Helping Ease the Pain of Arthritis
For people diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, the symptoms may feel unpredictable. Pain and stiffness come and go, seemingly without rhyme or reason. What many people might not know about rheumatoid arthritis, however, is that some foods can worsen symptoms. Understanding which foods to consume and to avoid helps to alleviate symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis.
What is Rheumatoid Arthritis?
According to the National Library of Medicine, approximately 1.3 million people in the United States are diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, also known as RA. RA is an autoimmune disorder that primarily affects the joints. Autoimmune disorders occur when the body’s immune system mistakenly targets normal cells rather than the foreign cells they’re meant to fight.
With rheumatoid arthritis, the immune system reacts aggressively toward tissues in the joints. The joints most commonly affected are the wrists, feet, and the joints within the hands. RA typically occurs in a symmetrical pattern. For example, if the right hand is affected, the left hand will experience symptoms also.
Each person may exhibit different RA symptoms. However, the most common symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis include:
- Rheumatoid nodules.
- Low levels of red blood cells (anemia).
- Dry mouth or eyes.
- Neck pain.
- Inflammation of non-joint related body organs or tissues such as:
- Blood vessels.
- Lung tissues and airways.
- Pericardium (sac around the heart).
In some cases, lung inflammation can create significant lung tissue scarring, resulting in lung disease. RA symptoms can worsen during some periods, called “flare-ups.” These flare-ups are often caused by triggers like stress, illnesses, environmental pollutants — or food.
Five Foods To Avoid with Arthritis
Unlike osteoarthritis, which is the more common form of arthritis, RA is caused by a combination of genes and environmental factors, rather than wear and tear on the joints.
Autoimmune disorders like RA are often impacted most by factors that trigger inflammation. When foods that cause inflammation and other autoimmune symptoms are consumed, RA symptoms may flare up. Therefore, making adjustments in the diet can help improve rheumatoid arthritis symptoms.
Most doctors will tell you when it comes to salt (sodium) intake, less is more. While salt might make food tastier, excessive salt intake leads to a myriad of chronic illnesses and can worsen symptoms for many disorders. A diet high in salt raises the risk of developing kidney disease, heart failure, and high blood pressure. Studies indicate that high sodium consumption can also raise the risk of developing some autoimmune diseases, like rheumatoid arthritis.
Salt may also cause swelling throughout the body, making already swollen areas – like RA-affected joints – much more painful and stiff. Thankfully, there’s no need to skimp on flavor when using less salt. Simply replace sodium with less harmful herbs and spices. Many supermarkets have natural flavor substitutes to use in place of salt.
Fats are a necessary part of a healthy diet. But when it comes to arthritis, not all fats are the same. The Arthritis Foundation recommends limiting the following fats to reduce the chances of a flare-up:
Omega-6 Fatty Acids, which include:
- Safflower oil.
- Corn oil.
- Sunflower oil.
- Vegetable oil.
Trans Fats (usually found in processed foods).
Many processed foods, commercial baked goods, and fried foods contain trans fats because these fats extend shelf life. However, not only do they cause inflammation – which worsens RA symptoms – but also raises “bad” cholesterol levels and reduces “good” cholesterol. So, to stay healthy and avoid flare-ups, it’s best to limit inflammatory fats.
People diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis may want to ignore their sweet tooth to prevent RA symptoms. A study published in the journal Nutrients found that frequent consumption of sugary beverages like soda can increase the risk of developing RA.
Furthermore, the study results indicated that dietary habits like reducing sugar and unhealthy fats can also slow RA progression and alleviate symptoms. Sugars like high fructose corn syrup in soft drinks and processed foods may even cause arthritis in young adults and exacerbate inflammation.
Carbohydrates provide the body with its primary source of energy and are essential for a healthy diet. However, refined carbohydrates only offer short bursts of energy. Heavily processed grains that contain added sugars are refined carbohydrates. The additional processing removes important fiber necessary for long-term energy and intestinal health. A few examples of refined carbohydrates include desserts, white bread, and pizza dough. Diets high in refined carbohydrates may cause inflammation in people with arthritis.
Other Health Benefits of Avoiding Food that Increase Arthritis Symptoms
Take a close look at the four foods to avoid. These are the types of food most health professionals recommend consuming less for a healthy diet. Too much salt, inflammatory fats, sugary drinks, and refined carbohydrates all lead to chronic diseases and obesity – as well as arthritis symptoms. While avoiding these foods can help avoid rheumatoid arthritis and its symptoms, limiting them can also reduce flare-ups of other types of arthritis. So, enjoy a healthy diet and help reduce your arthritis pain.
- Prevalence Trend and Disparities in Rheumatoid Arthritis among US Adults, 2005–2018
- High Sodium Intake Is Associated With Self-Reported Rheumatoid Arthritis: A Cross Sectional and Case Control Analysis Within the SUN Cohort
- Fats and Oils to Avoid
- Dietary Habits and Nutrition in Rheumatoid Arthritis: Can Diet Influence Disease Development and Clinical Manifestations?
- Are we really what we eat? Nutrition and its role in the onset of rheumatoid arthritis