Friday, March 26, 2010

Exploring the connection between food and inflammation

Last week, when my wee toe decided to throb mercilessly for a couple of days, I had myself a little pity party. For me, pity parties often involve chocolate. Or ice cream. Or cookies. Or all of the above. While I do watch my weight very carefully, I don't think it's wrong to indulge on occasion. However, when "on occasion" turns into 2 or 3 times a day, several days in a row—then we have a problem.

After few days of reckless eating—and really only feeling worse about myself—I decided enough was enough. I recommitted to a more balanced diet this week, and whether it's coincidence or quick effect, I am actually starting to feel better. My toe has quieted down and I'm able to exercise for about 20 minutes at a time without getting too achy.

Curious about this, I did a little poking around and found several sources that indicate refined sugar can be an inflammatory food. Likewise, certain oils and fats found in a lot of packaged cookies and other goodies, as well as animal fats and dairy, can all cause inflammation in the body. And a lot of the foods I decided to replace my poor choices with, like more lean protein, nuts, beans, berries, etc., are considered anti-inflammatory.

There is some evidence out there that certain antioxidants act on some of the same enzymes as popular arthritis pain medications. Ever heard of a COX-inhibitor (say, Celebrex)? COX is a type of enzyme that plays a role in inflammation, which is what causes arthritis pain for a lot of us. It turns out that certain foods and drinks can have the same COX-inhibiting actions as well-known medications.

Take red wine or tea, as an example. Both contain polyphenols, such as catechins, which are antioxidants that specifically target COX-2 activity and help reduce inflammation. Of course, not everyone can drink red wine (esp. if you're on methotrexate or trying to get pregnant!), but tea is tolerated by most.

Another natural anti-inflammatory is omega-3 fatty acid. Numerous scientific studies have shown omega-3 fatty acids can help reduce inflammation associated with heart disease, arthritis and other illnesses. I mentioned previously that I take fish oil capsules, as recommended by my rheumatologist. But there are a lot of natural sources of omega-3 fats, too, like fatty fish (such as salmon, halibut and sardines), walnuts, flax seeds, broccoli and kale.

Soy, berries and spices like turmeric, cinnamon, garlic and hot chilies are all high in antioxidants and can have anti-inflammatory effects, too. I always knew healthy eating didn't have to be boring! I'm going to keep trying to eat more of these anti-inflammatory foods and see how things go. I have a birthday party tomorrow that I'm making a delicious (albeit sugary) dessert for, so I'll also be interested to see how that affects me.

Anyone else have certain foods that bother your arthritis? Or ones that make it better?


  1. Gluten is a major problem if you are gluten sensitive, intolerant, or have Celiac disease. 1 in 133 people have problems with gluten. It's not just a digestive issue. I take fish oil by pill form now. Dark cherries are really good for inflammation too....very tart too..I love them! :)

  2. Yes - Leslie, I have heard that gluten can really flare up the joints if you're sensitive or have Celiac. Fortunately, there are a lot of new gluten-free alternatives coming out on the market all the time, making it easier for people to deal with a gluten-free diet!

  3. I haven't noticed that particular foods make my RA worse -- and believe me, I've paid attention to this over the years. However, I HAVE noticed that I feel much better overall when I'm eating sensibly, leaving the packaged foods alone and cooking with all fresh ingredients. I took fish oil for quite a long time, though I got "out of the habit" recently, and should probably start again. It surely didn't hurt, even if I didn't notice any particular difference to my RA.

    Sticking to lots of fresh veggies, chicken and fish, little or no red meat, nuts and fruits for snacks and wholegrain bread and pasta have all had a decided positive effect for me, along with cutting sugar out of my diet. The result was slow weight loss, more energy, and just overall feeling better. It absolutely makes the diligence worthwhile.

    I've read that cutting out nightshade veggies (tomatoes, potatoes and eggplant) has proven therapeutic for some people with RA. Made no difference for me, however, and I was glad. I love all three, though I very, very rarely eat potatoes anymore (because the starch converts to sugar in the body, just like white flour does).

    Glad to read that your small toe is a bit better. MAN those can hurt when they're flared! I hope that any dietary changes you make will help with your RA. Isn't it nice that being mindful about one's diet is so beneficial in other ways too, though?

    Best to you, VW. Chin up. :o)

  4. I have started a gluten-free diet this week and boy am I learning alot! even some lipsticks have gluten! weird :P Yeah they have many gluten-free products but you still have to watch them...also most are expensive. There are some websites I found though with reasonable items and are supposed to be tasty...gonna look into them more...its a learning process! lol

  5. Hi,

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  6. Gluten, dairy, and sugar are definite inflammatory foods for me. Also, if I have wine more than one night out of a week, I can feel it. I had to eliminate a lot of foods from my diet and then slowly try bringing them back before I realized the effect they play on my body.


I welcome your comments and experiences! If you have any questions, I will try to get back to you as soon as I can.