Nearly one in five U.S. adults suffers from the pain, loss of movement and swelling related to arthritis. In fact, there are more than 100 different diseases that affect areas in and around joints, with women being affected more often than men. But virtually all types of arthritis share a common cause: a misdirection of the body’s inflammatory response. Medications are often used to tame the inflammation, but are there things you can do to decrease your risk for developing arthritis and minimize its impact on your life?
It turns out the foods you eat, in particular some specific nutrients, may have an effect on the body’s inflammatory response. Omega-3 fatty acids found in fatty fish and fish oil supplements have gained considerable attention for their potent anti-inflammatory action. The Mediterranean diet has been shown to improve heart health and is now being recognized for its effectiveness in reducing the symptoms and improving vitality and function in rheumatoid arthritis sufferers. Emphasizing minimally processed foods, healthy fats like olive oil, fruits and vegetables, whole grains, fish, nuts and legumes, the Mediterranean diet is naturally high in omega-3 fatty acids.
If you can’t get all your omega-3s through diet, you might want to consider using a supplement. Studies have shown that three to six grams of fish oil supplements a day significantly reduce the pain of rheumatoid arthritis when used in addition to the standard therapeutic medical regimen.
Nightshade vegetables such as potatoes, tomatoes and eggplant are among the foods some people say can trigger rheumatoid arthritis flares. However, studies have shown this occurs in only 1 percent to 2 percent of patients.
Seafood, nuts and seeds, such as sunflower seeds, may help reduce the pain and swelling of arthritis thanks to the anti-inflammatory trace mineral copper.
Vitamin D to the Rescue
Another supplement you may want to consider is vitamin D. Especially in wintry northern climates, where sunshine isn’t around to stimulate the body to produce vitamin D, a supplement is virtually required to get the recommended daily amount. The Iowa Women’s Health study, which followed almost 300,000 women ages 55 to 69 for 11 years, found that women whose diets were highest in vitamin D had the lowest incidence of rheumatoid arthritis. Women who got less than 200 international units (IU) of vitamin D in their diets each day were 33 percent more likely to develop rheumatoid arthritis than women who got more.
Many health professionals advocate supplementing with at least 1000 IU a day of cholecalciferol, the most active form of vitamin D.
Unfortunately, a recent update in the journal Rheumatology concluded that there is no convincing evidence that vitamin A, vitamin C or selenium are effective in the treatment of any type of arthritis.
Glucosamine, Chondroitin and MSM
Even several years after they surged onto the market, supplements made with glucosamine, chondroitin, and/or MSM (methylsulfonylmethane) still cause confusion among consumers, who wonder if they are effective.
Few studies have examined the long-term effects of MSM. According to the Mayo Clinic, there is no conclusive evidence that MSM is effective in reducing arthritis pain.
More promising results were found in a recent study sponsored by the National Institutes of Health called the Glucosamine/Chondroitin Intervention Trial (or GAIT study) which was designed to evaluate rigorously the efficacy of glucosamine, chondroitin sulfate, and the two in combination in treating knee pain related to osteoarthritis.
The GAIT study showed the combination of glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate was effective in osteoarthritis patients with moderate to severe pain, although not those with mild pain. The GAIT study used 1500 mg glucosamine hydrochloride and 1200 mg chondroitin sulfate per day.
“For supplements, glucosamine and chondroitin may be beneficial in maintaining cartilage in osteoarthritis sufferers — assuming it is taken for four to six months,” says Debbi Cavalieri, a Nurse Practitioner at Arthritis Northwest.
A big concern is whether these expensive supplements actually contain the compounds advertised on the label. One source of reassurance is choosing products that display the USP Verified Dietary Supplement mark on the label, indicating that they have been tested by the United States Pharmacopeia.
Another good source of information about supplements is ConsumerLab.com. This organization conducts independent laboratory tests and provides results and information to help consumers and health care professionals evaluate health, wellness, and nutrition products.
Stacey Trogdon is a registered dietitian in private practice in Spokane. You can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Food Sources of Vitamin D
(International Units (IU) vitamin D), Goal of at least 1000 IU per day:
- Salmon, 3.5 ounces, 360
- Mackerel, 3.5 ounces, 345
- Sardines, 3.75 ounces, 250
- Shrimp, 4 ounces, 162
- Milk, any type, 8 ounces, 100
- Orange juice, vitamin D fortified, 100
- Fortified cereal, 3/4 cup, 40-50