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Nutrition Changes Bring Relief to Rheumatoid Arthritis Sufferers

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"European studies suggest that large doses of vitamin E have a good effect [in combating free radicals], Roubenoff said. "The rationale is that anything that increases free radical production lowers the body's ability to defend itself against damage. People with rheumatoid arthritis not only have increased free radicals, but reduced vitamin E, C, and beta carotene," which may result from using up these antioxidants. Vitamin E in particular has been shown to relieve pain in "a few small studies from Germany," Roubenoff tells WebMD. He recommends 200 mg/d.

But Roubenoff said that beta carotene can be damaging under certain conditions such as kidney and liver disease, and that with vitamin C, "you take a lot and pee most of it out." Nonetheless, "overall there is some evidence of benefit, and very little evidence of harm" from antioxidants generally, Roubenoff tells WebMD.

But supplements should not substitute for a diet high in fruits and vegetables. "The world's dumbest diet is as smart as the smartest nutritionist," he said, alluding to "extremely strong" data showing that diets high in fruits and vegetables prevent cancer.

For the typical rheumatoid arthritis sufferer, fish oil appears to reduce damage caused by the overactive immune system. "The intake that seems to work for rheumatoid arthritis is on the order of 6 grams [of protein] a day," said Roubenoff. This would equate to eating three fish meals a day. Instead, he recommends pills. "The downside: you burp fish. But borage seed oil is an alternative."

Certain foods, such as nightshade vegetables -- potatoes, tomatoes, and eggplant, for example -- frequently are blamed for causing arthritic flares, said Roubenoff. But studies have showed this occurs in only 1-2% of patients. But in most cases, any association of foods with flares is "pure coincidence." He advises patients to try any food several times -- to make sure it's the culprit -- before cutting back on it. "[People with arthritis] do not need unnecessary food restrictions," he said.

Vital Information:

  • People with chronic rheumatoid arthritis can improve the symptoms of their disease with proper nutrition and exercise.
  • Because these patients have reduced muscle mass, they should eat more protein than a normal, healthy individual and do resistance exercises that help build muscle.
  • Vitamins B, E, C, and fish oil supplements can also help these patients. Some patients associate certain foods with flare-ups, but in most cases this is purely a coincidence.
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