Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) affects many Americans — the Arthritis Foundation reported that 1.5 million were affected in 2007. Currently, there’s no cure for RA. But recent studies have found certain foods, diets, and supplements may help ease the symptoms of RA.
Omega-3 fatty acids
Foods that are high in omega-3 fatty acids may have benefits for people with RA. These nutrients have shown promise in decreasing inflammation, including morning stiffness and sore joints. For some people RA, a diet higher in omega-3s has helped them to reduce the amount of medication they take.
The tricky part is our bodies don’t make these fatty acids on their own. We must get them from the foods we eat. Some of the top omega-3 food choices include:
- cold-water fish such as trout, mackerel, herring, tuna, and salmon
- sea vegetables (seaweeds)
- chia seeds
- flax seeds
- grass-fed meat
- green vegetables (Brussels sprouts, kale, spinach)
- egg yolks
Keep in mind that whole foods may be a better source of omega-3 fatty acids than a fortified source, such as yogurt. You can also try taking an omega-3 supplement. Cod liver oil or hemp oil are other options.
Always talk to your doctor first to figure out the best dosage and how it will affect other medications you might be taking.
Help your gut with probiotics
These days, claims about the health benefits of probiotics seem to be everywhere. When it comes to RA, there are some intriguing links between gut health issues and RA. Recent studies have suggested that certain strands of probiotics such as Lactobacillus casei 01 may reduce the inflammation associated with RA.
If you want to include more probiotics in your diet, you don’t necessarily need to take a supplement. You can choose whole, fermented foods to meet your probiotic needs. Examples include:
Many probiotic supplements are currently available to consumers. But certain combinations are more beneficial than others. Be sure to talk with your doctor about any supplement you decide to use.
Fasting and a vegan diet
A recent study by researchers in India suggests a limited fast of 7 to 10 days may be helpful to people with RA. A limited fast generally means cutting back on solid foods and supplementing the body with vegetable broth, herbal teas, and juices. Be sure to discuss this approach with your doctor and a dietitian first, as fasting can be hard on the body.
This research also suggested following a vegan diet, which excludes all animal products, including meat and dairy. If you decide to try a vegan diet, consult a dietitian to determine what nutritional supplements you may need.
Make sure to replenish your vitamins
As you age, the added effects of RA can cause vitamin deficiencies. Common vitamins that tend to deplete in people who have RA include:
- folic acid
- vitamins E, C, D, B-16, and B-12
Doctors agree that the best way to get these vitamins is through food consumption rather than supplements. Meals that include combinations of fruit and green vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins will help you get back on track.
Eat more fiber
You may already know that fiber is an important part of a healthy diet, which means eating up to 20 to 35 grams (g) per day. If you have RA, it’s even more vital to make sure you’re eating enough fiber. That’s because C-reactive protein (CRP) causes inflammation in our blood, which may lead to symptom flare-ups for people with RA.
A diet high in both soluble and insoluble fiber has been shown to lower CRP levels. For some key foods that are high in fiber, try:
- legumes, nuts, and seeds such as split peas (1 cup = 16.3 g) and lentils (1 cup = 15.5 g)
- fruits such as raspberries (1 cup = 8 g) and pears (5.5 g)
- vegetables such as artichokes (1 = 10.3 g) and green peas (1 cup = 8.8 g)
- whole-wheat products, such as whole-wheat spaghetti (1 cup = 6.3 g), and barley (1 cup = 6 g)
Cook with olive oil
Cooking with extra-virgin olive oil might have some of the same anti-inflammatory effects as taking aspirin or ibuprofen. Extra-virgin olive oil contains oleocanthol, a compound that blocks the enzymes that cause inflammation. This compound is also found in some painkillers. But it would take 3.5 tablespoons of olive oil to get the same anti-inflammatory effects of a 200 milligram tablet of aspirin or ibuprofen. And that may not be a realistic choice for regular use. Instead, try simply adding more olive oil to your cooking.
If you have RA, maintaining a well-balanced diet may help you manage your symptoms. Eating a healthy diet might seem daunting, so take things one step at a time. Make healthy eating choices that will work for you in the long term. Remember that you’re the one who knows yourself and your body the best.