Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic progressive disease that affects around 700,000 adults in the UK, and three times more women than men. It’s most commonly diagnosed between the ages of 40 and 70, but it can develop at any age. The juvenile form of the disease (juvenile idiopathic arthritis) affects around 12,000 children under the age of 16.
If diagnosed and treated early, people with RA can live a much better quality of life now than they could 20 or 30 years ago. As well as medication, there’s also more awareness of the beneficial role diet and lifestyle can play. If you suffer with RA and would like to adapt your diet, first discuss your plans with your rheumatologist or rheumatology nurse. Request a referral to a registered dietitian, who will ensure any diet changes you make won’t have a negative impact on your health.
What to eat
It’s common to lose your appetite as a result of the pain or depression caused by arthritis. If this is the case, it may help to eat smaller, frequent meals – and always avoid fasting and crash diets. Drugs used to control rheumatoid arthritis may have nutritional side effects or increase the risk of diet deficiencies. If you’re concerned, ask your GP to refer you to a registered dietitian to ensure your nutritional needs are met. Arthritis Care suggests good intakes of these foods:
Oil-rich fish and nuts The omega-3 fats they contain may help to fight inflammation, joint pain and stiffness. Pecans, walnuts and hazelnuts are especially high in antioxidants, while Brazils are loaded with selenium, which may help to limit the joint damage that occurs in arthritis.
Wholegrains contain magnesium for healthy bones.
Dairy products are high in calcium, another essential nutrient for healthy bones. Choose low-fat varieties – they contain just as much, or a little more, calcium. If your treatment involves taking steroids over a long period, you are at a greater risk of developing osteoporosis – so it’s even more important to eat plenty of calcium-rich foods, such as low-fat dairy, nuts, seeds, beans, lentils and fish with edible bones, such as sardines.
Be sure to get enough vitamin D, too, to help the body absorb calcium – sunlight is the main source, but it’s also found in oil-rich fish and fortified foods, such as breakfast cereals and margarine.
Cherries and berries are full of antioxidants that may help to reduce inflammation.
Citrus fruits are rich in vitamin C, which may protect against inflammatory arthritis.