Many people with osteoarthritis (OA) and rheumatoid arthritis (RA) seek
relief by buying the latest book or nutritional supplement claiming to relieve
or cure arthritis, or they take advice from a neighbour who swore that eating
gin-soaked raisins eased her symptoms.
How do you navigate this grey area of unregulated therapies to know if what
you're doing can help or harm? We spoke with two experts who provided insight
into the claims made for arthritis diets and supplements. Dr Hayes Wilson, is a
rheumatologist and Dr Christine Gerbstadt, is a dietician.
For a few years, Andrew Ellis tried to tough out the pain, which started in his thumb. A boxer and football player in college, Ellis, 58, was used to aches and pains. He’d even broken his thumb once, so he told himself the new pain was from the old break. Then his other thumb began to hurt. Soon, he had pain in his toes and the balls of his feet. When his neck began to hurt, he finally admitted to himself that it was time to see a doctor.
“I said to myself, ‘There’s something wrong,” recalls Ellis,...
Here's a guide to help you sort fact from fiction:
Eliminate nightshades. One of the most common diet claims is that
eliminating nightshade vegetables, which include potatoes, tomatoes, eggplants
and most peppers, relieves arthritis. This diet probably isn't harmful, but
there are no studies to support it.
Alkaline diet. The alkaline diet presumes both OA and RA are caused
by too much acid. Among the foods it excludes are sugar, coffee, red meat, most
grains, nuts and citrus fruits. It's meant to be followed for just one month.
It may be that people feel better because they lose weight, reducing stress on
joints, which eases pain. There are no studies to support it.
Dong diet. This restrictive diet relies heavily on vegetables,
except tomatoes, and eliminates many of the same foods as the alkaline diet.
There's no evidence it affects arthritis.
Vegetarian diet. Some people report improvement in symptoms, but
evidence is mixed. One small study of people with RA showed improvement in four
weeks, and follow-up studies of those who stayed on the diet showed continued
improvement after one and two years.
Switching fats. One of the known correlations between food and
arthritis is that omega-6 fatty acids increase inflammation, and omega-3 fatty
acids reduce it. Limit intake of meat and poultry, and increase your intake of
cold-water fish, such as sardines, mackerel, trout and salmon. For salad
dressings and cooking, substitute olive, canola and flaxseed oils for corn, and
Gin-soaked raisins. Lots of people claim it works, but experts say
there's no evidence. Grapes and raisins do contain anti-inflammatory compounds,
but not in amounts that would be therapeutic. The gin might dull pain, but
drinking to excess sabotages health benefits of nutrients and vitamins, and
introduces a whole new set of problems.
Green tea. Drinking three to four cups of green tea a day could help
people with RA. Studies funded by the Arthritis Foundation in the US showed
that giving the polyphenolic compounds in green tea to mice significantly
decreased the incidence and severity of RA. Human studies have not yet
confirmed the results.