While there is no special diet for arthritis, researchers have identified certain foods and supplements that may be helpful. One group of foods that reduce inflammation, called anti-inflammatory foods, has shown promise in some studies. Anti-inflammatory foods contain compounds that help control inflammation in the body, which is a hallmark of RA. These foods comprise what is known as the anti-inflammatory diet, sometimes also referred to as the Mediterranean diet.
Before beginning any new dietary or supplement regimen, it’s important to talk to your doctor.
What’s in the Mediterranean Diet?
Fish oil is an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, which the body converts to powerful anti-inflammatory chemicals. Fish oil has been studied extensively in RA and other inflammatory conditions. Studies have shown that fish oil can relieve joint tenderness and morning stiffness, reduce the duration of morning stiffness and reduce disease activity in people with RA. For some people, it has allowed them to lower the amount of conventional medicine they take for their RA. Early studies show that fish oil may have similar effects in people with osteoarthritis.
Some evidence suggests that the positive effects of fish oil supplements are enhanced when fish oil is consumed in combination with olive oil. Since it is difficult to get enough fish oil from food alone, people with RA should consider fish oil capsules with at least 30 percent EPA/DHA.
It’s important to talk to your doctor about the right dosage of fish oil for you if you choose to start taking it. Higher doses of fish oil may interact with certain drugs, including those for high blood pressure.
Foods to Avoid with Arthritis
Some foods have been found to increase inflammation and should be avoided as much as possible if you have arthritis. These include:
While some people believe gluten can worsen RA, there is no evidence to support this. However, those who are sensitive to gluten (found in wheat, barley and rye) should avoid eating it in order to avoid bowel inflammation.
Alcohol and Tobacco – Call it Quits
Cigarette smoking is bad for everyone, but in people with RA it has been shown to increase the severity of the disease. Smoking can also make it harder to manage RA. Studies show that people with RA who smoke are less likely to achieve remission and tend to have a worse prognosis.
Smoking can also increase painful rheumatoid nodules, which form in the joints, and can lead to heart disease, the leading cause of death in people with RA. People with RA are at greater risk for heart disease compared to the general population.
Drink Alcohol in Moderation
Studies are mixed on the effects of alcohol on RA. While alcohol does not contribute to or worsen RA like smoking does, experts say it’s best to have one or two glasses of wine, beer or spirits occasionally, but not more than that. If you are taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or acetaminophen, alcohol can increase your risk of stomach bleeding and liver problems, respectively. Drinking more than two glasses per day can also increase your risk of certain cancers.