Joint Arthritis Pain and Inflammation: Change Your Diet to Fight Arthritis

Arthritis foodIf you’ve been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, rest assured there are healthy foods that can help to fight joint arthritis pain. Patty Pimentel discovered this after she was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis in March 2012, so she decided to fight back – with food.

Pimentel did a lot of the things that many of us do. She snacked on a lot of junk food, ate a lot of meat and drank lots of milk. When she was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, she knew it wasn’t a sudden thing.

“I found it hard to believe that I could simply wake up one day and have my immune system go haywire,” she says. “I figured this was probably due to something I was doing to my body for a long time.

“I did a lot of research into nutrition and decided that if i just gave my body what it needed and left it alone to fix itself, that it might work. I figured if my body can heal itself from the outside when I get a cut, then why can’t it heal itself from the inside?”

I’m guilty of eating poorly at times, too. Greasy, salty french fries and other assorted goodies at the local fast-food restaurant have always appealed to me. There’s a growing body of evidence that these types of foods aren’t good for those of us with joint arthritis pain. This evidence, however, may not always show up in our bloodstream.

According to Arthritis Today, researchers at the University of Oslo, Norway, conducted an unusual study. Traditionally, the article notes, studies have focused on how antibodies interact in our bloodstream. Antibodies are proteins. Think of them as tiny torpedoes seeking and destroying foreign invaders. That’s their job, but sometimes they get confused and attack parts of our body or the food that we eat. When that happens, allergies may form.

So the researchers decided to study how antibodies work in our digestive tracts. Using test tubes, they collected the intestinal fluids of people suffering from RA, as well as those who didn’t have it. People with RA had higher levels of antibodies to proteins from cow’s milk, cereal, chicken eggs, codfish and pork than those who didn’t have the disease.

Sometimes these antibodies bind with proteins and set up house in the intestines, forming immune complexes. Then these complexes develop wanderlust. They start circulating and wind up in every little corner of your body, including your joints. That, the article reports, may contribute to inflammation, which in turn brings on joint arthritis pain.

Keep in mind that this is a preliminary study, so more remains to be seen.

Pimentel definitely believes that the foods we eat can contribute to joint arthritis pain, and she changed her diet for the better.

“I just really wanted to detox my body of all the animal products and pills,” she says. “My energy levels are through the roof now. I used to have to take naps during work just to get through the day and now I don’t have to do that anymore.”

Out went the meat and junk food, and in came fresh, plant-based foods. Now Rebecca relies on fruits, nuts, beans, seeds and vegetables, and that has helped tremendously, she says.

People who don’t have RA aren’t likely to understand how difficult everyday tasks can be for those of us who do have it. Nor are they likely to understand how the wrong foods can sabotage our immune system.

For Pimentel, even things like brushing and washing her hair were very difficult to do, but that’s changed. Joint stiffness, swelling and pain, which were a real problem in the morning, don’t bother her nearly as much, she says. Now that she’s no longer eating animal products and processed foods, the RA has lightened up.

“I’m able to get out of bed by myself now, able to dress myself and wash my hair when I want. I don’t have whole body flares anymore.”

Why do animal products and junk food seem to worsen inflammation and joint arthritis pain?

By now, you’re most likely familiar with omega-3 fatty acids, but another set of fatty acids, known as omega-6 fatty acids, can wreak a good deal of havoc inside your body, and they are often found in animal products and junk food. But why and how does this happen?

It all starts with seemingly innocent enzymes, cyclooxygenase-1 (COX-1) and cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2). These two enzymes instigate inflammation, according to this article in Arthritis Today. They’re the main reason you often have to take nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.

When you eat more foods containing omega-6 fatty acids than foods containing omega-3 fatty acids, COX-2 enzymes become very active, and that amps up joint inflammation.

Omega-3 fatty acids fight inflammation, and they are found in cold water fishes like salmon and tuna.

Omega-6 fatty acids are found in egg yolks, meats, corn, sunflower, safflower, soybean and cottonseed oil. They are also in many snack foods, fried foods, margarine and other spreads – you know, all those yummy, sugary, high fat, processed foods we often crave.

So how can you beat inflammation at its own game? It turns out it’s pretty simple. Whole foods and grains that are high in fiber have been shown to reduce inflammation. Delicious foods like nuts, berries, fresh vegetables, fruits, tea and even dark chocolate are recommended, according to the article.

You should still exercise a bit of caution. Although studies suggest that potatoes, eggplant and other plants in the nightshade family, as well as dairy products, are beneficial for those of us with arthritis, they have been known to trigger inflammation in some people.

Whole foods are foods that we eat in their entirety, according to Annemarie Colbin, Ph.D., in an article on her website. Here are some examples:

  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Whole grains (millet, brown rice, oats, rye, whole wheat, buckwheat, quinoa and cornmeal)
  • Beans and legumes (lentils, chickpeas and kidney beans)
  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Whole foods of animal origin (small whole fish, shrimp, lobster, soft-shelled crab and small fowl)

Earlier this year, I began eating more whole foods; I also decided to cut down on processed foods – especially sugar, which I was eating way too much of.

I love low-fat refried beans, and I make a lot of dishes with rice and beans. I plan to add in more brown rice. I’ve definitely noticed a difference and have had far less joint pain than I’d been having earlier this year.

Like most women of my generation, I grew up eating a lot of fatty foods – gravies, fried chicken, pot roasts and other such tasty items – but most likely this took a heavy toll on my immune system. I’ve struggled with rheumatoid arthritis since the tender age of 16, and I can’t help but wonder if this overabundance of unhealthy foods contributed to my illness.

I’ve found that there’s a good side to having joint arthritis pain. Having done my research, I know what foods cause inflammation, and I’m increasing that knowledge daily.

Changing to a healthy diet may not cure rheumatoid arthritis, but it can certainly be rewarding and it can also change your health for the better.

Contact Manhattan Physical Exam for Annual Physical Checkups and maintain good health.