1 / 7 Not the Usual Suspects
Rheumatoid arthritis may seem out of your control when you consider that risk factors for the disease include gender, age and genetics. Even so, researchers are uncovering some surprising lifestyle habits that may help with RA prevention — from drinking beer to sun exposure.
Prevention is an area that’s still being studied, says Nathan Wei, MD, a clinical researcher and director of the Arthritis Treatment Center in Frederick, Md. But, the studies are helping doctors get a better understanding of how to reduce RA risk.
2 / 7 Breastfeeding
Looking at data from more than 7,000 women from South China, researchers discovered that those who had breastfed their babies cut their RA risk in half, compared with women who had never breastfed.
Results were published in May 2014 in the journal Rheumatology. The longer the women nursed, the lower their risk. “There’s definitely a link between hormones and rheumatoid arthritis,” Dr. Wei says, but he adds that the reason for the connection is still unclear.
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3 / 7 Soaking Up the Sun
Ultraviolet-B rays from the sun stimulate the synthesis of vitamin D and may lead to immune responses that help fight RA. A study, published in 2013 in the Annals of Rheumatic Diseases, found that the highest sun exposure among 106,368 women was linked to a 21 percent lower RA risk compared to women with the lowest levels of sun exposure. However, this is an instance when you have to weigh the risk of possible skin cancer from unprotected sun exposure against RA risk, Wei says.
Also, doctors know that women with RA are at higher risk for vitamin D deficiency, but they don’t know if low levels predispose them to the disease. Wei suggests having your vitamin D levels checked if you have a strong family history of RA and taking vitamin D supplements if necessary.
4 / 7 Quitting Smoking Now
Smoking raises RA risk and may even damage cartilage, says Shreyasee Amin, MD, a rheumatologist and associate professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. “Smokers also tend to have more musculoskeletal pain symptoms,” she says.
While it’s never too late to quit for a variety of health reasons, stubbing out your last cigarette sooner rather than later seems to offer some RA protection. A study published in 2013 in Arthritis Research & Therapy found that, among 34,101 Swedish women who participated in a longitudinal study called the Swedish Mammography Cohort, smokers who had quit 15 years earlier were 30 percent less likely to develop RA than were those who’d quit just a year before.
5 / 7 Drinking Beer
Information culled from the 121,701 participants in the Nurses’ Health Study and the 116,430 participants in the Nurses’ Health Study II revealed that women who had two to four beers a week lowered their chances of developing RA by 31 percent, compared with women who were not beer drinkers. The takeaway, Wei says, is to drink in moderation — don’t take the findings as license to go overboard.
6 / 7 Choosing Wine or Liquor
If beer isn’t your drink of choice, regularly drinking moderate amounts of wine and liquor might lower your RA risk. According to a study published in 2012 in the British Medical Journal and based on information from the same women in the Swedish Mammography Cohort, those who drank more than four glasses a week over the long-term lowered their risk of RA by 37 percent, compared with women who drank fewer than four glasses a week.
7 / 7 Putting Fish on the Menu
When looking at the eating habits of the same Swedish women, a study published in August 2013 in the Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases found that those who consistently ate fish at least once a week lowered their RA risk by 29 percent relative to women who ate fish less often. Fish contains omega-3 fatty acids, which are healthy fats that have been shown to lower inflammation.