Arthritis and Nutrition
- Reduce Saturated Fats
Major building blocks of inflammatory agents in the body come from arachidonic acid, which we consume in the form of animal foods. Studies of inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis have shown that symptoms improve in people who eat small amounts of meat and dairy products, Dr. Rakel says.
"Arachidonic acid is the fuel to the fire of inflammation," he said. "We don't want a lot of it in our bodies because it actually fuels inflammation."
However, not all animal products are culprits. Several types of cold-water fish have shown anti-inflammatory benefits, including salmon, mackerel, sardines and herring - due to their high content of the more beneficial omega-3 fatty acids.
- Reduce Omega-6 Fatty Acids
This includes reducing consumption of margarine and several types of oils, including partially hydrogenated corn, cottonseed, grapeseed, peanut, safflower, sesame, soybean and sunflower oils.
To reduce omega-6 fatty acids in your cooking, use monounsaturated oils, such as olive or canola oil. When shopping, keep in mind that omega-6 fatty acids are often used in any products that have a long shelf life, such as crackers, pastries and potato chips.
Do most of your shopping around the periphery of the supermarket and don't spend too much time at the red meat and dairy counters, Dr. Rakel advises.
- Increase Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Eating more cold-water fish is one way to boost omega-3s in your diet. But there are also several non-meat sources, including flax seeds or oil, walnuts and green, leafy vegetables.
- Flax and Fish Oil
Because flax spoils very quickly once it's ground up, Dr. Rakel suggests buying flax in seed form and grinding the seeds in a coffee grinder. The flax can then be used in a variety of ways - for example, you can take a tablespoon and sprinkle it on salads or mix it into smoothies.
Several other plant sources can also help reduce inflammation in the body.
"All of those things that make you smell seem to be really good for us," Dr. Rakel jokes, listing onions and garlic among the list of plant sources that can have a "positive effect on the inflammatory cascade." Others include apples, red pepper, ginger, rosemary and the spice turmeric, which can be purchased in supplement form.
Fish oil is another way to increase your intake of omega-3 fatty acid, but Dr. Rakel warns that too much of it can do more harm than good.
"There's a therapeutic dose here," he says. "To prevent heart attack, one gram a day is a great dose. But if you have inflammatory arthritis, I don't recommend more than four grams a day."
If you take any supplements, you should always inform your doctors, Dr. Rakel stressed. Supplements might interact with your prescription drugs, potentially reducing their effectiveness.
Exercise and Arthritis
From acupuncture to journaling, there are several other so-called "alternative" ways to help people cope with chronic diseases such as arthritis. Exercise can also help, by keeping joints moving and restoring and preserving strength and flexibility.
It's a technique that 70-year-old Sandy Porter has been using for several years to help manage her osteoarthritis. Porter is an enthusiastic participant in arthritis classes held in the 92-degree warm water pool at the aquatic center at UW Health's Research Park Clinic.
"I've been doing it for years and I think it's absolutely saved my life," says Porter.
The soothing warmth and buoyancy of warm water create a safer environment for relieving arthritis pain and stiffness and improving range of movement. The water supports joints while providing mild resistance to help build muscle strength.
Porter also enjoys the social aspect of the warm water class, which allows her to interact with others going through the same types of aches and pains associated with osteoarthritis.
"It's really been like a support group - although sometimes we talk too much in class," Porter said with a laugh.