6 Inflammation-fighting foods for Rheumatoid Arthritis 

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6 Inflammation-fighting foods for Rheumatoid Arthritis 

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic autoimmune disease affecting about 1.5 million Americans with three times as many women being affected than men.  Women often get diagnosed between ages 30 and 60 while men tend to be older at the time of diagnosis.  RA is when the body’s immune system attacks the joints of the hands, feet, wrists, elbows, knees and ankles causing inflammation resulting in swelling and pain.  Overtime, it can damage cartilage causing joints to become unstable, loose, painful and deformed. 

The high levels of inflammation associated with RA not only affect the joints but also can contribute to blood vessel damage leading to heart disease.  A Mayo Clinic study found that people with RA have twice the risk of heart disease than the general population.  In fact, people with RA have a 60% increased risk of a heart attack within one to four years after diagnosis.  The combined risk of joint and cardiac problems related to RA makes it extremely important to follow an anti-inflammatory diet to reduce inflammation and the health issues associated with it.

How an anti-inflammatory diet can help with RA

Following an anti-inflammatory diet can be one of the best ways to treat RA along with the extra bonus of reducing cardiac complications. This way of eating is very similar to the Mediterranean-style diet, well-known for its health promoting properties.  Foods commonly a part of the Mediterranean diet are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants and phytochemicals, all which boost the body’s supply of powerful anti-inflammatory fighting capabilities.

Following a Mediterranean-style diet can also help with:

·      Reducing inflammation to ease arthritis symptoms

·      Lessening risk of heart disease

·      Lowering blood pressure

·      Weight control or reduction which helps curb joint pain

6 Foods to eat often

1.     Fish

Rich in omega-3 fatty acids, fish is one of the best ways to fight inflammation and heart disease.  Twice a week, consume 3 to 4 ounces of the following fish – Salmon, tuna, anchovies, herring, mackerel and trout.  Don’t care for fish?  Ask your physician about taking a fish oil supplement. Consuming fish helps reduce C-reactive protein (CRP) and interleukin-6 both of which are inflammatory proteins in the body.   

2.     Fruits and Vegetables

Colorful produce means more anti-inflammatory antioxidants.  Choose dark greens such as spinach, kale and broccoli, reds such as cherries, raspberries, and strawberries, blues/purples such as blueberries and blackberries and orange/yellow such as oranges and grapefruit.  These provide the antioxidant anthocyanin, vitamins C and K, all of which prevent inflammation maintaining more healthy joints. Fruits and vegetables are naturally low in fat and high in fiber, all good news for reducing LDL (bad) cholesterol and increasing HDL (good) cholesterol.  Aim for 5 or more servings daily. 

3.     Olive Oil

This heart-healthy monounsaturated fat is a must for all kitchens.  It contains the compound oleocanthal which inhibits activity of COX enzymes helping to slow the inflammatory process and sensitivity to pain.  Its monounsaturated fatty acid content can help lower cholesterol and may normalize blood clotting. Olive oil can be used numerous ways such as for sautéing  vegetables, mixed into salad dressings and sauces, drizzled over cooked pasta or vegetables or used in place of butter for dipping bread.  Two to three tablespoons daily is recommended.

4.     Beans

Also known as legumes, this inexpensive source of protein, fiber, zinc and iron should be a mainstay in every home.  All beans can be part of a healthy diet which include red, pinto, black, garbanzo, kidney and lentils.  Beans are particularly rich in soluble fiber helping to reduce the bad LDL cholesterol and contain no cholesterol, saturated or trans fats, so very heart-healthy.  Beans also contain phytonutrients that function as anti-inflammatory compounds helping to lower CRP, an inflammatory protein.  Serve up 2 or more cups a week.

5.     Nuts and Seeds

Nuts and seeds can be valuable gems in fighting inflammation and heart disease.   A 2011 study found people who consumed nuts had a 51% lower risk of inflammatory diseases such as RA.  Both nuts and seeds contain monounsaturated fat and loaded with vitamin B6, both which help reduce inflammation and good for your heart.  Due to their high fat and calorie content, a handful each day is all you need to get the health benefits nuts and seeds have to offer.   Best sources for fighting inflammation include walnuts, pistachios, almonds, cashews, pine nuts, sunflower and pumpkin seeds.

 6.     Green Tea

Live like the British do and have that afternoon cup of tea – or more frequently throughout the day.  A study funded by the National Institutes of Health found that green tea had curtailed the inflammatory substance cytokine IL-17 while increasing the anti-inflammatory substance cytokine IL-10 leading to reducing the severity of arthritis.  In addition antioxidants in green tea can block the production of molecules causing joint damage associated with RA.  Green tea drinkers may also decrease their risk of heart disease – a study of Japanese adults found that drinking five or more cups of green tea a day lowered death from heart attack or stroke by 26% than those who drank less than one cup a day.          

Bottom line

Living with rheumatoid arthritis can be difficult enough due to pain and inflammation.  By eating a healthy, Mediterranean-style, well-balanced diet can be one way to possibly help reduce RA symptoms and heart disease. 

Like with any chronic disease, always consult with your physician on diet and medications.