Whilst a diet cannot ‘cure’ arthritis, some find a change in diet will help improve symptoms or reduce flares. Eating a balanced and varied diet full of fruit and vegetables, fish, nuts and legumes, and low in processed foods and saturated fats. This will help to maximise your intake of vitamins, minerals, nutrients and fibre. This fits in most closely with the well known Mediterranean diet.
Why is it important to be at a healthy weight?
Ideally being in a healthy weight range with adequate amount of muscle means that your joints are not under excess strain (especially your back, hips, knees and ankles), and you may find this reduces the amount of pain you experience, the number of painkillers you need to take and the exercise you are able to do.
A healthy diet is also important for your heart and circulatory system- some types of arthritis (such as Rheumatoid) are linked with increased cardiovascular problems and so keeping your heart as healthy as possible is important.
What vitamins and minerals are important?
Calcium is important for bone health. Being deficient in calcium increases the risk of osteoporosis, particularly for females after the menopause. Sources to find calcium include: milk, cheese, yoghurt, soy, fortified alternative milks and tinned sardines. If you do not eat dairy or their fortified substitutes then it would be worth speaking to your GP or dietitian.
Vitamin D is needed to help absorb calcium, and also functions in our immune systems. It is usually found in the sunshine and in the summer months 15 minutes is enough on the face and arms. Supplements are advised in winter months, especially in Scotland, with 10 micrograms/day (400IU)- this can be found in the pharmacy, supermarket or chemist.
Research has also shown that omega-3 fatty acids (DHA, EPA and ALA) for inflammatory arthritis may be beneficial. These can be found in eggs, oily fish (mackerel, salmon,sardines,trout), rapeseed/flaxseed oil and walnuts. It is recommended to try and eat two portions of fish each week (with one being oily), or through a supplement to reach the full amount to 2.7g/d of EPA and DHA. Please ask a dietitian or your doctor for more information.
Glucosamine may be beneficial for osteoarthritis- there are currently mixed results in research but it may be worth trying. We suggest taking 1500mg daily of glucosamine sulphate for 3 months to see if you notice a difference- if you see a benefit you may wish to continue. Please note this is often made from shellfish, so you should make sure you find a vegetarian or shellfish free variety if allergic.
Iron is important to prevent anaemia, which is more common in arthritis for a variety of reasons (including taking NSAIDs and chronic disease). Good food sources of iron include red meat, oily fish, pulses (lentils and beans) and leafy green vegetables. This is absorbed better with vitamin C (have a portion of fruit and/or vegetables at each meal).
If you are vegan you will need to supplement as usual and include vitamin B12.
Fruit and Vegetables:
Try and eat at least 5 (if not more) portions of fruit and vegetables each day in a variety of colours
This helps your body to get vital nutrients- vitamins, minerals and antioxidants to help with inflammation and they are also a great source of fibre to help with your digestive system.
How can diet influence gout?
Gout flares can be influenced by diet- especially alcohol, hydration levels and foods that contain ‘purines’ as this increases the level of urate in the body. Urate is the substance that forms crystals that causes the sudden pain and swelling in joints.
We recommend sticking to 1-2 units of alcohol /day, and limiting beer (which is more likely to increase flares of gout)
Hydration is important, so increasing your water intake to help flush out excess urate and prevent crystal formation. We would recommend 1-2l of water a day (more if you have kidney stones).
Foods high in purine to try and reduce: kidneys, liver, offal, anchovies, mackerel, herring, sardines.