Arthritis

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Arthritis week this year starts on the 21st September. According to the Arthritis New Zealand website more than half a million New Zealanders will have arthritis in their lifetime. There are more than 140 different types of arthritis. It can affect people of all ages from babies and toddlers through to adults.

While people may try restricting certain foods such as citrus fruit or tomatoes there is no evidence that this will help. As arthritis can be cyclical in its symptoms, it is often difficult to know if removing a food has genuinely helped. Unfortunately there is no scientifically proven diet for the management of arthritis, although gout (a type of arthritis) can be managed with diet (dietary principles of gout are discussed further on).

However, there are some general dietary things which are important to keep in mind when considering arthritis.

Weight Management

Weight gain does increase your risk of developing osteoarthritis as carrying extra weight puts stress on key joints such as knees, hips and the lower spine. Losing any weight or at the very least stabilising weight and stopping gradual weight gain helps with the management of osteoarthritis. Keeping as active as possible is important for weight management as well as maintaining joint function.

Calcium Intake

If you are taking corticosteroids for a long period of time it is important to ensure you have an adequate calcium intake. Steroids can deplete the bones of calcium, which will increase the risk of osteoporosis. The bones become thin, lose their strength and are therefore more likely to fracture.

Including calcium-rich foods in your diet is very important. Dairy products are the best source of calcium. In general, the low fat milks are calcium enriched so this is a good way to boost your calcium intake. If you are not including dairy products in your diet, then make sure that you choose other foods that are rich in calcium in your daily diet. These foods include wholegrain breads, fish with soft bones such as salmon, tofu, nuts and seeds. If you are using a non-dairy milk such as soy milk or rice milk, then choose one that has calcium added to it.

Dietary Supplements

While it appears that supplements, such as omega 3, omega 6 and Glucosamine, may have beneficial effects in the treatment of arthritis more long term studies are needed to clearly identify their role and action in the treatment of arthritis.

It is important that children with arthritis eat a well balanced diet. As for adults it is important to ensure they have a good calcium intake and vitamin D status to help maintain healthy bones, especially as they also need to meet needs to help with growth.

Some people with arthritis may become underweight. Achieving a healthy weight is important to help look after muscle mass and muscle strength, which in turn decreases the risks of falls. Some people may find that medication or pain interferes with appetite. Trying to eat at regular times and having small frequent snacks can be useful.

Gout

If you suffer from gout there are some dietary factors that can help in the relief of symptoms. Gout is caused by high uric acid levels in your blood which can lead to deposits of very small crystals in the joint. These crystal deposits lead to inflammation which is known as gout.

Our body has many chemical reactions occurring all the time. Uric acid is the end product of the breakdown of purine which is a type of protein. For some people, if they have a high intake of dietary purine it can lead to high uric acid levels. To help reduce the amount of uric acid your body makes it may be important to limit foods which are very high in purine such as offal and sardines. Also, try to reduce the serving sizes of meat and decrease the frequency of packet gravy, vegemite and marmite. Some vegetables are also linked to high purine levels, including mushrooms and spinach.

Other dietary goals in the treatment of gout include losing weight if you are overweight, having a good fluid intake, restricting alcohol and eating at regular times throughout the day.

Fiona Boyle

Fiona Boyle is a registered dietitian and nutritionist. She runs a private practice and gives nutrition advice to individuals and families to help meet their health needs and personal goals.

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