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Which foods can help my painful arthritis?

The question

I was recently diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis and unfortunately, it is a disease that has no cure. I want to know is there something I can incorporate in my diet that can relieve the symptoms (like stiffness, inflammation and joint pain etc) and improve my quality of life?

The answer

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Yes, there are foods and supplements that can help reduce joint inflammation and discomfort. Rheumatoid arthritis is one of the most severe types of arthristis: it's a debilitating disease caused when the body's immune system attacks its own joints causing inflammation.

Adopting a Mediterranean-style diet – one that's rich in fruits, vegetables, legumes, olive oil and contains little red meat – may help. Researchers have found that arthritis patients taking conventional medication who followed a Mediterranean diet had fewer inflamed joints and improved physical functioning than those assigned to a control diet.

The hallmark foods of a Mediterranean diet provide monounsaturated fat (olive oil), antioxidants (fruits and vegetables), vitamins and minerals thought to reduce inflammation in the body.

You might consider moving towards a vegetarian diet. A number of studies have demonstrated that a strict vegetarian diet can bring about long-term improvements in arthritis symptoms. Plant foods are believed to reduce inflammation and promote the growth of friendly bacteria in the gut that boost the immune system. Other research has demonstrated the benefits of a vegetarian diet that eliminates gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye and barley. If you're considering the vegetarian route, I recommend you consult a registered dietitian to ensure your diet provides all the nutrients you need.

At the very least, increase your intake of antioxidant-rich foods. Inflammatory immune compounds generate free radicals, compounds thought to cause tissue damage in people with rheumatoid arthritis. When scientists have examined the blood and joint fluid of arthritis suffers, they've found increased free radical activity and lower levels of antioxidants – compounds that defend against free radicals – such as vitamins C and E, beta carotene and selenium.

The best food sources of vitamin C are citrus fruit, cantaloupe, kiwi, mango, strawberries, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and red pepper. Vitamin E rich foods include wheat germ, nuts, seeds, whole grains and kale.

To increase your intake of beta-carotene include dark green and orange produce in your daily diet such as carrots, sweet potato, winter squash, kale, spinach, apricots, peaches, mango and papaya.

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Selenium is found in seafood, chicken, whole grains, nuts, onions, garlic and mushrooms.

Research suggests that taking fish oil, alone or in combination with arthritis medications, reduces the number of tender joints and morning stiffness, improves walking distance and reduces pain.

Fish oil contains omega-3 fatty acids that hinder the body's production of inflammatory immune compounds. Most studies have used a dose of fish oil that provides 3.8 grams EPA and 2 grams DHA per day, an amount that's easier to get from a liquid fish oil supplement than a capsule. (One fish oil capsule contains much less DHA and EPA than one teaspoon of liquid fish oil.)

Send dietitian Leslie Beck your questions at She will answer select questions, which could appear in The Globe and Mail and/or on The Globe and Mail web site. Your name will not be published if your question is chosen.

Read more Q&As from Leslie Beck.

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The content provided in The Globe and Mail's Ask a Health Expert centre is for information purposes only and is neither intended to be relied upon nor to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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