Rheumatoid Arthritis, What You Eat Can Matter
If you suffer with rheumatoid arthritis, you have a variety of management options, and drugs are typically the choice doctors recommend. But you should know that what you eat can matter as well, as experts and studies have shown.
Which foods are best for rheumatoid arthritis?
Before naming the foods that are best for rheumatoid arthritis, it helps to understand why some experts believe they make the list. Much of the reason has to do with the fact that rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease, which means the body attacks its own tissues.
The intestinal tract has mucosa that absorbs and digests nutrients from food, making large food molecules into smaller ones. This process allows the smaller molecules to pass through the intestinal wall, leaving behind larger ones, which can cause infections and other problems if they were to escape the intestines.
Individuals with inflammatory arthritis have been shown to have an inflamed intestinal tract, which increases permeability of the intestinal walls and the chance that large molecules will infiltrate the bloodstream. This is a condition known as leaky gut. When these large molecules enter the blood, they can result in an inflammatory reaction.
According to various experts, including John A. McDougall, MD, founder and medical director of the McDougall Program and the author of many books, including The McDougall Program: 12 Days to Dynamic Health, choosing the right foods can maintain the integrity of the protective barrier in the intestinal tract and prevent leaky gut. The right foods include whole grains, vegetables, and fruits.
Foods that are the biggest culprits in rheumatoid arthritis, they say, are dairy products (which can cause the most severe problems) and other animal foods. This dietary approach should also be low in fats, including vegetable oils (even olive and flaxseed oils), which is a point that differs somewhat from other recommendations (discussed below).
McDougall has noted that his decades of experience with this starch-based, low-fat, no-animal food diet has been successful for a great number of patients with rheumatoid arthritis. Some individuals also need to eliminate wheat and corn from their diet. Patients who have followed these dietary recommendations typically experience improvement in symptoms after 1 to 2 weeks and can typically stop or significantly reduce any medications they are taking.
Other research on diet
How important are fruits and vegetables for rheumatoid arthritis patients? It's known that people with rheumatoid arthritis are at increased risk of cardiovascular disease, and that regular intake of fruits and vegetables can help prevent this disease.
Therefore, a study in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition reported on the impact of fruit and vegetable consumption among 114 individuals with rheumatoid arthritis. They found that daily vegetable consumption (but not fruit) was associated with better arterial function and thus a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease.
Those who enjoy a little wine or other alcohol may be happy to learn that a new study published in the Scandinavian Journal of Rheumatology reported that "moderate alcohol consumption may also be associated with a reduced risk" of rheumatoid arthritis. One to two drinks per day is defined as moderate use.