Foods that Decrease Arthritis
by Harris H. McIlwain, M.D.and Debra Fulghum Bruce, M.S.
Until recently it's been unclear whether changing your diet may
influence the symptoms of a chronic illness like arthritis. Nevertheless,
new research continues to pour in touting the healing benefits
of certain foods. Perhaps these foods aren't the miracle cure
many hoped for, but through scientific studies we do know that
certain nutrients can boost immune function and decrease inflammation
in those with arthritis. Be sure to include the following suggestions
in your pain-free diet to further reduce inflammation and pain.
You can now add tea to your list of healing foods. In fact, some
experts claim that we should add tea to the list of disease-fighting
fruits and vegetables that we should eat daily. Some intriguing
information was presented at the Society of Critical Care Medicine
in January 2002 on how green tea may help decrease inflammation.
Green tea contains a type of polyphenol known as epigallocatechin-3
gallate, or EGCG, that inhibits the expression of the interieukin-8
gene. This is a key gene involved in the arthritis-inflammatory
response. In these findings, researchers theorized that "more
may be better" when it comes to green tea reducing the inflammatory
response as EGCG shortcircuits the process that leads to inflammation.
(If you like black tea, drink up! Black tea is made from the same
leaves as green and contains theaflavins, strong phytochemicals
that help to protect the body. Though processed differently, black
tea may be equally effective and is tolerable for many people.)
Sipping tea instead of other drinks may help to ward off painful
fractures. In another revealing study published in May 2002 in
the journal Archives of Internal Medicine, scientists found that
men and women who drank tea for years had denser bones at three
different skeletal sites, regardless of the type or amount of
tea they consumed each day. Researchers concluded that drinking
tea regularly for at least ten years was estimated to boost bone
mineral density by up to 5 percent. This bone-boosting benefit
may be attributed to special compounds in tea such as fluoride,
phytoestrogens, and flavonoids, a group of antioxidants all working
together. (Herbal teas are not "real" tea.) Some key
prevention benefits of tea includes the following:
Snack on Grapes
Resveratrol, a phyto-estrogen, or plant-derived, nonsteroidal compound,
is present in the skins of grapes, in mulberries, nuts, wine, and
other foods. While all wines have some resveratrol, red wine seems
to be the best source.
In the past few years, various studies have shown that resveratrol
blocks cell inflammation, which is linked to arthritis and other
diseases. A team of researchers now concludes that trans-resveratrol
blocks the activation of the gene identified as COX-2, which is
important in creating the inflammation that causes arthritis pain.
This natural food substance is the first compound identified that
both blocks the COX-2 gene from being activated and inactivates
the enzyme created by that gene. Some believe that trans-resveratrol
may turn out to be an improvement on aspirin in fighting diseases
associated with COX-2, such as arthritis. For now, snack on grapes.
They are low in fat and calories, and add some healing nutrients
to your body.
There is a lot of evidence that a diet high in vegetables can help
to decrease inflammation in susceptible people. I've had many patients,
particularly those with inflammatory types of arthritis, say a modified
vegetarian diet (including fish) helps to reduce symptoms. Journal
studies over the past five years have shown that a vegetarian diet
causes an extensive change in the profile of the fatty acids of
the serum phospholipids. These changes may favor production of Prostaglandins
and leukotrienes with less inflammatory activity, which is a bonus
for those with inflammatory illnesses.
The vegetarian diet may also benefit those with inflammatory diseases
because animal sources such as meat, poultry, dairy, and egg yolks
contain arachidonic acid, a fatty acid that is converted to inflammatory
prostaglandins and leukotrienes. Some holistic nutritionists believe
that eliminating animal foods from the diet may significantly reduce
inflammation and pain.
Broccoli contains glutathione, a powerful antioxidant and detoxifying
agent. In fact, without glutathione, other antioxidants such as
vitamins C and E cannot do their job and protect you adequately
against disease. Some new findings indicate that people who are
low in this antioxidant are more likely to have arthritis than those
who have higher amounts. Other glutathione-rich foods include asparagus,
cabbage, cauliflower, potatoes, and tomatoes. Fruits with glutathione
include avocados, grape- fruit, oranges, peaches, and watermelon.
Feast on Fish
Studies continue to come in touting the benefits of omega-3 fatty
acids, contained in fish, as helping to decrease inflammation. In
a study published in May 1996 in the journal Epidemiology, scientists
found that women who ate two or more servings of broiled or baked
fish a week had about half the risk of getting rheumatoid arthritis
as women who ate only one serving. Researchers estimate women with
the best odds against RA were averaging a minimum 1.6 grams of omega-3
fatty acids daily, or the equivalency of 5 ounces of cooked rainbow
Some research indicates that when fish oils are added to the diet,
scientists measure a very significant drop in one of the most inflammatory
immune substances - -leukotriene B4, which is an important part
of the process of inflammation in many types of arthritis. Researchers
suspect that omega-3s may block the production of inflammatory substances
linked to autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis and lupus.
In some trials, taking fish-oil supplements for at least twelve
weeks resulted in positive improvements in symptoms with less morning
stiffness and tender joints.
