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House Calls with Dr. De La Flor
Dear Doctor
I have Rheumatoid Arthritis and wonder if I can tailor my diet to help ease the horrible symptoms. Does diet make any difference?

16.04.2009 - Dear Jennifer,
Eating certain foods or avoiding certain foods may help your rheumatoid arthritis symptoms. However, according to the Arthritis Foundation, there is no scientifically substantiated arthritis diet.   On the other hand, if you find certain foods worsen your rheumatoid arthritis symptoms and others help your symptoms to improve, it makes sense to make some adjustments in your diet.

Studies show that saturated fats may increase inflammation in the body, and as a result of that worsen your condition.  Foods high in saturated fats, such as animal products like bacon, steak, butter, and cream, may increase pro-inflammatory chemicals in the body called prostaglandins. Prostaglandins are chemicals that cause inflammation, pain, swelling, and joint destruction in rheumatoid arthritis.

Meat contains high amounts of arachidonic acid. Arachidonic acid is a fatty acid thats converted to pro-inflammatory chemicals in the body. A light vegetarian diet helps relieve symptoms of pain and stiffness.

Omega-3 fatty acids (found in cold-water fish such as salmon, tuna, and trout; nuts, soybean products ) may have an anti-inflammatory effect in the body. This is key because people with rheumatoid arthritis have a higher risk of cardiovascular disease. Rheumatoid arthritis is less severe in some Mediterranean countries such as Greece and Italy. In those countries, the main diet consists of large amounts of fruits, vegetables, olive oil, and fatty fish high in omega-3s. Fruits, vegetables, grains, and legumes are high in phytonutrients. These are chemicals in plants that have disease-fighting properties and immune-boosting antioxidants such as vitamin C, vitamin E, selenium, and the carotenoids.

Supplementing your diet with bone-boosting calcium and vitamin D is important, especially if you take corticosteroids that can cause bone loss. The risk of bone loss is higher in people with rheumatoid arthritis. So check with your doctor to see how much calcium and vitamin D you need to get daily through foods, supplements, and sunlight.

A recent study published in the Annals of Rheumatic Diseases (2008) concluded that drinking alcohol may be linked to a significantly reduced chance of getting rheumatoid arthritis. Talk to your doctor about moderate alcohol consumption if you take any rheumatoid arthritis medication. Avoid alcohol if you take methotrexate because liver damage could be a serious side effect.

Studies show that dropping extra pounds is important for your joints and overall health.

Excess pounds put extra strain on knees, hips, and other weight-bearing joints, not to mention your heart.

Dr. De La Flor, G.P. is licensed in medicine & general surgery.  He holds certificates in nutrition, medical exercise and human performance from the University of Berkeley in California, the American Council on Exercise and the U.S. National Strength & Conditioning Association.  He is a strong believer in work/life balance and spends much of his time outside of his surgery on the tennis court or chasing his four kids around the neighborhood.

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