Winter is the time of year my patients with rheumatoid arthritis come to me with more complaints of pain and stiffness in their joints. To help the symptoms of RA, I always recommend that patients exercise everyday but with the unusual amounts of bitter cold and snow we’ve been having this winter, many RA patients haven’t been getting out to exercise. As a result, their symptoms worsen. Recently, though, new research has revealed something that could significantly impact RA sufferers. If you have RA, you’ll want to learn about this as well as certain foods you eat may help quiet the pain of RA.
RA: New Research and These 6 Foods Can Calm It Down
Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic, inflammatory condition of the joints of the body, thought to be caused by an autoimmune disorder. What that means for someone with RA is that a disorder of their immune system has caused them to develop a lot of inflammation in their joints. Inflammation in joints results in swelling, pain and stiffness and, if left untreated, can lead to disability through decreased movement. RA affects about 1.3 million people in the U.S. and seems to favor women more than men.
Common treatments for RA usually involve anti-inflammatory medications like aspirin and NSAIDS, and/or steroids, like prednisone, to quiet inflammation. These treatments are usually effective but they can have side effects that may cause more health problems. Recently, some exciting new research has come out of New York University’s Langone Medical Center, reporting that the true cause of the development of RA may be forthcoming, which may then lead to new treatments.
Their research looked at intestinal bacteria – good and bad – and the role it plays in the development of human diseases. It was learned that an overgrowth of a specific bacterium, Prevotella copri, was abundant in people who had newly been diagnosed with RA. In addition, there was a decrease in “good” intestinal bacteria – the Bacteroides group. Other new research shows that the Bacteroides fragilis bacterium greatly boosts the immune system and fights excessive inflammation. So, without enough of it, it’s easy to see how RA is affected.
Even though the NYU researchers said that they weren’t yet ready to conclude 100% that the dominance of P. copri may be the true cause of RA, it’s my sense that boosting the good bacteria in your gut may help quiet down, or perhaps even heal, RA, as well as other inflammatory-autoimmune based conditions. Many of us don’t have enough beneficial bacteria in our gut from environmental toxins, not eating the right foods, taking antibiotics, eating too high sugar diets, etc. The good news is you can help re-grow the good bacteria in your gut by adding certain foods and/or supplements to your diet. In addition, there are a number of anti-inflammatory foods that eaten daily can help quiet down the symptoms of RA without drugs. Here’s how.
Add Beneficial Bacteria. There are many “probiotic” supplements on the market but stomach acid and shelf life may mean that you’re taking dead, or inactive, cultures. I feel that you’re better off getting probiotics from fresh, refrigerated “live” foods eaten regularly to ensure their good bacteria level. One of the best sources is Kefir, a dairy product that contains about 30 different strains of good bacteria. Sauerkraut, kimchi, and fresh yogurt can be good sources as well. You may be surprised to learn that there are also probiotics on the market called SBO’s – soil based organisms – that are obtained from dirt. Studies out of Bristol University in England reveals that SBO’s help regulate the immune system, decrease inflammation, and help us absorb nutrients from our food better.
The following foods naturally fight inflammation and help decrease the symptoms of RA:
1. Turmeric. A spice made from curcumin, studies out of the University of California revealed that it is a powerful, and safe, anti-inflammatory. If you like mustard, or curry, use it regularly on your food as it’s made from turmeric.
2. Pineapple. The stems of pineapples contain bromelain a significant anti-inflammatory. As such, you need to get bromelain through supplements. A study out of England showed that people with joint pain who took bromelain for 3 months had improvement.
3. Blackstrap molasses. An old home remedy for arthritis, many people with RA claim that daily intake helps with their pain. It makes sense though as it contains a good amount of magnesium – a powerful anti-inflammatory and relaxant. It also contains potassium which helps maintain strong bones and joints.
4. Sour cherries. Cherries contain a potent anti-antioxidant chemical called Zashin that fights free radicals that cause inflammation. A study out of the University of Michigan revealed that people and animals whose diets contained lots of cherries had 50% less inflammation.
5. Omega-3 Fatty Acids. Fish oils, walnut oil, flaxseed oil, all contain high levels of Omega-3 fatty acids which have been proven in research to dampen inflammation throughout the body. Eat several servings of fish weekly and/or supplement with fish oil capsules, or a few tablespoons of walnut or flaxseed oil a day.
Rheumatoid arthritis is a painful and, possibly crippling, disease. The more we know about its origins can help us both prevent it and create new effective treatments for it. In the meantime, adding natural probiotic and anti-inflammatory foods to your diet, limiting foods that cause inflammation like refined sugars, too much alcohol, and making sure to exercise at least 30 minutes each day will help quiet the symptoms of RA and prevent disability.
Mark Bromson, M.D.
Strategies for the Management of Rheumatoid Arthritis, http://www.healio.com/orthopedics/journals/ortho/%7Bc3d1ebc2-e8b2-47f5-860d-02bb0a92455f%7D/strategies-for-the-management-of-rheumatoid-arthritis
Intestinal bacteria linked to rheumatoid arthritis, http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/11/131105132031.htm
Probiotics, good bacteria, cultured foods, drinks, antibiotics http://www.growyouthful.com/remedy/probiotics-good-bacteria.php