By: Nikki Nies
Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) is a chronic inflammatory disorder that often impacts one’s extremities–hands and feet. Impacting more than 1.3 million Americans, RA is an autoimmune disease and can last several years without displaying symptoms. Symptoms can begin in childhood, called juvenile RA. With progression, it can lead to joint destruction and functional disability.
The joint inflammation of RA can lead to stiffness, pain, swelling and/or stiffness in joints. Additionally, pain can occur in the tendons, ligaments and/or muscles.
The direct cause of RA is unknown, yet it’s suspected viruses, bacteria and/or fungi may play a contributory role. There may be some hereditary contributions to the cause, but information on specific genes is not concrete. While the exact trigger of RA is also unknown, it’s understood when RA does develop, it promotes inflammation in the joints and possibly surrounding areas/organs. Lymphocytes (i.e. TNF, interleukin-6)are expressed in the inflamed area.
Periods of flare ups and remission is common, with fluctuating levels of pain. Furthermore, fatigue, loss of appetite, fever, muscle aches, low energy and/or stiffness may be exhibited. Joints may become red, tender and/or swollen due to the lining of the tissue becoming inflamed.
- Sex: Women are more likely to develop RA than men
- Age: While it can occur at any age, there’s an increased risk of development between 40-80 years old
- Family History: If a family member has RA, you may be at increased risk
In the early stages of RA, it can be difficult to diagnose as the pain and inflammation could be due to another underlying cause. Secondly, there’s no specific physical or blood test that can be used to confirm the diagnosis. However, during a physical exam, a physician may check one’s reflexes, muscle strength and/or your joints for swelling, warmth and redness.
Those with RA have the tendency to have an elevated erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR or sed rate), which is indicative of inflammation in the body. Blood tests may look for rheumatoid factor and anti-cyclic citrullinated peptide (anti-CCP) antibodies.
Complications can include osteoporosis and chronic anemia. There’s no specific cure to RA, yet there are some proactive nutrition recommendations suggested to alleviate pain and inflammation:
- Simplify meal prep–i.e. purchase precut veggies and fruits
- Support immune system by consume antioxidant rich food (i.e. carotenoids, vitamin E, selenium and vitamin D)
- Restrict sodium intake if needed
- If there’s elevated homocysteine levels or hyperlipidemia present, may need to limit fat intake
- If malnourished, it’s encouraged to consume a high protein, calorie diet
- If methotrexate’s used, increase folic acid rich foods or supplements
- Make sure to stay hydrated regularly with adequate fluids
- Since olive oil contains oleocanthal, a natural anti-inflammatory agent, it’s recommended as the “go to” oil
While RA can become a debilitating disease, don’t let it stop you from enjoying life to the fullest. With these nutrition recommendations, inflammation can be alleviated!
Escott-Stump, Sylvia. (2008) Nutrition and diagnosis-related care /Philadelphia : Wolters Kluwer Health/Lippincott Williams & Wilkins,