Friday, September 27, 2013

Eating Against Arthritis

Lately there have been several publications debunking the myth that running causes arthritis. For example, an August Washington Post article discusses a study that found, “runners were approximately half as likely as walkers to develop osteoarthritis or need a hip replacement.”  According to an article in the October issue of TrailRunner Magazine entitled, ‘Bad to the Bones: Is Arthritis from Running a Myth or a Fact of Life,’ “the scientific literature does not support any link between running and an increased risk of osteoarthritis.” The New York Times just published an article this week hypothesizing why runners don’t get knee arthritis. There are some speculations that it is the repetitive motion of running that keeps knee cartilage healthy.

Regardless of the reason, runners everywhere can rejoice. Now when people tell me that my knees are going to crap out by the time I’m 50, I have research as my rebound rather than telling them that when that time rolls around, I will be able to order a new pair.

However, what most people without arthritis don’t realize is that there are over 100 different types of arthritis – not just osteoarthritis, which is what typically comes to mind when we think of arthritis. It is important to understand that arthritis is not just a disease of the elderly, but can affect the young and the old, the athlete or couch potato alike. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 50 million US adults have some kind of arthritis. That is 1 out of every 5 people!

Though we can't stop aging, accidents or autoimmune diseases, we can slow down the effects of aging and the associated pain and inflammation that accompany arthritis with the food that we eat.
When you are eating for arthritis, you want to focus on foods that reduce inflammation because arthritis literally translates to “inflammation of the joints.”

The omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA, may reduce degeneration and degradation of cartilage. Patients with rheumatoid arthritis note a decrease in morning stiffness, a decrease in joint tenderness and a decrease need to take NSAIDs to relieve pain when incorporating these healthy fats into their diet. Rather than take an EPA/DHA supplement, I recommend consuming fatty fish like salmon and tuna twice a week because the long-term safety effects on supplemental use has yet to be determined. If fish isn’t your thing, plant based sources include pumpkin seeds, flax seeds, chia seeds, walnuts and soybeans, in their whole form as well as oil. Many foods like eggs and milk are now being fortified with EPA and DHA making it easier than ever to make them part of your diet.

A diet high in antioxidants slows the progression, relieves pain and can help to prevent arthritis. Yet another reason to eat a variety of fruits and vegetables every day. Vitamin D-rich foods like seafood, milk and eggs help prevent cartilage breakdown and strengthen bones to help support the joints. Spices like turmeric and ginger have also been shown to decrease inflammation and can be incorporated into a variety of foods.

By eating a healthy diet and staying active you are also better able to maintain a healthy weight. Extra weight puts more pressure on the joints, and fat is metabolically active which makes it prone to inflammation. Excess fat=more inflammation=higher risk for arthritis.

My advice? Go run.

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