Arthritis is a debilitating condition that causes pain and disability. It causes pain and stiffness in the joints and muscles, stopping you from doing simple things many take for granted – walking, moving, lifting and standing.
Although there are no diets or dietary supplements that will cure arthritis, some people do find that a change in diet can improve symptoms and help to manage pain, and the difficulties of everyday living.
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If you are overweight, losing some weight will reduce the strain on your joints so you may find you don’t need to take painkillers quite so often. The only way to lose weight and keep it off is to change the way you eat and the amount of exercise you do. You need to balance your food intake against the energy you burn.
Because of the way our joints work, the pressure on our knee joints is five-six times our body weight when walking, so even a small weight loss can make a big difference if you have arthritis.
Eat more fruit and vegetables
The World Health Organisation recommends that you eat at least five portions of fruit and vegetables every day. This is to make sure your body receives the important nutrients that it needs to maintain good health and to protect it during the stress of disease. It has been suggested that antioxidants may help to protect the joints by mopping up some of the chemicals that cause inflammation. Choose more vegetables or salad to help fill your plate but lower your calorie intake. Fruit and vegetables are good sources of fibre and choosing fruit and vegetables of different colours will give you a variety of vitamins and minerals. Brightly coloured vegetables and fruits are rich in antioxidants, as are leafy green vegetables.
Exercise not only burns calories that would otherwise end up as fat, it also increases your strength and suppleness. It’s important to find something you can manage and enjoy as this will encourage you to do it regularly.
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Calcium, along with nutrients like vitamin D and magnesium, is important for maintaining healthy bones. Calcium deficiency increases your risk of osteoporosis, which is even more of a risk for women after the menopause. Many people with arthritis also have a risk of developing osteoporosis.
Calcium can be found in:
· Dairy products such as milk, cheese, yogurt (low-fat ones are best – skimmed and semi-skimmed milk contains more calcium than full-fat milk).
· Calcium-enriched milk alternatives made from soya, rice or oats.
· Fish that are eaten with the bones (such as sardines and canned salmon).
· Green leafy vegetables like Swiss chard.
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Iron is important in preventing anaemia and many people with arthritis are anaemic. Anti-inflammatory drugs to help treat arthritis help the pain and stiffness of arthritis but may cause bleeding and stomach ulcers in some people, leading to anaemia. The other main cause of anaemia in arthritis is anaemia of chronic disease, which often occurs with rheumatoid arthritis and similar conditions and doesn’t improve with iron supplements.
Good sources of iron are:
·Lean red meats as well as the darker meat of chicken (such as thigh fillets)
· Oily fish e.g. sardines, salmon, mackerel etc
· Pulses e.g. lentils and haricot beans
· Dark green vegetables e.g. spinach, kale and watercress.
Your body absorbs iron better if you take it with vitamin C, so have fruit juice or a good portion of fruit or vegetables with your meal. It is best not to drink tea with your meal as this reduces the amount of iron that your body can absorb - wait an hour after eating before you enjoy your next cuppa.
Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids have been shown to help some people with inflammatory types of arthritis such as rheumatoid arthritis and psoriatic arthritis, as it can decrease the number of tender joints and shorten the time people feel joint stiffness. They can be found in rapeseed oil, free range eggs, oily fish and fish oil supplements.
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Oily fish that contains high levels of omega-3 include:
· Tuna (fresh or frozen)
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According to research led by the University of East Anglia (UEA), a compound found in broccoli could be key to preventing or slowing the progress of the most common form of arthritis, osteoarthritis. At this stage the research has only been found in animals and it’s not known how much would need to be consumed/taken for it to have an effect, however it’s a potentially exciting study for the future.