If you have rheumatoid arthritis (RA), you know how painful it can be. The condition is characterized by swollen and painful joints. It can strike anyone at any age.
RA is different from osteoarthritis, which is the natural wearing down of joints with age. RA occurs when your own immune system attacks your joints. The underlying cause of the attack is unknown. But the result is painful swelling, stiffness, and inflammation in your joints.
There is no cure for RA. Traditional treatment for the disease involves taking medications, which can have negative side effects. These medications include:
- anti-inflammatory medications
- medications that suppress your immune system
People with RA are beginning to turn to alternative treatments including changes in their diet. Foods that reduce inflammation throughout your body can reduce pain and swelling in your joints.
Some anti-inflammatory foods are high in omega-3 fatty acids. Consider adding fatty fish to your diet, such as:
You can also take fish oil supplements.
If fish isn’t your favorite food, try eating more nuts such as walnuts and almonds. You can also grind up flax seeds to add to your cereal, yogurt, or baked goods. Chia seeds are also high in omega-3s.
Antioxidants are compounds that can destroy damaging free radicals in your body. They can also reduce inflammation. A study published in Clinical Rheumatology showed promising results that a diet rich in antioxidants may reduce pain and inflammation in joints affected by RA.
Some important dietary antioxidants are:
- vitamin A
- vitamin C
- vitamin E
You can include more of these in your daily diet by:
- eating fresh fruits and vegetables
- eating nuts
- drinking green tea
Watch: Get the facts about RA medications »
The Arthritis Foundation states that foods high in fiber can reduce the amount of C-reactive protein (CRP) in your blood. This marker can indicate the level of inflammation in your body.
Get more fiber in your diet with foods such as:
- fresh fruits and vegetables
- whole grains
Strawberries in particular can reduce CRP in your body while adding fiber to your diet. You can eat them fresh or frozen.
Flavonoids are compounds made by plants. They make their way into our diets when we eat fruits and vegetables. Flavonoids can reduce inflammation in your body and help reduce your RA pain and swelling.
Foods that are high in flavonoids include:
- green tea
Chocolate is also high in flavonoids, but stick with dark chocolate. It has a high percentage of cacao but is low in sugar.
Spices might seem to increase inflammation. But certain ones actually reduce inflammation in your body. Turmeric, common in Indian food, contains a compound called curcumin that has anti-inflammatory properties. It’s related to ginger, which may have a similar effect.
Capsaicin, a compound found in chili peppers, also helps reduce inflammation in the body. According to a study published in Surgical Neurology International, capsaicin is also an effective pain reliever.
Certain diets are naturally high in anti-inflammatory foods. The Mediterranean diet is an excellent example. According to the Arthritis Foundation, this regional diet can help reduce inflammation.
Specific foods include:
- fresh fruits and vegetables
- whole grains
- olive oil
The Mediterranean diet consists of a lot of fish for protein, but not a lot of red meat. Drinking red wine regularly is also a part of the diet.
The Paleo diet is very trendy today. It advocates eating the same foods our cavemen ancestors did. This means eating plenty of:
The Paleo diet avoids:
- cultivated grains
- processed foods
Like other trendy diets, this one is high in protein and low in carbohydrates.
The Paleo diet promotes the consumption of certain foods that reduce inflammation, such as fruits and vegetables. But it also includes a lot of red meat, which may have the opposite effect. Consult with your doctor before trying this diet.
While eating foods that reduce inflammation, you should also try to avoid foods that cause inflammation. This includes processed carbohydrates like white flour and white sugar. Saturated and trans fats, such as those found in fried foods, red meat, and dairy should also be avoided as much as possible.
It’s a controversial suggestion, but drinking alcohol in moderation may actually reduce your inflammation. Alcohol has been shown to drop CRP levels. But if you drink too much, it can have the opposite effect. Talk to your doctor before you increase your alcohol consumption.