You may have wondered whether changing what you eat can help manage your arthritis. While there is no proven diet that can help manage the symptoms of axial spondyloarthritis (axSpA), eating healthy food and exercising are important for maintaining a healthy weight, which in turn, will help you manage your axSpA better.
Is there a diet to cure arthritis?
No diet has been proven by research to cure axSpA. Be very cautious of special diets or supplements that claim to cure axSpA. The best diet for axSpA is a healthy, balanced one to maintain your general health, and prevent other medical problems. If you have psoriasis, a healthy diet may lessen the severity of psoriasis symptoms.
The best diet for arthritis is a healthy, balanced diet. This can help you reach and maintain a healthy weight and reduce your risk of other health problems.
Choosing the right fats
Research suggests that eating foods with healthy fats rather than foods with unhealthy fats may help reduce the symptoms of arthritis. While these effects are modest compared to medicines, healthier fats do not have any serious side effects. They also have other health benefits, such as reduced risk of heart disease.
Healthier dietary fat
- Monounsaturated fat: Researchers have found a link between these types of fats and reduced disease activity in inflammatory arthritis. Foods that are high in monounsaturated fats include vegetable oils (olive oil, canola oil, and sunflower oil), avocados and many nuts and seeds.
- Omega-3 fats: Studies show that eating foods rich in omega-3 fats can help reduce inflammation. Foods rich in omega-3 fats include:
- fish: oily fish, such as sardines and salmon, have greater amounts of omega-3 fats
- fish oil supplements: see Fish oils for more information
- ground linseeds and linseed oil (also called flaxseed)
- canola oil (also called rapeseed oil)
Harmful dietary fat
- Saturated fat: This is a type of fat that comes mainly from red meat, poultry and full-fat dairy products. Saturated fat increases inflammation and cholesterol levels, particularly unhealthy LDL-cholesterol. These fats can increase your risk of cardiovascular disease.
Does weight affect arthritis?
The simple answer is yes. Extra body weight increases the stress on many joints, particularly the knees, hips and lower back. If you are overweight, losing weight will decrease the stress on your joints, reduce pain and make it easier for you to move around.
Do certain foods cause arthritis?
There is very little proof that specific foods have an effect on arthritis. The exception to this is gout (see gout section below). Arthritis symptoms usually vary day to day. This makes it hard to know if a change in symptoms is because of a particular change in food or just coincidence. Some people with arthritis report improvements after avoiding certain foods. However this is usually due to individual food intolerances (see below).
I heard I should avoid…
Nightshade foods: This food group includes tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant and capsicum. There is no proof that these foods have any effect on arthritis symptoms. In fact, nightshades contain nutrients vitamin C and vitamin A and can help reduce the risk of heart disease, which is more common for people with inflammatory arthritis.
Acid-producing foods: Arthritis is not caused by eating ‘acidic foods’ like oranges, lemons or tomatoes. Very few foods are as acidic as our digestive juices. Foods termed ‘acidic’ are usually very rich in vitamin C, which is beneficial to the immune system. So avoiding these may do more harm than good.
Dairy products: There is no proof that dairy products cause arthritis. Dairy products are a rich source of calcium, which is an important building block for strong bones. Many people with arthritis are at an increased risk of osteoporosis (thinning of the bones) so dairy products may be extra important to maintain bone health.
Meat and meat products: There is mixed evidence about the effects of vegetarian diets on arthritis. These diets tend to increase your intake of vitamins as you eat more vegetables and fruits. Lower levels of fat in this diet may also help you to lose weight. These factors may help with arthritis symptoms. However a strict vegetarian diet may mean you miss out on other important nutrients, such as iron and vitamin B12.
Food intolerance: Some people may have a reaction, such as an upset stomach, after eating or drinking certain foods. This may be due to a food intolerance. If you feel that certain foods are causing problems, talk to a dietitian or your doctor. They may suggest you be tested for food intolerances. Do not cut whole food groups from your diet without talking to your doctor as you may miss out on important vitamins and minerals.
Limit alcohol intake
Alcohol can also reduce the effectiveness of your medication and may increase your risk of side effects, such as liver damage. You may find it useful to keep track of your alcohol-intake to see if drinking alcohol affects your symptoms. Cutting back on alcohol may help to reduce flares, improve symptoms and help with weight control.
A guide to healthy eating
The best diet for arthritis is a healthy, balanced diet. This can help you reach and maintain a healthy weight and reduce your risk of other health problems. Talk to your doctor or see the Australian Dietary Guidelines to learn about the amount and kinds of foods that we need to eat for health and wellbeing. You may also find it helpful to see a dietitian for advice that is tailored to your individual needs.
CONTACT YOUR LOCAL ARTHRITIS OFFICE FOR MORE INFORMATION AND SUPPORT SERVICES.
To find a dietitian, talk to your doctor, contact the Dietitians Australia on 1800 812 942 or use the ‘find an APD’ (Accredited Practising Dietitian) service at https://dietitiansaustralia.org.au/.