WHO statistics show that about 14 million people worldwide have rheumatoid arthritis. It is a joint-related autoimmune disease that affects almost all the body joints, such as the knees, knuckles, wrists, and ankles. Although there is no proven treatment to eradicate the disease, various methods can help manage it and prevent further complications. For example, doctors often use medications to treat rheumatoid arthritis, which reduces chronic pain and inflammation by suppressing the immune system. In addition, you can consider various feasible methods such as dietary interventions to manage arthritis without compromising the immune system.
Rheumatoid Arthritis and Diet: An Overview
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease associated with chronic inflammation of joints, leading to systemic complications and progressive disability. When the body’s immune system mistakenly starts to attack its healthy cells, it is an autoimmune disorder. In the case of rheumatoid arthritis, it causes synovial inflammation, swelling, cartilage and bone deformity. Although there is no permanent cure for the disease, current treatment strategies and therapies can help manage its symptoms. However, adapting to a proper diet intervention and medications helps prevent constant flare-ups of rheumatoid arthritis. Hence, knowing which foods can help you manage or aggravate rheumatoid arthritis is necessary.
Managing inflammation is vital for people living with Rheumatoid Arthritis because it triggers flare-ups that create a lot of physical trouble. While medications help regulate rheumatoid arthritis by preventing complications, dietary interventions play a significant role. Nutrients in several foods help ease inflammation. Usually, nutritionists and healthcare experts recommend an anti-inflammatory diet and a Mediterranean diet. These diets emphasise fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, with less dairy and meat.
Rheumatoid Arthritis: Foods that Help
Foods can either manage or aggravate arthritic conditions. Hence, be careful about your foods and watch out for their nutritional properties. For example, avoid eating processed food and meat products, sugary drinks, alcohol, deep-fried foods, and refined grains to prevent the aggravation. At the same time, when choosing foods for rheumatoid arthritis, it is essential to include foods of various colours, unprocessed foods, and whole foods that contribute to managing inflammation.
Plant-based foods such as fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, seeds, and whole grains are beneficial for people with this condition. That is because these foods have a high concentration of antioxidants. These antioxidants are the scavengers of free radicals as they fight against the free radicals and protect the body against cellular damage.
Several studies prove that a diet with a high antioxidant level reduces inflammation, improves existing symptoms, and delays the progression of the disease.
People with RA should specifically focus on choosing seasonal fruits and vegetables. These seasonal foods are highly nutritious and often more reasonably priced than non-seasonal foods. These seasonal foods are fresh and do not go through the storage process that can take away some of their nutritional qualities. In addition, seasonal fruits and vegetables are at their peak in flavour or harvest at a particular time of year.
Here are some seasonal foods that can help regulate arthritis symptoms.
Capsicum or Bell Peppers
The inflammation regulatory properties of capsicum or bell peppers come from capsaicin, a compound in these foods. It exhibits anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. A study has shown that stimulation caused by capsaicin in the early stages of arthritis produces chemical mediators involved in inducing pain in inflamed joints. Various experimental methods have demonstrated the role of capsaicin in reducing joint tenderness and pain by decreasing the sensitivity of sensory neurons and decreasing pain.
Watermelons are large, juicy fruits that contain carotenoids such as lycopene and beta-cryptoxanthin, which exhibit antioxidant properties. Studies show that eating watermelon reduces the inflammatory marker CRP. In addition, since watermelon has a high concentration of beta-cryptoxanthin, it reduces the risk of rheumatoid arthritis and reduces the inflammation and swelling of joints.
Cherries are an excellent source of anthocyanins responsible for their red colour. In addition, it contains vitamin C and potassium, which exhibits antioxidant properties that fight against inflammation. A study has shown that eating cherries can reduce C-reactive protein levels in people who have arthritis, which is responsible for reduced amounts of inflammation.
Dried plums are an excellent source of polyphenols that exhibit anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Studies have shown that incorporating dried plums into the diet delays the progression of rheumatoid arthritis and reduces bone erosions of joints. In addition, it provides significant protection of articular cartilage and reduction of synovitis.
Sweet potatoes are a potent source of vitamin C, beta-carotene, and fibre with antioxidant properties. In addition, the anti-arthritic and anti-inflammatory properties of sweet potatoes make them an excellent food for people with RA. Research suggests that sweet potato contains anthocyanin, an inflammatory phytonutrient that helps ease inflammation and swelling of joints.
