Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease, meaning, the body’s own immune system attacks itself, mistaking parts of the body for a virus. In the case of rheumatoid arthritis, the immune system attacks the synovium, the soft tissue lining the surface of the joints, which results in symptoms like pain and swelling.
Rheumatoid arthritis increases one’s risk for a number of other conditions, including osteoporosis, rheumatoid nodules, dry eyes and dry mouth, infections, abnormal body composition, carpal tunnel syndrome, heart problems, lung problems, and lymphoma. If rheumatoid arthritis is not well managed, the risk of these complications rises dramatically.
Treatment for rheumatoid arthritis should begin early in order to prevent future complications. The objectives of rheumatoid arthritis treatment include reducing inflammation, relieving symptoms, preventing joint and organ damage, improving physical function and well-being, and reducing long-term complications.
Rheumatoid arthritis can be treated with medications to ease symptoms like pain and stiffness. This may involve anti-inflammatory and pain medications. Other medications can be prescribed to slow down the progression of rheumatoid arthritis, including corticosteroids, biologics, and JAK inhibitors. Surgery may be required if damage is severe, and the joint must be replaced in order to improve function.
Aside from medical treatments, following a healthy diet and getting in exercise are other means of improving rheumatoid arthritis outcomes.
What to add to your rheumatoid arthritis diet?
The Mediterranean diet has grown in popularity as it has been shown to help improve brain and heart health. The basis of the Mediterranean diet is poultry and fish, plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, olive oil, nuts and seeds, as well as reduced intake of processed food and sugars.
Research has shown that patients who stuck with the Mediterranean diet experienced a reduction in symptoms.
To adhere to the Mediterranean diet, aim for at least four servings of vegetables and two or more servings of fruit, and use olive oil more often as it helps to reduce inflammation, which can worsen symptoms.
If you’re unsure as to what types of foods you should be consuming with rheumatoid arthritis, here are some guidelines that can aid in treatment.
Change the type of fat in your diet: RA patients are at a higher risk for heart disease, so choosing the right fats can help keep your risk at bay. Olive oil, for instance, is a good example of a healthy fat. Read labels carefully to spot saturated or trans fats.
Eat more oily fish: Oily fish contain essential fatty acids that can work to reduce inflammation.
Eat iron-rich foods: Iron-rich foods can help combat fatigue resulting from anemia, which is quite common in RA. Iron-rich foods are eggs, green leafy vegetables, beans, and red meat. For higher iron absorption, consume iron foods with vitamin C.
Eat calcium-rich foods: Calcium helps keep bones strong which is important in rheumatoid arthritis in order to reduce the risk of osteoporosis.
Rheumatoid Arthritis foods to avoid
Just as some foods can help reduce rheumatoid arthritis inflammation, other foods can actually promote inflammation, which can worsen rheumatoid arthritis symptoms. Foods to avoid in order to prevent rheumatoid arthritis inflammation include fried and processed items, foods that have been charred or heated at high temperature, pasteurized products, sugars and refined carbohydrates, dairy products (get your calcium from leafy greens), alcohol and tobacco, salt and preservatives, and corn oil.
Avoiding gluten has also been recommended for rheumatoid arthritis patients as there may be a connection between celiac disease and rheumatoid arthritis. Celiac disease and rheumatoid arthritis are both autoimmune conditions. In the case of celiac disease, the immune system attacks gluten, and in rheumatoid arthritis, it attacks the joints. Along with gastrointestinal symptoms experienced in celiac disease, patients can also experience symptoms elsewhere in the body, including the joints.
If you have rheumatoid arthritis, it may be worth to get checked for celiac disease. Having one autoimmune disease increases the risk of another, so you may very well have also developed celiac disease and a sensitivity to gluten. If the tests come back positive, then eliminating gluten from your diet may not only aid in celiac disease, but offer relief for joint pain as well.
Some exercise tips for rheumatoid arthritis patients
Although exercise may be painful and the last thing you are thinking about if you have rheumatoid arthritis, it is actually quite beneficial, so you should try and get in regular activity to help manage your condition. Here are some tips to consider when exercising with rheumatoid arthritis.
- Give your heart a workout: Choose exercises that promote a higher heart rate and boost circulation.
- Don’t stress your joints: Running on pavement is painful, so opt for activities that don’t put extra stress on your joints, such as aqua aerobics.
- Strengthen your muscles
- Don’t give up on exercise: Even if you don’t feel like you are progressing, don’t give up, change happens over time.
- Work with your rheumatologist: They can help recommend appropriate exercises and monitor your condition.
- Don’t opt for a one-size-fits-all workout: Trying to merely copy another workout may not be the best thing for you and your needs, so rather work with a physiotherapist to devise together a specialized plan.
- Wear proper gear: Wearing the right props can help reduce aches and pains.
- Don’t overdo it: Although exercise is important, know when it’s too much and don’t push yourself too hard.
These diet and exercise tips are just some of the helpful ways to help you better manage your rheumatoid arthritis.