Arthritis is a catchall term to describe conditions that cause swelling of the joints and surrounding tissues. Most types of arthritis cause pain in the joints, where the two bones meet. Many myths surround the reported benefits of a healthy arthritis diet, exercise, and supplements for relief of joint pain symptoms. Let’s set the record straight on six of these arthritis diet and lifestyle myths.
Myth #1: All types of arthritis are the same.
There are several different types of arthritis. The two most common types are rheumatoid arthritis (RA), an inflammatory autoimmune disease that affects joints and bones, and osteoarthritis (OA), which commonly affects the joints in the hands, knees, and hips.
Those with RA may lose joint function due to inflammation of the synovial membrane that protects and lubricates joints causing pain and swelling. People with RA may also have a fever and feel sick and tired. Early treatment for RA can help slow and prevent joint damage and improve overall well-being and physical functioning.
OA is the most common form of arthritis and one of the most frequent causes of disability among older people. With OA, joint cartilage breaks down causing bones to rub up against each other leading to stiffness and pain.
The bottom line:
Not everyone who has “arthritis” experiences the same symptoms or can find relief from the same remedies. If you have arthritis, you likely either have RA or OA. Arthritis diet and lifestyle tips are specific to the type of arthritis you may have.
Myth # 2: People with arthritis can’t possibly predict changes in weather due to joint pain.
Maybe you know someone who claims “I can feel it in my joints” when the weather is about to change. And maybe they are right.
A study of 810 adults with OA in the knee, hip and/or hand examined whether changes in weather had an impact on joint pain. The researchers concluded that changes in humidity, especially humidity in colder weather, could increase joint pain. They also found that other weather changes such as atmospheric pressure, precipitation, temperature, and even wind speed could have an impact on joint pain.
The bottom line:
It is possible for people to predict specific weather changes due to joint pain. An important goal with arthritis is to manage joint pain for an improved quality of life. If your pain intensifies due to weather, this is an opportunity to understand better how arthritis affects you and how to manage your pain.
Myth # 3: A healthy arthritis diet does not include nightshades.
What do tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, and potatoes have in common? They are part of the Solanaceae family of plants, often called nightshades. Some favorite books and websites claim that you should nix these foods from your diet. The reason? These sources claim that nightshades cause inflammation. However, there is no conclusive research to support this claim. Therefore, you should not completely remove them from your diet unless you have a sensitivity.
Nightshades are a healthy addition to the diet for most people. Capsaicin, which gives peppers their spiciness, is a powerful anti-inflammatory and pain reliever. Purple and yellow potatoes contain antioxidants including phenolic acids, anthocyanins, and carotenoids which can prevent cellular damage.
The bottom line:
The colorful vegetables in the nightshade category are healthful and can help reduce inflammation and alleviate joint pain. If you think you are sensitive to certain nightsides, work with a registered dietitian nutritionist to help you identify which of these foods may be causing you some trouble. Even with a sensitivity, it’s rare that all nightshade vegetables will need to be removed from your diet.
Myth # 4: Glucosamine and chondroitin can help with OA symptoms, but if you don’t experience relief right away, don’t bother.
Your body makes glucosamine naturally, and it is one of the building blocks for growth, repair, and maintenance of cartilage. Chondroitin also occurs naturally in the body and helps to give cartilage its elasticity. They help cartilage absorb water and stay lubricated.
Although not every study shows benefit, supplemental glucosamine and chondroitin may offer some joint health benefits. It is essential to take these supplements in the correct form and to stick with them long enough to see if they can work for you.
The bottom line:
Those who benefit from glucosamine and chondroitin may notice some relief from pain or stiffness as soon as after one month of regular use. However, taking them for more extended periods of time may provide more significant effects. Research suggests that glucosamine and chondroitin supplementation may also help to slow the loss of joint cartilage caused by OA. However, it may take two to three years of use to have this structural effect.
Be sure to take glucosamine sulfate, since glucosamine hydrochloride, which is commonly available in supplements, may not be effective. It is recommended to take glucosamine and chondroitin separately since research suggests that less glucosamine is absorbed when the two are taken at the same time.
Myth # 5: Eating gelatin or bone broth can improve joint cushioning.
When you eat gelatin, this does not directly benefit your joints or alleviate pain from arthritis.
The same goes for collagen-rich bones which are boiled for a long time, such as the process to make bone broth. Although bone broth is a good source of protein, and some other nutrients, there is little research to back up its many health claims.
Some studies suggest joint health benefits from collagen hydrolysate, a specific form of collagen. However, research results are mixed.
The bottom line:
Your body’s digestive system does not know the difference between a protein eaten in the form of gelatin or bone broth compared to the protein found in black beans or chicken. During digestion, your body breaks down proteins into amino acids, which enter the bloodstream and are taken up by cells in the body. By eating a healthful, balanced diet, your digestive tract will break down these foods into nutrients and supply your entire body, including your joints and collagen, with what you need for optimal health.
Myth # 6: People with arthritis should not exercise since it can increase pain and inflammation.
Regular exercise is helpful to keep your joints strong and working properly.
Strength training and cardiovascular activity are both useful for those with RA. Physical activity can help reduce muscle wasting, also called cachexia. Cachexia is a symptom of RA that can lead to fatigue and disability.
Those with OA should participate in both muscle-building and aerobic exercise. These types of exercise can suppress inflammation, improve joint function, and reduce pain. They can help control body weight too, which is vital since being overweight can make OA symptoms worse.
The bottom line:
If you are not exercising, start today. Begin slowly with 10 minutes of moderately intense physical activity per day, five days a week. Walking is an excellent example of a moderately intense exercise. Over time you can work up to being active for 30 minutes most days of the week.
Although it is common for people to want to avoid “overdoing it” with exercise, people who exercise strenuously, such as marathon runners, have a lower risk of arthritis than non-runners. Researchers believe the lower risk is due to reduced inflammation, improved muscle development, and lower body weights among the marathoners studied.
If you have arthritis, however, you don’t need to start training for a marathon to find relief from symptoms. Exercising moderately five days a week spreads out the activity and allows frequent joint movement. Doing too much at one time, such as exercising only on the weekends, can be harder on your joints.
Although the cause of arthritis is not well understood, many things can alleviate pain, swelling, and stiffness. Speak to your healthcare practitioner, if you need help getting started with healthier habits.
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