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Diet Choices May Help You Control Arthritis Symptoms

  [ 302 votes ]   [ Discuss This Article ] • April 12, 2004

By Raymond Mirise, Special for The Arizona Republic

QUESTION: If it is true that eating a certain way can help reduce arthritis symptoms, I would like to give it a try. What can I do?

ANSWER: There is no miracle food cure for arthritis, rather a number of diet strategies that can improve symptoms for many patients. A recently published study on rheumatoid arthritis patients indicated the Mediterranean diet (based on the dietary habits of the residents of the island of Crete) emphasized fruits, vegetables, cereals and legumes with plenty of fish and little meat. Fats came mainly from olive oil, and the subjects drank moderate amounts of wine. The diet of the control group was higher in fats from meat and dairy products. After three months, the Mediterranean diet group had less pain, inflammation and disease activity and fewer affected joints than the control group.

Researchers concluded that the Mediterranean diet provided moderate relief to patients with mild to moderate active arthritis. The benefits of the Mediterranean diet are consistent with a number of other diet studies that show the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids found in fish and olive oil and of fruits and vegetables, which are high in antioxidants. Both fish and olive oil are rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Scientists know that fatty acids are precursors of prostaglandins, some of which suppress inflammation while others make it worse. Omega-3s suppress inflammation.

In fact, fish oils have two of the most effective types of omega-3 when it comes to suppressing inflammation, DHA (decosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid). The best sources of DHA and EPA are cold-water fish such as salmon, mackerel, sardines, cod and halibut. Flaxseed oil, pecans, walnuts, green leafy vegetables and tofu also contain omega-3s. The plant-based omega-3s tend to have a less powerful effect than those from fish.

Most of the omega-6 fatty acids belong to the group that promotes inflammation. They include corn, sunflower, safflower and cottonseed oils - all commonly consumed in the American diet. Although you may not be aware you're using these omega-6 oils, they're abundant in the food supply in margarines and spreads, prepackaged convenience foods, cereals and baked goods. Americans today consume 10 times more omega-6s than omega-3s which is why some scientists believe that our excessive consumption of omega-6 fatty acids may contribute to the development of arthritis as well as heart disease and other ills.

High levels of vitamin C were associated with a lower risk of developing osetoarthritis. People who took at least 152 milligrams of vitamin C per day (more than double the recommended amount) were only half as likely to develop osteoarthritis over the next two decades as those consuming smaller amounts.

Many diet studies of arthritis begin with a fasting phase. Most patients show an improvement in symptoms during this phase but tend to relapse as food is reintroduced. Foods often cited for causing inflammatory responses include pork, beef, dairy products, citrus fruits, wheat, rye, tomatoes, potatoes, peppers and eggplant, eggs, coffee, peanuts and alcohol.

To determine if a specific food affects your arthritis symptoms, eliminate a number of suspect foods for at least a month and then gradually reintroduce them one by one. Keep a food diary, tracking foods and symptoms so you can tell which ones, if any, help or hurt. Making sound diet choices has been shown to lower the risk of developing arthritis in the first place, and for those with established disease it may help control symptoms.

Dr. Raymond Mirise is on the medical staff of Sun Health Del E. Webb Memorial Hospital. Source: The Arizona Republic. Copyright 2004, All rights reserved.

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