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Fighting Arthritic Pain with the Right Foods

The idea that food can cause or relieve arthritis isn't new. More than 200 years ago, English doctors prescribed cod-liver oil to treat gout and rheumatism. More recently, some health writers have insisted that arthritics should eat or not eat specific foods. The debate is in full swing. Do certain foods cause arthritis? Is there an "Arthritis Begone" diet? All the evidence isn't yet in, but thanks to the studies currently available, more and more physicians are convinced that diet plays a valuable role in arthritis treatment plans.

Foods for arthritis relief

Which fruits, vegetables, meat, or fish should you eat? There are no absolute rules, but the results of studies and case histories suggest that these foods may be helpful:

  • Anchovies: Three-and-a-half ounces of anchovies contain almost a gram and a half of omega-3 fatty acids. The omega-3 fatty acids help regulate the prostaglandins, which play a role in inflammation and, hence, pain. However, anchovies are extremely high in sodium, so if sodium-sensitivity or water retention is a problem for you, choose a different kind of fish.
  • Apples: Not only can an apple a day keep the doctor away, but it may also help to hold your arthritis at bay. Apples contain boron, a mineral that appears to reduce the risk of developing osteoarthritis. Moreover, when boron was given to people who already have the disease, it helped relieve pain.
  • Cantaloupe: This sweet fruit contains large amounts of vitamin C and beta-carotene, the plant form of vitamin A. These two powerful vitamins help to control the oxidative and free-radical damage that may contribute to arthritis.
  • Chile peppers: Chilies contain capsaicin, which gives the peppers their heat. These vegetables also help block pain by encouraging certain nerve cells to run through their supply of substance P, which they normally use to help transmit pain signals.
  • Curry: A combination of spices that often includes turmeric, garlic, cumin, cinnamon, and so on, curry contains powerful antioxidants that may help relieve inflammation and reduce pain.
  • Fish: The omega-3 fatty acids in Norwegian sardines, Atlantic mackerel, sablefish, rainbow trout, striped bass, and other fish may help reduce inflammation and pain.
  • Garlic: An ancient treatment for tuberculosis, lung problems, and other diseases, garlic also appears to relieve some forms of arthritis pain. Although never tested in large-scale, double-blind studies, garlic has been found helpful in many case reports. These helpful benefits may be due to the fact that garlic contains sulfur, which has been known for many years to help relieve certain arthritis symptoms.
  • Grapes: These bunches of sweet, bite-sized fruit are good sources of the mineral boron, which is important for strong bones.
  • Mango: A sweet treat, mangoes are packed with three powerful antioxidants: 90 percent of the RDA (Recommended Dietary Allowances) for vitamin C, 75 percent of the daily dose of beta-carotene, plus vitamin E.
  • Nuts: Almonds, peanuts, and hazelnuts are good sources of boron, a mineral that helps keep bones strong and certain arthritis symptoms at bay.
  • Papaya: Long used as a folk medicine for diarrhea, hay fever, and other problems, a single papaya contains three times the RDA for the antioxidant vitamin C, plus more than half the daily allotment of beta-carotene.
  • Water: Drinking eight glasses of water per day can help battle gout by flushing uric acid from the body. Eight glasses is also the amount most health experts recommend to keep your body moisturized and healthy.

Fighting inflammation the omega way

Fat is considered a boogey-man. This substance causes heart disease, and it contributes to obesity, cancer, and a host of other ills. You're told to cut the fat off your meat and out of your diet. However, certain kinds of fat, specifically the omega-3 and one type of omega-6 fatty acids, can be aids against arthritis.

Omega fatty acids for arthritic inflammation

Some interesting studies and case histories have suggested that omega-3 fatty acids may help relieve the pain and inflammation seen in some types of arthritis and related diseases. Strong evidence exists that omega-3 acids can help ease rheumatoid arthritis (RA) symptoms, help prevent Raynaud's spasms, and possibly relieve some lupus symptoms.

You can get omega-3 fatty acids from fish such as Chinook salmon and Atlantic mackerel. In general, the best sources of omega-3 fatty acids are fish that come from cold water. Fish from warmer waters and those raised on fish farms have less. You can also find omega-3 fatty acids in other foods, including butter nuts, black walnuts, and green soybeans.

Likewise, you can get omega-3s through supplements. If you use a supplement, make sure that it clearly lists the amount of DHA and EPA per capsule. There is no RDA for fish oil: Some authorities suggest taking 3 grams of DHA and/or EPA per day.

Take supplements only after discussing them with your physician. In addition, make sure your doctor always knows what supplements you are taking, for they may interfere with certain aspects of treatment.

Omega-3 fatty acids have some long, complicated names such as alpha-linolenic acid, DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid). They're often referred to as omega-3s or fish oil, for short, because that's where you typically find them in their most concentrated form.

Taking fish oil and GLA (gamma linolenic acid) thins the blood, which can be dangerous if pushed too far. Overly thin blood may not clot properly, causing bleeding to increase to dangerous levels. Consult a physician before taking fish oil supplements if you take blood-thinning medication, NSAIDs, supplements that contain ginger, or anything else that thins the blood.

Don't deep-fry your fish. Doing so destroys the omega-3s.

The good omega-6 fatty acid — GLA

Although most of the omega-6s are best avoided, one of them gives hope to arthritis patients: gamma-linolenic acid, or GLA for short. Several studies have shown that GLA helps reduce pain and inflammation in RA patients, and it may also help with other forms of arthritis.

You won't find large amounts of GLA in food. In addition to evening primrose oil, good sources of GLA include borage oil and black currant oil. An often-suggested dose is 1 to 2 grams of GLA per day. Make sure that the primrose oil or other product you purchase lists the GLA content on the label so you know exactly how many capsules or spoonfuls you need to take to get the desired dosage. You can purchase evening primrose oil, borage oil, and black currant oil in health food stores.

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