Beetroot contains a compound named betalains, responsible for its stark red colour. As per research, betalains exhibit excellent antioxidant properties that help ease inflammation. In addition, beetroots are rich in nitrates which remove toxic compounds from the bloodstream, reducing inflammation. Therefore, it is a great food choice to relieve inflammatory conditions such as RA.
Citrus fruits such as oranges, lemons, and limes are rich sources of vitamin C which exhibit inflammation-fighting antioxidants. As a result, these fruits ease the symptoms associated with rheumatoid arthritis. However, studies have shown that citrus fruits may interfere with the body’s ability to process rheumatoid arthritis medications. To prevent that, you can take vitamin C from other sources such as tomatoes, kiwi, melons, strawberries, and potatoes.
It is no secret that Apple offers multiple health benefits. For example, it is an excellent source of fibre, vitamin C, polyphenols, and phytonutrients, making it a perfect food to reduce risk and help manage rheumatoid arthritis. Epicatechin, catechin, quercetin, and procyanidins are some phytonutrients that exhibit anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.
A study has proven that consuming apples delays the progression of rheumatoid arthritis and eases the swelling and inflammation of joints.
Pomegranates contain polyphenolic flavonoids associated with anti-inflammatory, analgesic, and antioxidant properties. Research has shown a protective role of fruits and their bioactive compounds in rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis. In addition, researchers suggest that pomegranate helps reduce pain and inflammation because of the presence of anthocyanins, citrus flavonoids, quercetin, and other polyphenolic compounds.
Carrots contain vitamin A and beta-carotenoids, which fight inflammation. They have anti-arthritic, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory properties. Research suggests that purple carrots decrease the effects of arthritis because they contain 28 times more anti-inflammatory and antioxidant levels than orange carrots. It helps in reducing oxidative stress levels, inflammation, and inflammatory cell infiltration.
Due to phenolic components and oleic acid, olives also have anti-inflammatory, immunomodulatory, and antioxidant properties. Some experimental studies show the efficacy of olive in managing inflammatory disorders associated with joints, specifically rheumatoid arthritis. That is because of its anti-arthritic and anti-inflammatory properties. Studies have shown that olive oil can significantly reduce pain and inflammation in rheumatoid arthritis.
Collard is a dark leafy green vegetable full of antioxidants like vitamins A, C, K, B, and dietary fibre. Consumption of collard greens helps manage rheumatoid arthritis by strengthening overall immunity. Adding collard greens to your diet reduces the disease-causing inflammation as it contains significant concentrations of vitamins and other nutrients. In addition, studies have shown that collard greens contain a natural compound named sulforaphane. It blocks the inflammatory process and delays the progression of cartilage damage in arthritis.
Other cruciferous vegetables with similar nutrients and properties are kale, broccoli, cabbage, brussels sprouts, and cauliflower. Evidence shows that a diet high in cruciferous vegetables can prevent the inflammatory symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis.
One study has shown that strawberries are rich in bioactive compounds such as ellagic acid, anthocyanins, quercetin, catechin, and vitamins like ascorbic acid and folic acid. These compounds show antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that help improve pain and inflammation in rheumatoid arthritis.
Adding different berries to the diet help ease pain and inflammation in the body.
Onions contain flavonoids, making them an excellent antioxidant food. In addition, research suggests that quercetin, a compound found in onion, inhibits inflammation-causing leukotrienes, prostaglandins, and histamines in rheumatoid arthritis. It also contains sulphur compounds that help reduce the cartilage damage caused due to progressive symptoms in rheumatoid arthritis. Other such foods are garlic, leeks, and shallots.
The Bottom Line
The most significant challenge that people with rheumatoid arthritis face is managing inflammation. Inflammation leads to regular flare-ups, causing more pain. Hence, controlling inflammation is a crucial treatment strategy for people with RA. Besides medications, dietary modifications also play a pivotal role. For example, plant-based foods, such as nuts, beans, fruits, vegetables, seeds, and whole grains, have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Hence, they protect against cellular damage caused by free radicals. Due to their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, plant-based foods, especially fresh foods, are an excellent addition to your diet when you have RA. Furthermore, various bioactive compounds, phytonutrients, polyphenols, and other pigments in the plant-based diet offer anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and anti-arthritic benefits like relieving pain and inflammation in the joints.
While various dietary interventions help manage rheumatoid arthritis, adding other interventions like adapting to an active lifestyle also helps. For example, multiple therapies, yoga, and exercise help regulate arthritic conditions. However, it is best to consult a doctor before making any dietary change. So, consult your doctor or an expert nutritionist, and they will suggest to you some of the best seasonal foods from the list above.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Q. Is drinking milk good for rheumatoid arthritis?