Another study, published in the January 2000 issue of the American
Journal of Clinical Nutrition, confirmed the healing benefits of
omega-3 fatty acids. Researchers concluded that patients with rheumatoid
arthritis who took dietary supplements of omega-3 fatty acids (EPA
or eicosahexacnoic acid) had fewer tender joints and. morning stiffness.
The effective dose may be between 3 to 5 grams of the acids daily,
although regulated guidelines have not been established regarding
supplements of fish oil.
Researchers at Cardiff University in Wales found that cod-liver
oil—the fishy tonic people used to take for "what ails
them"—is effective in treating arthritic joint pain and
even slowing or reversing the destruction of joint cartilage. Again,
the omega-3 fatty acids in the oil are credited for "switching
off" the collagen-degrading enzymes that break down joint cartilage.
This leads to a slower progression of cartilage destruction, and
reduces inflammation and the subsequent pain.
Because of the mercury content in some fish, including mackerel,
swordfish, and tuna, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends
that pregnant or nursing women avoid these fish.
Eat Fish High in Omega-3
Include More Omega-3s
To add even more omega-3s to your daily diet, use canola or flaxseed
oil in cooking or salad dressings. Take borage seed oil or evening
prim- rose oil-both available at most health food stores in a variety
of forms. These oils are high in plant form of omega-3, alpha-linolenic
fatty acid. Your body converts this fat to one of the omega-3s found
in fish oil.
For years, professional coaches have recommended pineapple to athletes
to help heal sports injuries. That's because a key enzyme in pineapple
called bromelain helps reduce inflammation. This may benefit those
with knee osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, according to
a German study that found bromelain enzymes resulted in a statistical
reduction of pain. For those with carpal tunnel syndrome, some findings
show eating pineapple is associated with reduced tissue swelling.
Add Olive Oil
A Greek study published in 1999 in the American Journal of Clinical
Nutrition reported that eating large quantities of olive oil and
cooked vegetables over a lifetime might cut the risk of developing
rheumatoid arthritis. Researchers were unsure how olive oil reduces
the risk for this inflammatory arthritis, but theorized that it
may be due to its high concentrations of unsaturated fatty acids.
One in particular, oleic acid, forms chemicals in the body that
can decrease inflammation.
Another interesting point researchers made in this study is that
raw vegetables did not appear to give as much protection as cooked
vegetables. This may be because the heat from cooking breaks down
the plant cell walls and increases absorption of healing compounds
that may help those with inflammatory arthritis.
In some new findings presented in early 2002 at the American Pain
Society, researchers at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore concluded
that a diet rich in soy that reduced pain and swelling in rats may
one day be used by humans to manage chronic pain. In the study,
scientists found that rats fed a soy-based diet experienced "significantly
less" swelling and were able to tolerate more pain than another
test group given a milk protein. The pain tolerance was determined
by assessing how long rats could endure pressure and heat stimulus
before removing their paw from the heat supply. Of course, we have
a long way to go before proving the same result in humans, but this
study is positive.
Along with the possibility of decreasing pain, soy foods have other
great benefits, including being dairy free, low in saturated fat,
and excellent meat substitutes. For years, soybeans have played
an integral part in the Asian culture with heart disease, breast
cancer, prostate cancer, and osteoporosis rates much lower for Asian
men and women than for Americans. In addition, isoflavones, phytochemicals
found in soy, are close in structure to the body's form of estrogen.
While these plant ingredients mimic the hormone estrogen, they appear
to have no harmful side effects and may give a bonus in relieving
menopausal symptoms and helping to prevent osteoporosis. In a study
published in the January 2001 issue of Obstetrics and Gynecology,
researchers suggested that a diet rich in soy might help women retain
strong bones and reduce the risk of painful and debilitating fractures.
Soy Food - Grams of Protein
Tofu - 10 grams per 1/2 cup
Soy Milk - 7 grams per one 1 cup
Soy Yogurt - 7 grams per one 1 cup
Miso - 2 grams per 1 tablespoon
Black soybeans - 9 grams per 1/2 cup
Green soybeans (edaname) - 11 grams per 1/2 cup
Tempeh - 16 grams per 1/2 cup serving
Textured soy protein - 11 grams per 1/4 cup
Soy nuts - 22 grams per 1/2 cup
Eat Ample Protein
Eat 1 to 1.2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight (to
make up for the protein lost in the inflammatory process).
Include Healing Foods
Tea (green or black)
Increase Flavonoid-Rich Foods
Flavonoids are a family of more than four thousand compounds that
include polyphenols and give color to fruits and vegetables. These
nutrients are powerful antioxidants and may hold the key to disease
prevention. Polyphenols act like antioxidants or rust-proofing agents,
which are thought to reduce the cellular oxidation.
Although more studies are needed to claim these nutrients prevent
on or disease, try to include flavonoid-rich foods in your in daily
diet including green tea, onions, apples, soy, and grapes, among
For more information, please visit the author's website at http://www.pain-free-arthritis.com
Excerpted from Pain-Free Arthritis: A 7-Step Program
for Feeling Better Again by Harris H. McIlwain, M.D., and Debra
Fulghum Bruce, M.S. Copyright © 2003 by Harris H. McIlwain,
M.D., and Debra Fulghum Bruce, M.S. Excerpted by arrangement with
Henry Holt and Company, LLC. All rights reserved. $15. Available
in local bookstores or click