How Diet Affects Inflammation
Arthritis is one of many common pain conditions affecting more than 54 million people in the United States. The swelling and tenderness of joints can cause pain, stiffness, and a decreased range of motion, all symptoms that tend to worsen with age. There are several forms of arthritis with the most common cases being osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Although arthritis causes chronic pain and interferes with the lives of so many individuals, many people may not consider diet as a form of treatment.
Several studies have shown that certain components of food may have anti-inflammatory effects, just as certain components of foods may also have inflammatory effects. On average Americans consume about 17 teaspoons of added sugar per day. In reality, we should be consuming six teaspoons per day or less. With the amount of highly processed foods that have become staples for many people, avoiding added sugars can seem difficult. However, research shows that consuming too much added sugar does lead to chronic inflammation, something that can worsen arthritis and inflammatory conditions. By consuming too much sugar insulin tries to store the excess within fat cells. Over time, this process can lead to weight gain which also plays a part in inflammation and joint health. The loss of just one pound can reduce the load weight on the knees by four pounds.
Trans fats are another cause for increased inflammation in the body. Adding trans fats can increase the shelf life for food items but researchers have found that there is no level of trans fats that’s considered safe to consume. Trans fats raise LDL levels and lower HDL levels in the body. Essentially, LDL is bad cholesterol and HDL is good cholesterol. Trans fats can be disguised on food labels being listed as hydrogenated oils or partially hydrogenated oils on the ingredients list. Along with trans fats can be saturated fats which also cause inflammation. Saturated fat is typically high in red and processed meats including bacon, hot dogs, deli meats, sausage, and jerky.
Refined carbs have become another mainstay in the standard American diet. These types of carbohydrates are highly processed and affect the body very similarly to high amounts of added sugars. Refined carbohydrates hit the bloodstream quickly causing a spike in blood sugar. This spike creates an inflammatory response, therefore, increasing inflammation. Refined carbs come from primarily white flour products such as breads, crackers, and sugary cereals.
What to Eat to Reduce Arthritis Pain & Inflammation
Foods that naturally reduce inflammation also reduce chronic disease such as diabetes, metabolic disorders, and cardiovascular disease. In order to reap these benefits individuals should focus on consuming foods that are high in natural antioxidants and polyphenols. Polyphenols are notable for their anti-inflammatory effects as they regulate the cellular activity of inflammatory cells. Fruits and vegetables, particularly apples, blueberries and cruciferous vegetables otherwise known as leafy greens are excellent sources of polyphenols and antioxidants.
The Mediterranean diet has proven to be very effective in reducing inflammation. This style of eating focuses on consuming fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains, fish, and healthy oils. The Mediterranean diet naturally eliminates many of the high inflammatory foods mentioned above such as added sugars, processed meats, and refined carbohydrates. Brightly colored foods contain higher concentrations of carotenoids which aid in decreasing inflammation. The Mediterranean diet easily incorporates a colorful menu with the high intake of fruits and vegetables. Oranges, bell peppers, tangerine, papayas, and pumpkin all contain carotenoids. One Swedish study found that individuals suffering from rheumatoid arthritis who followed a Mediterranean diet and increased consumption of colorful fruits and vegetables for three months reduced inflammation and enhanced joint function.
Low levels of vitamin D have also been linked to osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Additional research shows that osteoarthritis worsens three times faster in individuals that are vitamin D deficient. Oily fish and orange juice are both rich in vitamin D and a natural way to increase vitamin D levels.
Food is often overlooked as a form of medicine despite the fact that it plays such a large role in how our bodies operate. The wrong foods can cause our bodies to work against us and increase symptoms of conditions like arthritis, but the right foods can make all the difference. Fruits and vegetables, minimally processed foods, and healthy fats can all help reduce inflammation and arthritis pain.