Arthritis is a condition characterised by the inflammation and swelling of one or more joints, often accompanied by stiffness and pain in the affected areas. There are two main types:
Rheumatoid arthritis: is an autoimmune condition where your body's defences mistakenly attack your joints.
Osteoarthritis: is a type of arthritis that usually develops through wear and tear and frequently affects joints that have experienced prior damage.
Understanding which type of arthritis you may have is crucial because it can significantly impact the nutritional strategies that will work best for you. If you suspect arthritis, it's a good idea to consult your GP, who can help identify the type of arthritis through tests like the Rheumatoid Factor blood test.
When coping with RA, it's essential to begin by looking at digestive function because RA can be associated with changes in the gut microbiome and a condition known as 'leaky gut'. Certain foods can be particularly irritating to the gut and worsen arthritis symptoms. These include wheat and a group of vegetables known as the nightshade family: aubergine, tomatoes, peppers, and potatoes.
A helpful approach is called 'tolerance testing.' This involves completely excluding wheat and nightshade vegetables for two weeks and then gradually reintroducing them one at a time, at least 4 days apart. Pay close attention to your body's response during this process, and be on the lookout for any flare-ups of arthritis symptoms. Some people may experience a reaction to tomatoes, others to potatoes. It is very unusual to react to all of them. Knowledge is power! Understanding and avoiding your particular trigger foods can help calm the gut and reduce inflammation.
As well as avoiding trigger foods, it is essential to support overall gut health. One way to do this is by consuming chicken stock or bone broth regularly. These natural options contain a beneficial compound called glucosamine, which plays a significant role in protecting joints and connective tissues. Additionally, it's important to foster healthy gut bacteria by introducing fermented foods like kimchi, miso, and kefir into your diet. These foods promote a balanced gut microbiome.
With OA, any excess weight can put a lot of pressure on your joints, which can make the pain from inflammation even more unbearable. For example, if you have arthritis in your knees, extra weight can be especially tough on them, potentially harming the knee's soft tissues like ligaments and tendons. In such cases, making healthy changes to your diet and becoming more physically active can help you shed those extra pounds. Weight loss can significantly reduce the pressure on arthritic knee joints, ultimately protecting them from further damage.
Inflammation is the body's natural defence mechanism against injury or infection, but when it becomes chronic, it can contribute to the destruction of joint tissues. Following an anti-inflammatory approach, like an adapted Mediterranean diet, can help you achieve your weight goals and help manage OA. Here's how you can do it:
1. Cut down on refined sugar and alcohol. Sugar, especially refined or added sugars, can lead to inflammation in the body. When you consume a lot of sugary foods and drinks, it can cause spikes in your blood sugar levels. This, in turn, can trigger the release of inflammatory chemicals in your body. Chronic inflammation is believed to play a role in many health issues, including osteoarthritis.
2. Avoid processed foods.
3. Increase your intake of fruits and vegetables, especially dark, green vegetables packed with calcium to support bone health.
4. Incorporate spices like curcumin (found in turmeric) and ginger into your meals.
5. Include sources of good fats, such as oily fish (sardines, herring, mackerel, salmon), nuts, seeds, avocado, and olive oil. These healthy fats have anti-inflammatory properties.
6. Regularly make bone broth or chicken stock, as they are rich in glucosamine and collagen, which can benefit your joints.
7. Enjoy fermented foods like live yoghurt, kombucha and sauerkraut to nourish your gut bacteria. The gut microbiome, which consists of trillions of microorganisms, plays a crucial role in inflammation regulation.
8. Lean protein sources like chicken, turkey, fish and plant-based options like beans and lentils are important for OA management. Proteins are the building blocks of your body, and they play a crucial role in maintaining and repairing your joints and cartilage. By consuming lean protein, you're providing your body with the essential materials it needs to keep your joints strong and healthy.
The most effective approach to arthritis management is to start as early as possible, ideally before significant joint changes occur. However, it's never too late to take steps to improve your condition. Incorporating these dietary changes can make a big difference in your journey to managing arthritis. Your plate can be a wonderful source of relief and healing. Here's to a healthier you!