A new study shows people who ate the least amount of fruits and vegetables were twice as likely to develop inflammation in the joints characteristic of rheumatoid arthritis compared with those who ate the most, and researchers say the antioxidant vitamin C seems to be largely responsible for the protective effect.
Researchers say people had the lowest levels of vitamin C in their diet were three times more likely to develop inflammatory arthritis than people who got the most of the vitamin from fruits and vegetables, such as citrus fruits, strawberries, and raw, red sweet peppers.
But experts say that doesn't mean you should start popping vitamin C supplements to lower your risk of inflammatory arthritis. In fact, a recent study suggested that long-term use of vitamin C supplements might aggravate another common form of arthritis, osteoarthritis.
Vitamin C Linked to Lower Rheumatoid Arthritis Risks
In this study, published in the current issue of Annals of Rheumatic Diseases, researchers looked at the link between fruit and vegetable and dietary antioxidant intake and the development of inflammatory arthritis and rheumatoid arthritis in a group of 23,000 men and women who entered a large cancer study in the U.K. between 1993 and 1997. As a part of that study, the participants kept track of what they ate in a weekly food diary.
Between 1993 and 2001, 73 people developed inflammatory arthritis affecting two or more painfully swollen joints for at least a month, and 40% of them met the criteria for having rheumatoid arthritis.
Compared with those who did not develop the disease, researchers found that those with arthritis ate fewer fruits and vegetables. Specifically, people who ate the least amount of fruits and vegetables had double the risk of developing inflammatory arthritis.
The study also showed that there was a major difference in the amount of vitamin C that the people with arthritis consumed vs. those who did not develop the disease. People who got the least vitamin C in their diet had three times the risk of developing inflammatory arthritis than those who got the most.
Researchers found that lower intakes of other antioxidants were mildly associated with higher arthritis risks, but the link was not nearly as strong as the one with vitamin C intake.
For example, the study showed that people who got less than 40 mg of vitamin C from fruits and vegetables had four times the risk of developing inflammatory arthritis. In the U.S., the recommended dietary allowance for men is 90 milligrams of vitamin C a day and for women is 75 milligrams.
Previous studies suggest that antioxidants may help prevent some forms of arthritis by fighting the free radicals (unstable molecules that cause damage to cells) associated with the development of the disease.