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Arthritis diets and supplements: Do they work?

Pain from arthritis might lead you to try anything to relieve it, including a change in diet or taking supplements. Make sure you know what works first.
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WebMD Feature

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.  

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Here's a guide to help you sort fact from fiction:

Diets

  • 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 sunflower oils.
  • 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.

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