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Dietitians Dish: Arthritis, nutrition's role

By By Stephanie Markman
May 1, 2012 at 12:01 a.m.

Stephanie Markman

Arthritis is a common inflammatory disease that affects one out of every seven Americans. There are more than 100 different types of arthritis, with rheumatoid and osteoarthritis being the most common.

Arthritis is characterized by chronic inflammation of the joint which causes pain, swelling, stiffness and limited movement. At the same time, cartilage, which prevents bones from rubbing together and absorbs shock during movement, breaks down and causes further pain and swelling.

Because arthritis is an inflammatory disease, it is commonly treated with various anti-inflammatory medications. There are also naturally occurring foods that contain anti-inflammatory compounds, which over time, can help alleviate some of the symptoms associated with arthritis.

Furthermore, physical therapy and weight loss are valuable in reducing the symptoms of arthritis by building muscle strength and eliminating pressure on joints because of excess weight.

All of the foods we eat have a profound effect on our bodies. It just so happens that some have a positive effect on arthritis, while others can trigger the onset of inflammation.

Rheumatoid arthritis can sometimes be aggravated by certain foods. Physicians may try to identify a patient's trigger foods to help treat their rheumatoid arthritis in a more natural way.

This is done by eliminating common trigger foods for four weeks and then reintroducing them one by one while monitoring for a significant inflammatory response. These common trigger foods include dairy products, corn, meat, wheat, oats, rye, egg, citrus fruit, potatoes, tomatoes, nuts and coffee.

There are also compounds found in foods that have a positive effect on inflammation and can help alleviate arthritic symptoms. The first compound is Alpha-linolenic Acid which is an Omega-3 fatty acid found in flax, canola, wheat germ and walnut oils.

Gamma-linolenic Acid is a less common anti-inflammatory compound, an Omega-6 fatty acid, which is found in borage, evening primrose, black currant and hemp oils.

Ginger has beneficial properties because it blocks the enzymes that produce inflammatory prostaglandins. Consuming one half of a teaspoon to one teaspoon of ground ginger every day for four to 12 weeks can have positive effects.

Additionally antioxidants can play a role in fighting inflammation. On a molecular level, joint damage is caused by free-radicals. The best way to decrease the amount of free-radicals is by consuming a variety of fruits, vegetables and whole grains, which are rich in free-radical fighting antioxidants. Common antioxidants include beta-carotene, vitamin E, vitamin C and selenium.

Something else to keep in mind is that consuming excess iron (more than eight milligrams per day for adult men and more than 18 milligrams per day for adult women) can aggravate these free-radical attacks.

Once approved by your physician, incorporating these anti-inflammatory foods and compounds into your diet can be a great way to fight arthritis with nutrition.

Stephanie Markman is a registered and licensed dietitian. Send questions or comments to dietitians@vicad.com.

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