When your joints ache or don’t function well, it affects your daily life. Unfortunately, about 1 in 5 American adults has arthritis, and 1 million people underwent hip and knee replacements in 2021 – a number that is expected to more than triple by 2030. So what role might nutrition play in managing arthritis, Or out of joint surgery with flying colors? Let’s start with arthritis.
While arthritis — a term derived from the Greek words meaning “joint” and “inflammation” — is common, it is also complex. Arthritis refers to more than 100 types of joint diseases, the most common of which are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
- Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease (an abnormal response of the immune system) that affects the entire body.
- Osteoarthritis affects certain joints and tends to be less debilitating than RA.
Currently, there are more questions than answers about how nutrition can help prevent or treat arthritis. It appears that nutrition may be able to reduce symptoms and drug dependence, but it may not be able to protect joints enough to completely replace medication.
Because inflammation plays a role in rheumatoid arthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, many people seeking relief turn to an anti-inflammatory diet. In short, the anti-inflammatory diet limits sugar, refined grains, and ultra-processed foods while including plenty of fiber and nutrients, and plant foods rich in phytochemicals: vegetables, fruits, legumes, and whole grains, along with omega-3 fatty acids from fish. and nuts. Here are the top three nutritional factors to consider:
Fish oil. Omega-3 fatty acids have anti-inflammatory benefits, and evidence suggests that omega-3s from fatty fish like salmon, or from fish oil supplements, enhance the effectiveness of medical treatment for arthritis. Arthritis Foundation He points out that while the recommended two 3-ounce servings of fish per week are good for overall health, supplementation is the best way to get what would be considered a therapeutic dose of omega-3. A 2017 systematic review published in the Journal of Clinical Rheumatology Fish oil was found to significantly reduce joint pain, stiffness, and swelling in patients with rheumatoid arthritis, and to reduce or stop their use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. Studies looking at the benefits of fish oil for arthritis pain have been less conclusive. For both RA and OA, the Foundation recommends taking fish oil capsules with at least 30% EPA/DHA, the active ingredients, in doses up to 2.6 grams, twice a day.
protein. Research shows that rheumatoid arthritis patients tend to have more fat and less muscle, due in large part to the fact that chronic inflammation increases protein breakdown. Exercising (particularly resistance training) along with eating protein-rich foods at every meal can help maintain lean muscle.
vegetables and fruits. Eat the rainbow—plus white vegetables like broccoli, onions, and garlic—so you’ll enjoy the full range of nutrients. How about nightshade vegetables, you ask? The claim that tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, and peppers exacerbate arthritis pain has no research to back it up. In fact, nightshade vegetables contain antioxidants and phytonutrients that may have anti-inflammatory benefits. However, while some specific foods may trigger inflammation in rheumatoid arthritis, these foods tend to vary from person to person, so there is no “universal autoimmune diet.” Keeping a food log can help you see your overall eating pattern — and how it affects your joints — more clearly.
So that includes nutrition. Now what about exercise? When your joints are stiff or sore, being physically active may seem like the last thing you should do. But studies show that regular, appropriate exercise — ask your doctor which activities are safe for you — may help reduce joint pain and stiffness, making movement easier. It also increases muscle strength and produces endorphins that help control pain and improve overall health and well-being. And a quick word on weight loss: It’s true that extra body weight can put extra stress on joints, and losing weight may reduce arthritis symptoms by reducing inflammation in the joints and the rest of the body. However, most people who lose weight on purpose end up gaining it back, and then go back to square one. It may also be harmful for some people, including those with a history of eating disorders, to pursue weight loss to try to control their arthritis.
Now, what about common alternatives? Speaking at the annual meeting of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics last month, Nancy Strange, a surgical dietitian at Indiana Health University in Indianapolis, said that while complication rates from knee and hip replacements are low, there are nutritional factors that can improve your odds of having the best recovery. Possible – which largely means fast wound healing and no post-operative infection.
This largely means eating a nutritious diet that contains enough protein to support healthy muscle and wound healing. Protein needs increase with age – a 150-pound adult needs about 88 grams of protein per day, but to promote wound healing, this increases to 102 grams. Since significant muscle loss can occur in the immediate aftermath of joint replacement surgery – which can weaken the immune system – Strange said it’s worth being in the best shape possible. Before surgery. Some of the most important tips:
- Stay hydrated (going for sedation while you’re dry is a bad idea).
- Get adequate amounts of vitamins A, B12, and C, as well as zinc and iron – micronutrients that play a direct role in wound healing and reduced risk of infection or both.
- Eat enough calories overall so that your body doesn’t have to turn to the protein you eat for energy – you want to use that protein for muscle health and wound healing.
The best place to start is to eat protein for three meals a day, and include colorful fruits and vegetables, and other high-quality carbohydrate foods, such as whole grains, beans, and lentils. Then add some fatty fish capsules or fish oil for omega-3 fats, which can help reduce inflammation after surgery.