Separating Hype From Hope: How Nutrition Affects Arthritis and Joint Health
By Emily Campbell
More than six million Canadians live with arthritis. It can occur at any age, but the likelihood increases with age. It can be painful and debilitating because it causes inflammation of joints and surrounding tissues.1 It can affect any part of the body; however, the most common areas are the hip, knee, spine or fingers.2 There are many different types of arthritis, but the main two are:1,2,3
- Osteoarthritis (OA) is a degenerative arthritis usually related to wear and tear of cartilage, the cushioning between bones. Risk factors include excess weight, family history, age and previous injury.
- Inflammatory arthritis (IA), such as rheumatoid arthritis, occurs when the joint damage is related to inflammation possibly because the autoimmune system mistakenly attacks the body’s own healthy tissues.
There are many claims about nutrition and how it can help arthritis; some credible, others not. From a nutrition perspective, one of the most influential benefits to manage arthritis is to achieve a healthy body weight through healthy eating and physical activity.3 Individuals who are overweight have added pressure and weight on their joints which may further aggravate arthritis pain. Excess weight may additionally be harmful to joints and may increase pain, stiffness and swelling. A healthy weight is unique for each individual and a great way to determine an appropriate weight for your body is to work with a registered dietitian. Healthy eating changes that may aid in weight management include incorporating whole grains, eating more vegetables and fruits, limiting saturated and trans fats, and reducing added sugar.4
Individuals with arthritis, such as rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis, are at increased risk of heart disease due to the chronic inflammation in the body associated with arthritis.5 Some heart healthy eating tips for arthritis include:
- Eating fish rich in omega-3 such as salmon, sardines or mackerel, which may help with symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis such as inflammation. Try incorporating two 75-gram servings of fish per week. One serving of fish, or 75-grams, is about the size of your palm or a deck of cards.6,7
- Incorporate a Mediterranean influenced eating pattern which is encourages poultry, fish, whole grains, vegetables and fruits, olive oil, and nuts and seeds; and choosing red meats less often. The Mediterranean eating pattern is high in antioxidants, which may also help reduce inflammation.6
Some may have heard that following a special diet, such as gluten free or a fasting diet; or that eliminating or avoiding certain foods may help reduce arthritis symptoms. Currently there is little evidence to support that following a fasting eating pattern, a vegetarian/vegan or gluten-free diet, or eliminating foods classified as night-shade foods such as potatoes, eggplant, peppers, tomatoes, or dairy is helpful in managing arthritis.8 If you are considering making diet changes, speak to your healthcare provider and/or a registered dietitian to help meet your nutritional needs.
What about supplements?
For individuals with arthritis, it is important to pay attention to some vitamins and minerals. If you are concerned with your intake of any vitamins or minerals, it is important to speak with your healthcare provider to determine if you may benefit from supplements.9
Individuals with arthritis are at higher risk of osteoporosis as some medications may cause bone loss. Food sources of calcium include: milk, yogurt, and fortified soy beverages. Individuals with rheumatoid arthritis may require additional calcium supplements.9
Can be difficult to obtain from diet alone as we age. Individuals may need a supplement as vitamin D is important for absorbing calcium, especially for those over 50 years of age.9
As chronic inflammation can lower red blood cells, many individuals with arthritis may also have anemia which is where your blood cells lack enough healthy red blood cells or hemoglobin. Iron aids in forming hemoglobin which helps carry oxygen around the body via red blood cells. To help prevent anemia and maintain healthy red blood cells, it is important to get enough iron. Look to lean red meat, fortified breakfast cereals, green leafy vegetables and legumes such as beans, as sources of iron. It is more easily absorbed when eaten with foods high in vitamin C like citrus fruit, tomatoes and peppers.9,10
Glucosamine and Chondroitin
Contrary to popular believe, there is contradictory evidence to support the use of glucosamine and chondroitin for osteoarthritis management.11
Call on the experts
Working with a registered dietitian can help you understand how foods may affect your body and which foods may help manage inflammation and joint health associated with arthritis. Registered Dietitian services are available through Shoppers Drug Mart at shoppersdrugmart.ca/dietitians.
The information provided is for personal use, reference and education only and is not intended to be a substitute for a Physician’s advice, diagnosis or treatment. Please consult your healthcare professional for specific information on personal health matters. Please note: Dietitian services are currently only available in Ontario. Please contact your store to learn more. ®/TM 911979 Alberta Ltd. ©2020 Shoppers Drug Mart Inc.
- S. National Library of Medicine. N.D. Arthritis. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMHT0024677/
- Arthritis Society. (2018). What is Arthritis. Retrieved from: https://www.arthritis.ca/about-arthritis/what-is-arthritis
- Arthritis Foundation. N.D. What is Arthritis. Retrieved from: https://www.arthritis.org/about-arthritis/understanding-arthritis/what-is-arthritis.php
- Arthritis Society. (2018). Osteoarthritis. Retrieved from: https://www.arthritis.ca/about-arthritis/arthritis-types-(a-z)/types/osteoarthritis
- Arthritis Foundation. N.D. Arthritis and Heart Disease. Retrieved from: https://www.arthritis.org/living-with-arthritis/comorbidities/heart-disease/
- British Dietetic Association. (2018). Diet and Rheumatoid Arthritis. Retrieved from:https://www.bda.uk.com/foodfacts/Arthritis.pdf
- National Institute of Health: Office of Dietary Supplements. (2018). Omega-3 Fatty Acids.
- Dietitians of Canada. (2018). UnlockFood.Ca: Arthritis: Five common myths are busted. Retrieved from: http://www.unlockfood.ca/en/Articles/Arthritis/Arthritis-Five-Common-Myths-are-Busted.aspx
- Dietitians of Canada. (2018). UnlockFood.Ca: Arthritis FAQ. Retrieved from: http://www.unlockfood.ca/en/Articles/Arthritis/Arthritis-FAQ.aspx
- Dietitians of Canada. (2010). Increase Your Iron Intake. Retrieved from: https://www.dietitians.ca/Downloads/Factsheets/Increasing-Your-Iron-Intake.aspx
- National Centre for Complementary and Integrative Health. (2017). Glucosamine and Chondroitin for Osteoarthritis. Retrieved from: https://nccih.nih.gov/health/glucosaminechondroitin#hed1