Arthritis is a catchall term to describe conditions that cause swelling of the joints and surrounding tissues. In the United States, 23% of all adults have some type of arthritis. It’s a common condition, and there is a lot of misinformation surrounding arthritis and how to keep joint pain at bay. Let’s set the record straight on five of these arthritis diet and lifestyle myths.
Myth #1: All types of arthritis are the same.
RA is an autoimmune disorder that affects the lining of your joints, causing pain and inflammation. It commonly affects joints in the hands, knees, and ankles, and usually affects the same joint on both sides of the body. As RA progresses, it may affect larger body systems like the heart, skin, eyes, and lungs. Eventually, RA can cause bone erosion and joint deformity.
OA is the most common form of arthritis, affecting over 32.5 million adults in the United States. While RA is an autoimmune disease, OA is related to gradual “wear and tear.” OA occurs when the cartilage between bones breaks down over time, causing pain, stiffness, and swelling. Although it can affect any joint, it most commonly occurs in the hands, feet, hips, and spine.
The bottom line:
There are many types of arthritis, but two of the most common are rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis. If you are experiencing difficulty with your joints, it is best to visit your healthcare provider to find out the best ways to manage your symptoms and maintain your quality of life.
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 if weather changes 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:
Weather changes may play a role in joint pain, and it’s unclear why some may be affected more by weather than others. Tune in to your body to help understand your arthritis triggers and better 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 popular 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.
Nightshades are a healthy addition to the diet for most people, so you don’t need to completely remove them from your diet unless you have a sensitivity. For example, capsaicin, a plant compound in peppers responsible for their spiciness has powerful anti-inflammatory properties that may help relieve pain. Purple and yellow potatoes contain antioxidants including phenolic acids, anthocyanins, and carotenoids, which can help keep your cells healthy.
The bottom line:
Colorful vegetables in the nightshade category are packed with powerful antioxidants and nutrients that 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 identify which of these foods may affect you. Even with sensitivity, it’s rare that you will need to remove all nightshade vegetables from your diet.
Myth # 4: Eating gelatin or bone broth can improve joint cushioning.
Collagen is the most abundant protein in the body – it helps provide structure to your skin, bones, and connective tissue. It’s also a main component of cartilage, which helps cushion your joints.
Gelatin and bone broth are both made from broken-down collagen. But just because these foods contain collagen doesn’t mean that they directly increase collagen in the human body. When you consume either bone broth or gelatin, your body breaks it down even further into amino acids, which are the building blocks that make up all the proteins in your body. Your body will use these where it needs them most – to build, repair, and maintain muscle, cartilage, and other tissues.
The bottom line:
While gelatin and bone broth can be part of a healthy diet, they’re unlikely to be the miracle you’ve been searching for. They’re both high in protein and provide essential amino acids that help build, maintain, and repair your tissues (including collagen). Still, they won’t directly increase the collagen in your body or magically alleviate your joint pain.
Myth # 5: People with arthritis should not exercise since it can increase pain and inflammation.
Regular exercise is one of the best ways to keep your joints healthy and functioning properly and can help reduce joint pain and stiffness. Physical activity can also help promote a healthy body weight, which can relieve pressure from your joints.
Incorporate a variety of exercises to keep your routine fresh. Consider low-impact activities like walking, cycling, or water aerobics to get your heart rate up, and try simple stretches or even yoga to maintain your flexibility and range-of-motion. Don’t forget about strength exercises – these keep your muscles strong to help support the joints around them. Make sure you start slow and work with your healthcare team to design an exercise program that is appropriate for you.
The bottom line:
Physical activity is vital in keeping your joints in working order, so find an exercise program appropriate for you and outrun (or out-walk) your joint pain. Start slow, listen to your body, and gradually work up to about 30 minutes of physical activity most days of the week.
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 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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