Eating to ease arthritis
Posted on 17 October 2016
There is no known cure or prevention for arthritis, but some sufferers swear by eating or avoiding certain foods. Rheumatologist Dr Sinisa Stankovic of Mediclinic Sandton offers a medical perspective.
Know your type of arthritis
There are many types of arthritis, but all of them fall into one of two categories:
- Degenerative arthritis is most common and affects up to 10% of the population. It’s caused by ageing, wear and tear and can start from as young as 40, the risk increasing with age.
- Inflammatory arthritis. The most common type of inflammatory arthritis is rheumatoid arthritis. It affects around 1% of the population and is an autoimmune disorder characterised by a faulty immune system, which attacks the joints.
While there is no medical evidence that food influences arthritis, patients tell a different story. ‘Some will say that eating tomatoes causes their arthritis to flare up,’ says Dr Stankovic. ‘Others will claim it’s citrus or pineapple. My advice is to try eliminating often-named pro-inflammatory culprits like red meat and to eat more anti-inflammatory foods like oily fish to see if that helps. These are healthy eating guidelines regardless, so there’s nothing to lose.’
Many people believe that acidic foods like coffee aggravate arthritis and will take supplements such as alkaline powders to reduce acidity in the body. There is no medical evidence to support this but gout, which is a form of arthritis that triggers joint inflammation, can be aggravated by alcohol and fatty foods.
Watch your weight
Being overweight puts stress on the joints and worsens arthritic pain. It is also believed that pro-inflammatory cytokines (cell signaling molecules that stimulate the movement of cells towards sites of inflammation, infection and trauma) are stored in fatty tissue. This means that reducing your overall body fat percentage is doubly beneficial.
‘If you have arthritis it’s important to exercise and to work with a dietician to reach or maintain your ideal healthy weight,’ says Dr Stankovic. ‘And please be wary of non-evidence based fad diets.’
Food versus supplements
There are many supplements on the market that claim to benefit arthritis. According to Dr Stankovic, glucosamine (an amino sugar) and chondroitin (a substance that occurs naturally in the connective tissues) may have cartilage retaining properties and could be useful in slowing the progression of degenerative arthritis.
Antioxidants are also good for countering oxidative damage or stress caused by free radicals. Vitamins A, C and E are excellent antioxidants but are not recommended in mega doses.
‘Rather get your antioxidants from food,’ says Dr Stankovic, ‘A dietician can help you increase your intake of antioxidant-rich foods, which will be good for your overall health and not just one condition. Read more on the top five super foods to feast on, some of which are packed with antioxidants.
Drink more water
If you have arthritis you may need to take prescription medication. A lot of these medications are processed through the kidneys and/or liver so it’s a good idea to drink plenty of water to flush them out. Adequate hydration is also important for gout sufferers to reduce their overall levels of uric acid, which worsens gout.