If you have rheumatoid arthritis (RA), you have twice the risk of heart disease as healthy adults. People with other forms of inflammatory arthritis like gout and psoriatic arthritis are also at increased risk. Studies show that eating nuts – particularly walnuts – may reduce your risk.
Almonds, hazelnuts, peanuts, pecans, pistachios and walnuts are backed by enough scientific evidence to garner recognition from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for their heart-protective qualities. Most nuts are good sources of fiber, antioxidants and unsaturated fat.
Walnuts, however, “are unusual because, unlike other nuts, they are high in omega-3 fatty acids,” says Pennsylvania State University nutrition scientist Sheila West, PhD. Omega-3s lower many cardiovascular risks, and West’s 2010 work reveals they also can relax blood vessels, which helps counter stress on the heart. “A daily diet including walnuts or walnut oil lowered resting blood pressure and blood pressure response to stress,” she says. In addition, study participants who added both walnuts and flax oil to their diet had significantly reduced levels of C-reactive protein, a marker of inflammation linked to arthritis and heart disease.
Other investigators have found omega-3s in fish oils lessen joint pain in RA, but it’s not as clear that omega-3s in nuts or flax oil have the same benefits. “Early studies suggest joint damage would be dampened by plant-based omega-3s, but this hasn’t been tested in humans,” West says. “Adding walnuts and flax oil is safe – as long as you cut other calories and fat – and may be worth a try for individuals with inflammatory conditions.”
- Learn More About A Healthy Arthritis Diet
- Best Foods for Arthritis
- For more content like this, subscribe to Arthritis Today magazine