The Link Between Diet and Arthritis

It is well-recognized that a healthy diet is important for everyone. Arthritis patients, however, sometimes look beyond this notion of healthy eating and look to diet for a cure. The link between diet and arthritis is complex.

There is evidence that diet can influence some types of arthritis, but to fully understand this, the type of arthritis and the kind of diet must be considered.

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One example is gout, which is affected by high uric acid levels. A diet low in alcohol and purine-rich foods can lower blood uric acid levels and lessen the likelihood of a gout attack. Purines are natural substances found in certain foods. Alcohol is known to alter purine metabolism. Dietary changes may decrease the severity or frequency of gout attacks. Dietary modifications may also be preferred by people who cannot tolerate gout medications. Make sure you know which foods to avoid.

Excess Body Weight

Excess body weight influences arthritis by putting extra strain on already burdened joints. Clinical experience has shown researchers that people who are 20% or more over normal body weight have more problems with their arthritis. Seemingly the weight-bearing joints are most affected by carrying the extra weight. The extra load placed on the weight-bearing joints (more specifically the knees, hips, ankles, feet, and spine) can increase the pain in those joints.

The increased pain, resulting in a sedentary lifestyle, and further weight gain can become a vicious cycle. Osteoarthritis patients commonly deal with this problem of battling weight gain. Rheumatoid arthritis patients who are on corticosteroid therapy (i.e. prednisone) are warned about increased appetite, fluid retention and unavoidable weight gain as side effects of the therapy.

Allergens May Trigger Flares

It is believed by some people that particular foods can trigger arthritis flares. Although no specific food has been implicated as a cause of arthritis it is known that foods can alter the function of the immune system.

With regard to arthritis, possible offenders may include:

  • Caffeine
  • Dairy products
  • Nightshade vegetables (tomatoes, peppers, etc.)
  • Sugar
  • Additives and preservatives
  • Chocolate
  • Red meats
  • Salt

Even if a food sensitivity was a cause of arthritis, not every person would be found to be sensitive to the same food. The way to test for a food sensitivity is to try an elimination diet. By eliminating a specific food from your diet, you can observe whether arthritis symptoms improve.

Dietary Guidelines for Eating Healthier

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans published jointly by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services call for people to focus on meeting food group needs with nutrient-dense foods and beverages while staying within specified calorie limits. While needs vary through life stages, in general a healthy nutritional lifestyle focuses:

  • Eating a variety of healthy foods: Eat from all 4 basic food groups (bread and cereals, fruits and vegetables, meats, and dairy) to obtain the needed forty-plus essential nutrients to maintain good health.
  • Maintaining a healthy weight: Less weight equates with less strain on weight-bearing joints. Less strain equates with less pain.
  • Avoiding too much fat, saturated fat, cholesterol: Increased amounts of fat contribute to weight gain and obesity.
  • Eating adequate amounts of starch and fiber: Starches such as bread, rice, beans, pasta, and potatoes give the body energy. Fiber, the undigested portion of the plants you eat, adds bulk and helps with the process of elimination.
  • Avoiding too much sugar: Sugar provides empty calories and little nutrition, contributing to excess weight gain.
  • Avoiding too much sodium: Excess salt can contribute to high blood pressure and water retention.
  • Avoiding alcohol: Besides being high in calories, alcohol can deplete the body of vitamins and minerals. It also potentially can interact with medications for arthritis.

A Word From Verywell

Well-balanced nutritious meals are important for the overall good health of everyone. Maintain as close to your ideal body weight as possible. Avoid fad diets and unproven diet claims that may end up robbing your body of essential nutrients.

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Article Sources
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  1. U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025. 9th Edition. December 2020.