ARTHRITIS AND DIET – EATING SMART TO SUPPORT YOUR LIFESTYLE
It is a scary fact that, by the age of 60, 9 in every 10 people suffer with some form of arthritis – a common condition that causes pain and inflammation in joints. According to NHS Choices, around 10 million people have arthritis in the UK alone.
However, this condition needn’t be an inevitable part of growing older. In fact, according to the renowned specialist in the treatment of arthritis, Dr. Robert Bingham, “no person who is in good nutritional health develops rheumatoid or osteoarthritis”.
In the search for a definitive cause of arthritis, many factors have been considered; including everything from hormonal balance, genetics, infections, old age and stress, to climate, posture and levels of physical exercise. However, for the purposes of this article, we are going to consider the central role of diet in more detail.
Poor diet and the development of arthritis
It is interesting to note that most people suffering with arthritis have a history of poor diet. It is therefore considered to be one of the most important underlying factors in the development of the disease, not least because it can pave the way for many of the other risk factors mentioned above.
For instance, a poor diet (with corresponding nutritional deficiencies) can lead to a strained immune system and therefore vulnerability to infections, as well as hormonal imbalances and can even affect emotional state. And then there is, of course, the more direct impact of low levels of specific vitamins and minerals (such as calcium, magnesium and vitamin D) on bone strength and repair.
A diet high in sugar, stimulants (such as coffee and cigarettes), saturated fat, dairy and animal protein, for example, are all strongly associated with arthritic problems. Amongst other reasons, this is because they all fall into the list of highly acid-forming foods.You may be surprised to see dairy in the list – traditionally seen as an excellent source of calcium and therefore logically good for bones right? Well, although dairy products are rich in calcium, the main mineral in bones, it is interesting to note that the countries that consume the most dairy also have the most cases of osteoporosis.
Why is this? For one thing, we absorb a very low level of the calcium in cow’s milk (especially if pasteurised) because of its calcium to magnesium ratio (magnesium is required for the proper absorption and utilisation of calcium). Without enough magnesium, calcium can also collect in the body’s soft tissues and actually cause one type of arthritis!
And, to make matters worse, dairy can actually result in calcium loss from bones. How? Like all animal protein, dairy results in acid by-products when broken down by the body. This results in a more acidic blood pH, which requires a biological correction to revert to the body’s ideal alkaline pH.
It just so happens that calcium is an excellent acid neutraliser (as are sodium, potassium and magnesium), and the largest reserve of calcium in the body is in the bones. So the very same calcium that our bones need to stay strong is leached from them to neutralise the acidity caused by the consumption of dairy. Once the calcium is pulled out of the bones, it leaves the body via the urine, so that the net result is a calcium deficit.
This is one of the many reasons why people with arthritis are encouraged to seek out plant-based sources of calcium (wheatgrass, tofu, collards and kale are excellent examples). Although the levels of this important bone mineral may not be quite as high as those found in traditional sources like dairy, the body is able to absorb and use the calcium far more efficiently because of their magnesium content and ratio to calcium. What’s more, plant-based sources of calcium tend to be alkalising in the body.
So, if you are an arthritis sufferer, you may want to aim for a diet that is at least 80% alkaline. In practice, this means ensuring that you are balancing animal products, saturated fats and sugar with generous helpings of fruit, vegetables and green leafy plants.
Food allergies and intolerances
Another dietary consideration for those suffering with arthritis is addressing any underlying food allergies or intolerances as a priority.
The majority of people with the condition have food and chemical allergies or sensitivities, which cause a flare-up of symptoms.
The most common food allergies and intolerances are to dairy and wheat (a gluten grain), but as these are both acid-forming in the body, you should be avoiding them in any case!
When planning a diet that is going to have you eating your way back to strength, health and flexibility, try to include the following:
Omega 3 fish oils: Most people associate bone and joint health with Omega oils. Fish oils are a particularly good source of these essential fatty acids. Notably for arthritics, these oils can be converted in the body to anti-inflammatory prostaglandins called PG3s.
Nature’s painkillers: There are a wide range of herbs and spices that are known as “natural painkillers”. Turmeric and ginger are perhaps two of the most famous, as they can help to reduce the over-production of substances in the body called leukotrienes that cause both pain and inflammation. Turmeric also contains an active compound called curcumin, which has a number of anti-inflammatory actions.
Antioxidants: Antioxidants and polyphenols are sometimes referred to as “inflammation reducers”. This is because they help the body to protect itself against harmful free radicals, which can cause tissue damage or destruction. Free radicals can come from both internal and external sources, such as stress, exposure to pollution, poor diet and UV rays. It is therefore important to provide your body with sufficient protection through your diet. Vitamin C and E are notoriously potent antioxidants, found in high levels in the most pigment-rich fruit and vegetables. For example, peppers, citrus fruits, berries and dark green leafy vegetables. It is also worth seeking out other plant foods that are rich in polyphenols, including olives, green tea, grapes and onions.
Keep your bones and joints in good health
Prevention is, of course, better than cure. So if you want to keep your bones and joints in good health, try to follow the tips below:1. Stay active – keeping flexible and fit helps to improve bone strength.
2. Reduce your intake of acid-forming foods and drink.
3. Get out of any cycle of ‘stress’ and keep stimulants to a minimum.
4. Eat a well-balanced, largely alkaline, diet that is rich in a broad spectrum of vitamins and minerals. In particular, opt for plant-based sources of calcium and protein wherever possible.
5. Address any underlying food allergies or intolerances.
6. Supplement your diet as appropriate with, for example, bone support supplements like Omega oils, glucosamine HCL, turmeric and MSM.