Can nutrition help symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis?
Arthritis affects more than one in four people in the UK and is a blanket term used to describe over 100 different types of arthritis. If you have received an arthritis diagnosis, you will know there is no cure. Or you might not have an arthritis diagnosis, but your joints have been sore, fragile and failing for years. So, where do you go from here?
Well, evidence suggests that you shouldn't give up hope and that you may be able to appease symptoms of pain, swelling, redness and deformity by making changes to your diet. In this article, I will share some factors to consider to help you take steps to a symptom-free life.
Inflammation is a significant driver in the symptoms of arthritis. And as with other autoimmune diseases, the immune system is fired up to start attacking your own tissue, in this case, your joints. Omega 3 fatty acids stimulate an anti-inflammatory response in your body, so by including more of these fats in your diet, you can start to suppress the fire burning inside.
The other fantastic quality about omega-3s is they help to balance out the pro-inflammatory omega-6 fats. As most Western diets include omega-6 fats from industrial seed oils, you will often have a much greater amount of omega-6 fats in your body. It is normal to have more omega-6 to omega-3 fats on a ratio of, say, four to one, but for many people, they will have far more than that, and the balance of fats is vital to keep inflammation in check.
The best source of omega-3 fats is oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, herring and sardines, but if you aren't a fan of fish, start adding ground flaxseed, activated walnuts and chia seeds to your diet, which provide you with a different source of omega-3s.
Vitamin D is the wonder vitamin that acts as a hormone in your body. Research suggests that those with low levels of vitamin D are more at risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis. The thing is, the way the body assimilates, transports and excretes vitamin D is complex. It may not be as straightforward as supplementing with this sunshine vitamin.
One of the best ways to top up your vitamin D is from skin exposure to the sun's rays. Your skin can make vitamin D from UV and the cholesterol in your skin. Its role in vitamin D production is one of the many benefits of cholesterol. Your body is made from cholesterol, from the cell up, so make sure your diet isn't deficient in healthy fats.
It is more challenging to get enough vitamin D from food, but good sources are oily fish, liver and egg yolks.
Eat the rainbow
The colour in plants represents more than their distinct colour, flavour and taste. They correspond to the phytonutrients they contain. Phytonutrients are an essential yet often overlooked part of a healthy diet and are crucial to support immune and hormone function. A small study showed that those with rheumatoid arthritis who ate a Mediterranean diet for three months improved their joint mobility and reduced inflammation.
The Mediterranean diet is packed with delicious fruits and vegetables. You should aim for ten portions of fruits and vegetables a day, which you can incorporate into soups, sauces, juices and smoothies, as well as side dishes.
Nutrition moves you forward, but is something else holding you back?
For some, improving your diet may have transformational effects. For others, it may not scratch the surface. And that is because we are all individuals. What is driving inflammation for one person is different to the next. Eating a healthy diet has no side effects, so even if you don’t see results in your arthritis symptoms, you will still be nourishing your body with goodness to help you feel at your best.
Stress, sleep deprivation and past emotional trauma mean that we might not all start from the same place when we go on a health transformation journey, so if there is other work to do, then do this in tandem with a healthy diet.
And remember, don’t feel that you have to keep your condition a secret. Let people know how you are feeling. Living with an invisible illness like arthritis and joint pain is more manageable when people understand why you may make certain decisions. And it will take that one added stress out of your life so that you can start moving forward.
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