My arthritis is worse during the cold winter months, what can I do to help my body naturally? Also, what’s the difference between treating arthritis and rheumatoid arthritis?
Anwered by Roberta Lee, MD, who is vice chair of the Department of Integrative Medicine at Beth Israel Medical Center, co-director of the Fellowship in Integrative Medicine, and author of The SuperStress Solution.
Arthritis describes the sensation of joint discomfort, achiness, and sometimes pain. From a doctor’s perspective, it can be classified as inflammatory (Rheumatoid and autoimmune arthritis) or degenerative (osteoarthritis). Most people have degenerative arthritis—a condition that stems from wear and tear in the cartilage.
Both types of arthritis respond to anti-inflammatory medications (ibuprofen for example), but few hear about the anti-inflammatory supplements or foods that also can help. On the diet side, anything that is highly saturated with fat or is high in sugar content (including high fructose corn syrup) will increase inflammation. So avoid any foods that are high in fat like fried foods, sugary foods, and saturated red meat. To decrease inflammation, eat foods with high nutrient contents such as leafy green veggies, whole grains (not too much), and high-fiber foods such as raspberries, pears (with the skin), and whole-wheat spaghetti.
One of the most common questions people with arthritis ask is, “Is there a special arthritis diet?” While there’s no miracle diet for arthritis, many foods can help fight inflammation and improve joint pain and other symptoms.
For starters, a diet rich in whole foods, including fruits, vegetables, fish, nuts and beans, but low processed foods and saturated fat, is not only great for overall health, but can also help manage disease activity. If this advice sounds familiar, it’s because these are the principles of the Mediterranean diet, which is frequently touted for its anti-inflammation and disease-fighting powers.
There are also a number of supplements that have been shown to reduce inflammation. Some studies have indicated that turmeric, ginger, hops, fish oil, and ground flax seed are great for helping to relieve joint pain. Some of my patients have even added glucosamine and chondroitin supplements and found good results, though the clinical studies have had mixed results.
Your body’s stress response triggers the release of chemicals that ready you to face the challenge at hand. Your breathing quickens, your heart rate increases, and your muscles tense in preparation. This reaction is fine in the short term, but when it fires repeatedly, the increased tension in your muscles can amplify your arthritis pain. Stress also sets off the immune system’s inflammatory response. Inflammation is what fuels joint damage in rheumatoid arthritis (RA), lupus, psoriatic arthritis (PsA), ankylosing spondylitis (AS), and other inflammatory forms of the disease. The longer you’re exposed to stress, the more destructive the inflammation can become. In a PLoS One study, people with RA identified stress as a trigger for disease flare-ups.
Lastly, lifestyle modification goes along way for relieving joint pain because it gives the body more healing time. Giving yourself adequate sleep (enough to be refreshed) and paying attention to balancing and decompressing stress can reduce inflammation and enhance your body’s capacity to heal by leaps and bounds.