RA is a condition that can affect several joints, most commonly the small joints in the hands and feet but can affect knees,hips and shoulder joints too. Several joints can be affected at the same time, usually symmetrically (on both sides of the body),such as both hands. RA causes the joint lining to become inflamed and swollen resulting in destruction of the joint surface, causing extreme
tenderness and pain. RA is a ‘systemic’ disease which means that it can affect the whole body.
Treatment Rheumatologists are experts in joint health. They work with a team of health professionals including nurses,physiotherapists, occupational therapists, pharmacists, podiatrists and dietitians who give advice on medications, pain management, exercises to improve joint function and diet.
Stay a healthy weight:The most important relationship between diet andnarthritis is weight. Excess weight is harmful to joint health and may increase pain, stiffness and swelling in the joints. If you are obese or overweight, try and losen the excess weight by combining healthy eating with regular exercise.
Change the type of fat in your diet:People with RA have a higher risk of developing heart disease than those who don’t have RA. The amount and type of fat you eat and use in cooking influences blood cholesterol levels, and might also influence the level of joint pain and inflammation.
Eat more oily fish:Fish such as sardines, mackerel, herring, fresh tuna,salmon, and snapper have a darker flesh which is rich in omega-3 polyunsaturated fats. In addition to their heart-health benefits, fish oils have been shown to help dampen general inflammation and may help to reduce joint pain and stiffness. Try to eat two portions (1 portion = 140g or a small fillet) of oily fish a week.Some eggs and breads are enriched with omega-3. Omega-3 fats from plant sources (GLA) such as linseed, evening primrose and borage oils have a weaker effect on reducing inflammation and are of limited benefit.
Fish oils:High-dose fish oil supplements have been shown to reduce symptoms of RA, such as the duration of morning stiffness, the number of swollen and tender joints and joint pain. Fish oil supplements should have 500-1000mg of EPA and DHA (omega-3 fats) per capsule. Be patient, as it can take up to three months
for symptom relief. Speak to your doctor before taking any new supplements.
Follow a ‘Mediterranean diet’ This type of diet includes poultry, fish, and less lean red meat than a typical UK diet, plenty of vegetables (fresh, frozen or canned), fresh fruit, olive oil, wholegrain cereals, peas and beans and nuts and seeds. This means saturated fats are reduced and replaced by unsaturated fats including omega 3. Research has shown an improvement in the symptoms experienced by people with RA when following this diet. To adopt this way of eating, aim for four or more portions of vegetables and two or more portions of fruit daily. Use more of the oils and products rich in monounsaturated fats – olive and rapeseed oil. Using more omega-3 polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats may help to reduce inflammation and reduce symptoms. Eating an assortment of colourful fruits and vegetables (5-a-day) will increase your intake of compounds called ‘antioxidants’ which may help to reduce inflammation and improve symptoms of RA.
Eat iron rich foods;Tiredness is a very common symptom of RA and can be made worse by anaemia (a deficiency of red blood cells to transport oxygen around the body). Anaemia can occur as a result of inflammation or because of the long-term use of non steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, which can lead to internal bleeding and stomach ulcers in some people. To try to help tackle this, eat iron rich foods regularly: lean red meat, eggs, green leafy vegetables, peas, beans and lentils, and fortified breakfast cereals. Iron is more easily absorbed by the body if you have it at the same time as vitamin C, so have a portion of fruits or vegetables with your meal. Despite advice you may come across in the media or some websites, there is no scientific evidence to cut out red meat.
Eat calcium rich foods:It is important that everyone gets enough calcium in their diet to ensure that their bones stay strong and healthy. This is an even greater consideration when you have RA, as you have a higher risk of developing osteoporosis. Good sources of calcium include low fat milk, yoghurt and cheese, green leafy vegetables, soya drinks with added calcium, almonds and fish where you eat the bones, such as sardines and pilchards.
Exclusion diets and food intolerance: A vegetarian diet may help relieve symptoms for some, speak to your doctor or dietitian to make sure you are still getting enough nutrients. Some people believe that a food allergy/intolerances causes or exacerbates inflammation in RA, but this there is no evidence to support this theory. However, a small number of people with RA may have a genuine intolerance to one or more foods. Offending foods can be identified through an exclusion programme under the supervision of a dietitian. Fasting is an extreme and temporary way of controlling pain and inflammation in RA and is not recommended. Supplements Vitamin D – Because of the lack of sunlight, slight deficiency of vitamin D is quite common in winter in the UK, especially in the north. There’s some evidence that arthritis progresses more quickly in people who don’t have enough vitamin D, so a vitamin D supplement may be useful during winter months. There is no scientific evidence to support the use of antioxidant vitamins or mineral supplements in the treatment of RA. A healthy diet contains all the nutrients needed by the body. However, if your diet is very restricted or your appetite is poor, a general multivitamin/mineral supplement may provide useful background fortification. Speak to your doctor before
taking a new supplement.