You probably already know that diet and arthritis symptoms are inextricably linked. Sugary, high-fat, processed foods may trigger an inflammatory response while those that are rich in anti-inflammatory compounds, such as fruits, vegetables and heart-healthy fats may help quiet symptoms.
“Each organ in the body is responsible for specific functions, but food, stress and everyday living can compromise their ability to do their jobs effectively,” explains Sonya Angelone, MS, RDN, CL, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. The organs of people living with arthritis are vulnerable to suboptimal functioning, not only because of the disease itself, but also because of its treatments.
The good news: You can help support each organ system – and stave off other chronic diseases – by amping up your intake of certain foods.
The liver and kidneys are responsible for flushing out the junk and helping your body absorb nutrients. When the liver and kidneys get overloaded, waste builds up. “The immune system detects the rising level of toxins in the body as a threat, which can lead to inflammation,” says Farhan Tahir, MD, FACR, ABIHM, Founder and Medical Director of Rheumatology Care Consultants in Morrisville, Pennsylvania.
What to do: Fill half of your plate with fruits and vegetables, avoid highly processed foods, that overtax the liver and kidneys, and drink a lot of water (H2O is essential for helping the kidneys flush out waste products). Drink alcohol in moderation as these products also puts stress on these organs. Green vegetables (including broccoli, kale and Brussels sprouts), antioxidant-rich berries (cranberries and blueberries), oily fish, nuts, avocado and olive oil are especially good for your elimination organs.
Research shows a strong connection between arthritis and gut health. “People are eating higher fat, highly-processed foods that don’t support good gut health, and that can lead to ‘leaky gut,’” says Angelone. Officially defined as increased intestinal permeability, leaky gut means there’s damage to the gut lining. When food particles seep through that barrier and into the bloodstream, your immune system detects them as foreign invaders and may launch an inflammatory response.
What to do: Eat a plant-based diet with minimally processed foods and a lot of healthful bacteria called probiotics. “Probiotics helps to normalize gut bacteria toward a healthy microbiota,” says Angelone. Just keep in mind that probiotics need non-digestible, fiber-rich plant foods called prebiotics to thrive and flourish. So, foods like artichokes, radishes, asparagus, onions and leeks serve as a sort of one-two-punch to crowd out the bad stuff in our guts.
The same inflammation that causes achy joints can also wreak havoc on your eyes. From cataracts and dry eyes to glaucoma and uveitis, people who have arthritis are at increased risk of developing eye problems.
What to do: Load up on spinach, broccoli, collards and other leafy greens (they contain lutein and zeaxanthin, both of which help protect eye tissues), beta-carotene powerhouses such as sweet potatoes, carrots, pumpkin and butternut squash (beta-carotene can help stave off macular degeneration), omega-3s from fatty fish (that help dry eye) and vitamin-C rich foods including strawberries, bell peppers, spinach and broccoli (vitamin C can help lower the risk of cataracts).
Doctors often prescribe corticosteroids to relieve arthritis pain, but they can cause bone loss. Chronic inflammation and inactivity can also interfere with the body’s ability to build strong bones.
What to do: Eat foods boasting bone-building nutrients such as calcium, beta-carotene, healthy fats and vitamin D. “Calcium and vitamin D are especially important for patients who take steroid medications or methotrexate because they have a higher risk of osteoporosis,” says Scott Zashin, M.D., Clinical Professor of Rheumatology at University of Texas Southwestern Medical School.
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