A few of my patients have rheumatoid arthritis (RA), a condition that can be characterized by severe joint pain and stiffness. Most of them take prescription medications to help their symptoms. However, these medications can cause chronic vitamin deficiencies.
In fact, just having RA itself can cause vitamin and mineral deficiencies that can also affect your overall health. If you have RA, it’s important to understand how the disease, and its treatments, can deplete certain vitamins and minerals and that supplementation of these is crucial to your general health as well as treating your RA.
How Rheumatoid Arthritis Affects Nutrition
My patients who have RA know how difficult it is just trying to keep moving with minimal pain and stiffness. In addition, they also have to always be aware of keeping their nutritional levels optimal to help treat the symptoms of RA as well as prevent deficiencies. Here’s how RA affects your vitamins and mineral levels:
ü Pain and stiffness: Limited mobility that sometimes occurs in RA can affect how able you’re able to get and prepare healthy food for yourself. Cutting, peeling, chopping vegetables and fruits may be difficult with stiffness in fingers and wrist joints. Often people with RA switch to packaged foods because of their ease in preparation. Some of these foods can be helpful but a complete diet of them can be seriously lacking in nutrients.
ü Inflammation: RA causes your metabolism to increase. This means you burn more nutrients like protein faster and may even become deficient in it. Increasing your protein, and perhaps, overall calorie intake along with it, can help prevent muscle wasting that can occur with too little protein intake.
ü RA drugs: Many people with RA take cortisone-based drugs which can block the absorption of B vitamins, particularly folic acid, and calcium. Deficiencies in folic acid can cause homocysteine levels to rise and increase the risk for heart disease as well as birth defects. NSAID’s, often taken for pain and stiffness of RA, are also thought to lower folic acid levels. Deficiencies in calcium can cause a whole host of physical problems from thyroid imbalance, bone weakening and increased risk for fracture, as well as muscle function problems, stiffness and spasms.
Optimal Nutrition For RA
As I tell my patients in general, getting optimal nutrition from our foods today is very hard. Unlike 100 years ago when our soils were richer in minerals, today’s depleted soils that our food is grown in has made most of the food we eat critically lacking in vitamins. You would have to eat several thousand calories a day to get the amount of nutrients that your body actually needs!
With RA, and the deficiencies it can cause, you are at even higher risk of not getting enough nutrients from your food alone. It is vital, then, that you not only consume the healthiest, vitamin/mineral/protein/calcium packed diet that you can, but also make use of supplements to ensure the best levels of all vitamins and minerals. Here’s what I recommend to my patients with RA.
ü Folic acid: Foods like leafy green vegetables (broccoli, spinach, kale), B vitamin fortified cereals and whole grains, legumes (lentils, peas, garbanzo beans), all can help prevent folic acid deficiencies.
ü Calcium: High calcium foods like almonds, sardines, dairy products, calcium fortified orange juice, kale, can all help maintain calcium levels. Aim for 1200 mg of calcium a day if you are over 50 years of age, though you may need as much as 1500. Have your blood calcium levels checked.
ü Vitamin D3: Also critical in helping maintain good calcium levels and bone health. 1-2,000 mg a day, or get out in the midday sun for 15 minutes.
ü Protein: Generally, figure good protein intake at 0.3 to 0.5 grams per kilograms of body weight. Easier said, take one-third to one-half of your body weight and consume that amount of protein. For example: You weigh 200 lbs. You should eat between 66.6 to 100 grams of protein per day. People with RA should likely stay at the higher range because of faster metabolic rates. If you are experiencing muscle wasting, you likely need more protein. Good protein sources are beef, chicken, fish, some dairy products, eggs, soy protein. A high protein shake twice a day can provide over half of your daily protein needs and is easily prepared.
ü Essential Fatty Acids: Omega-3 fatty acids are very helpful in treating RA. They help reduce the amount of inflammation in joints and allow them to move more smoothly with much less stiffness. These are found primarily in fish oil but can be taken in supplements as well. Get 1 to 2,000 mg a day.
ü Antioxidants: Vitamins and minerals like C, E, selenium, resveratrol, are all good antioxidants that also decrease inflammation and lower pain and stiffness of RA.
As I assure my patients, there are many things you can do to help your RA. First, talk to your doctor about blood tests that can reveal any deficiencies you may have and perhaps prescribe RA medications for you. Even though these medications can often have the side effect of causing nutritional deficiencies, they can be of benefit in treating pain, stiffness and inflammation.
However, good nutrition is all in your hands! Insure it by following the above recommendations to maintain optimal nutrition. Keeping beneficial levels of vitamins, minerals, protein and calcium will not only help your RA symptoms so that you can become more mobile and active, but will also help your general health as well!
Mark Bromson, M.D.
Vitamins for Rheumatoid Arthritis, http://www.webmd.com/rheumatoid-arthritis/biologics-10/vitamins-ra?page=2
Treat RA Naturally, www.livestrong.com/…/10209-treat-rheumatoid-arthritis-naturally/
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