herrings
- anchovies, sprats and whitebait
- shellfish such as crab and prawns
Oily fish is rich in heart-healthy omega 3 fatty acids, so if gout takes it off the menu, opt for salmon and fresh tuna, which have lower purine levels. Vegetarian sources of omega-3 fatty acids include hemp, walnut and linseed oils, which you could use in salad dressings or drizzle over vegetables. Or you could take an omega-3 supplement that contains 500–750mg of the fish oils EPA and DHA.
Alcohol, particularly beer, can also trigger gout symptoms. You’ll probably be warned off all alcohol if you’re mid-attack, but afterwards, drinking plenty of water alongside your alcoholic tipple can help flush out the alcohol from your system and make it less of a menace.
Tips to reduce arthritis symptoms
Head to the Med The Mediterranean diet, packed with fresh fruits and vegetables, oily fish (unless you have gout) and not too much red meat, appears to be the best way of eating for our health overall, and it features many anti-inflammatory foods.
Reduce acidic foods Most people with arthritis often say they can’t eat too many oranges, tomatoes or other acid-producing foods, which make their joints feel worse. There’s no hard scientific evidence to support cutting out specific foods, but it’s worth noting any foods that appear to trigger your symptoms.
Figure out fats Eat monounsaturated fats as your main source of fat, as these don’t cause inflammation – try olive oil and avocado oil. Omega-6 oils, such as sunflower, safflower and corn oils, on the other hand, may trigger symptoms. Rheumatoid arthritis can increase risk of heart disease – another reason to eat heart-healthy monounsaturated fats.
Eat oily fish A diet rich in the long-chain omega-3 fatty acids found in oily fish stimulates the body to produce substances that can sometimes dampen the inflammatory response and alleviate arthritic pain. If you have gout, you can safely eat salmon and fresh tuna but avoid other purine-rich oily fish.
Increase vitamin D There’s evidence that vitamin D may relieve osteoarthritis and slow down its progression. Your body absorbs this vitamin from sunlight, but it’s also found in oily fish (see above).
Be sugar smart Some people find their arthritis improves when they lower their intake of sweet foods, although the scientific evidence to support this is lacking. Rather than avoid sugar entirely, eat naturally sweet foods such as fresh or stewed fruits, so you don’t miss out on essential nutrients, such as vitamin C, which is essential for recovery and healing. It also helps us absorb minerals such as iron, a lack of which in the diet can lead to anaemia and symptoms such as fatigue, which can already be an issue with arthritis.
Watch your weight Carrying too much weight is a risk factor for osteoarthritis, especially in the knee joint. A high body fat ratio also effects levels of blood fats and hormones such as oestrogen, which may explain why there’s a link between osteoarthritis and a greater risk of developing heart disease.