Health & Nutrition with Rosie Shelley
AROUND one third of 45-65 year olds are affected by arthritis, a condition that affects around 915,000 Irish people.
October 12th is World Arthritis Day, raising awareness of the condition which, over 60, can be measurably controlled with dietary and lifestyle changes.
• Weight: losing any excess weight will relieve pressure on the joints. Eat a whole food diet and cut out sugar and refined (white) grains, which are basically sugars. A study out this month found that a high carb diet—which will also contribute to weight gain—increased joint inflammation.
• Gut bacteria: in June, US scientists reported that mice which were given a junk food fat diet and became obese had more of the bad gut bacteria that cause arthritic inflammation. Almost all of their knee cartilage wasted away within 12 weeks. When they were fed prebiotics (which feed the good type), even as the junk food diet continued, their arthritis was reversed. The prebiotics used were the type you’ll find in onions, leeks and garlic, beans and lentils, oats and especially Jerusalem artichokes.
• Blood sugar: eating the low GI way (protein plus a little fat plus some wholegrains or pulses) will help keep weight down, prevent imbalances in blood sugar levels, known to accelerate the progress of arthritis. Intermittent fasting, as in the 5:2 plan, has been proven to reduce pain, stiffness and inflammation.
•Exercise: try non-jarring activities, as much as you can manage without pain, such as walking, swimming, cycling, yoga or just stretching. Don’t push yourself too hard, but exercise will help with weight control and blood sugar balance, prevent stiffness, and build the muscles that protect the joints. Do it outside and you’ll get a dose of anti-inflammatory vitamin D. A US study found that yoga brings about a 20% improvement in pain levels, energy and mood.
• Inflammation: the key to controlling the pain and inflammation of arthritis is firstly to avoid inflammatory foods (sugar, white grains, processed foods and excess animal produce, especially the highly inflammatory trans/hydrogenated fats) and focus on anti-inflammatory nutrients.
The combination of omega-3 oils and vitamin D in oily fish make it the single most potent anti-inflammatory food, and regular consumption can even reduce the need for medication and help to prevent arthritis developing in the first place (omega-3 can also be found in linseeds, walnuts, grass fed beef and fermented soya products), while antioxidants from fruit and vegetables are also central.
They protect the cells, including those of the joints, from the damage caused by free radicals, and that damage is inflammatory. Especially anti-inflammatory are betacarotenes (orange/yellow/dark green fruit and veg), quercetin (apples, red onions, tea, broccoli), and anthocyanidins (berries and currants, aubergines, plums, dark coloured dried beans). These last actually have the ability to protect and reinforce the collagen that is an important part of cartilage.
• Supplements: this is one of those areas where they have a very beneficial role to play, and a proven track record.
Glucosamine is the one that has received the most attention in relation to arthritis, and levels of this naturally occurring compound fall as we age. Known as the ‘joint builder’, it works to build and repair cartilage (arthritis being an erosion of the cartilage that lines the joints), and supplementing 1500mg has been shown to be as effective as medication in reducing joint damage, pain and swelling.
Other research has demonstrated mixed results, but last year a large-scale Canadian study, using a combination of glucosamine and chondroitin sulphate, established that it can indeed reduce cartilage loss.
Check with your GP before taking glucosamine if you’re diabetic, on warfarin, pregnant or nursing. Vitamins A, B5 and E help to strengthen cartilage, while vitamin C is vital for the production of collagen.
Cartilage strengthening silica can be found in oats, millet, onions, rye, beetroot and cucumber as well as in supplement form. Calcium and vitamin D build bone, to support healthy joints.
MSM is a supplemental source of sulphur, which controls inflammation and pain, detoxifies, hinders the production of cartilage-damaging enzymes, and builds and repairs tissue; sulphur is also found in eggs, onions, garlic, the cabbage family and beans.
The resin Boswellia is a powerful anti-inflammatory, and can ease pain and joint swelling and improve mobility. Arthritis Research UK have confirmed the efficacy of omega-3 oils for pain and inflammation—suggested in hundreds of studies—alongside that of topical capsaicin (the active ingredient in chillies, used in gel form), rosehip (the benefits of which have been shown to be comparable to those of non steroidal anti-inflammatories), and turmeric.
Researchers recently established that curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric, interacts with a variety of molecules that are involved in inflammation and can relieve aches and swelling in the joints—one study found that it can be as effective as aspirin and ibuprofen. And anecdotally, I’ve heard great things about a new supplement called Phynova Joint and Muscle Relief, which is based on a Chinese herbal remedy and said to significantly ease symptoms within weeks.
• For more information, go to www.arthritisireland.ie
Best foods and supplements
Best Foods: Alfalfa sprouts, almonds, apples, apple cider vinegar, apricots, aubergines, avocadoes, bananas, beans, beetroot, berries and blackcurrants, brazil nuts, broccoli, brown rice, brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, celery, cherries, chillies, citrus, cucumber, eggs, flax/linseeds, garlic, ginger, kale, leeks, liver, millet, oats and oatcakes, oily fish, olives and olive oil, onions (especially red ones), parsley, peppers, pineapple, plums, prunes, pumpkin seeds, quinoa, rye, seaweeds, sweet potatoes, tuna, turmeric, watercress, yoghurt (live, organic, plain).
•Omega-3 or cod liver oil (if you don’t eat oily fish)
• Glucosamine with chondroitin (can be found combined in supplements with collagen)
• Turmeric (can be found in supplements with ginger/boswellia/MSM)
• Vitamin C with rosehips
• Vitamin D3