A. No, drinking milk is not suitable for rheumatoid arthritis. Various studies show that the consumption of milk causes inflammation in rheumatoid arthritis. Milk and other dairy products are inflammatory products. However, the effects of dairy products differ for different individuals. But, since it is an inflammatory food, it can cause flare-ups in rheumatoid arthritic patients, leading to stiff posture, inflammation, and swelling. Therefore, people often leave animal dairy products behind and move to plant-based milk products with antioxidants that don’t cause flare-ups in the body.
Q. What drinks make arthritis worse?
A. Drinks rich in an aromatic compound named purine are known to aggravate arthritis. You can find it in beer, wine, distilled liquor, and mostly grain-based alcohol, which worsens the symptoms associated with arthritis. They trigger pain and cause flare-ups in individuals with arthritis. In addition, sugary beverages and soda are likely to irk the inflammatory responses in arthritis, leading to pain and inflammation in joints.
Q. Is chicken good for arthritis?
A. Chicken comes under the lean meat category, which is essential as it adds protein to the diet. In addition, chicken collagen, a protein, can relieve symptoms associated with rheumatoid arthritis. Chicken collagen extracted from the chicken breast cartilage is considered a safe and effective treatment for rheumatoid arthritis. But one needs to consider that eating broiled and fried chicken can aggravate the symptoms.
Q. Is Avocado good for rheumatoid arthritis?
A. Yes, avocado is considered beneficial because of vitamin E and carotenoid lutein, which show anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects. These compounds decrease inflammatory response in arthritis. In addition, avocados have a high concentration of monounsaturated fats, showing anti-inflammatory properties. These antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activities reduce joint pain and inflammation and don’t further aggravate the arthritic symptoms.
Q. What vitamins are good for rheumatoid arthritis?
A. People who have rheumatoid arthritis usually have anaemia and weak bones due to the interference of medications with the absorption of nutrients. Therefore, it is sometimes necessary to take supplements to prevent aggravation in the body. Some of the essential vitamins in rheumatoid arthritis are vitamin E. D, B2, B6, and folate. Evidence-based research has shown that these vitamins reduce the inflammatory responses in the body caused due to rheumatoid arthritis.
Q. Is coffee good for arthritis?
A. While coffee is known for its anti-inflammatory effects, it helps ease physical and mental fatigue. In addition, its anti-inflammatory properties reduce the body’s inflammatory response and ease joint pain. However, there is conflicting research on the subject. Hence, it is best to consult a doctor before adding coffee to your arthritis diet.
Q. Which fruit is good for rheumatoid arthritis?
A. When it comes to the fruits beneficial for rheumatoid arthritis, all the fruits come into that category. However, citrus fruits are considered best because of the high concentration of antioxidants essential to fight against the inflammatory responses associated with rheumatoid arthritis. These antioxidants combat free radicals, which prevent cellular damage and oxidative stress in the body. As a result, it eases joint pain and inflammation. However, studies have shown that citrus fruits may interfere with the body’s ability to process rheumatoid arthritis medications. To prevent that, you can take vitamin C from other sources such as tomatoes, kiwi, melons, strawberries, and potatoes.
Q. What kind of diet is best for rheumatoid arthritis?
A. Anti-inflammatory and Mediterranean diets are best for rheumatoid arthritis because these diets primarily contain plant-based foods and lean protein from animals that contain antioxidants. These antioxidants fight the free radicals. These diets recommend whole grains, vegetables, fruits, low-fat dairy, lean protein, nuts, and seeds, which offer many health benefits. These foods help relieve pain and inflammation of joints and other symptoms associated with rheumatoid arthritis.
Q. What foods worsen rheumatoid arthritis?
A. Foods such as processed foods, meat products, alcohol, sugary products and beverages, refined grains, dairy products, fatty foods, trans fat, beef, red meat, gluten, preservatives, and flavour enhancers can worsen the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. In addition, consuming these foods causes severe flare-ups of arthritis, leading to serious complications.
Q. How can I boost my immune system with rheumatoid arthritis?
A. Foods are generally responsible for building the immune system. Vegetables and fruits are full of antioxidants. As a result, they help boost the immune system and reduce inflammation. A healthy balanced diet with high levels of vitamin C, K, and folate can also help build your immune system in arthritis. In addition, foods such as prunes, raisins, seeds, nuts, leafy greens, and whole grains enhance immune responses in rheumatoid arthritis. Plant-based foods are generally considered the best option for building the immune system in rheumatoid arthritis.