(NaturalHealth365) “Let food be thy medicine.” Fifth-century physician Hippocrates, also known as the Father of Medicine, is credited with first uttering this aphorism. And modern research continues to confirm its wisdom – especially when it comes to treating rheumatoid arthritis – a chronic inflammatory autoimmune disease that affects roughly 1 percent of the global population.
In a relatively new scientific review, the authors resoundingly endorse the ability of specific foods to protect against rheumatoid arthritis – and to reduce painful, debilitating symptoms. Unfortunately, Western medicine has a hard time agreeing that diet can rid the body of pain. (And, big pharma will never admit it!)
ATTENTION rheumatoid arthritis patients: No more ‘secrets’ when it comes to the best diets for pain relief
The review, published in Frontiers in Nutrition, was authored by a team of scientists led by Dr. Bhawna Gupta, a researcher at the Disease Biology Lab at the School of Biotechnology, KIIT University, India.
After examining the results of extensive studies, the researchers concluded that dietary interventions can complement existing RA treatments – and substantially improve symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis such as pain, joint stiffness and disability.
The team noted that “remarkable” effects were achieved by a seven- to ten- day medically supervised partial fast (featuring vegetable broths, herbal teas, and carrot, beet and celery juices) that was followed up by a year of a calorie-controlled vegan diet.
RA patients experienced decreased joint swelling and pain, accompanied by lower levels of inflammatory markers such as C-reactive protein. In addition, their ESR scores (erythrocyte sedimentation rates, a measure of inflammation) improved markedly.
Researchers have long suspected that dietary interventions could be helpful in treating RA. Many rheumatoid arthritis patients have disrupted gut microflora, and there is a strong association between “leaky gut” – increased intestinal permeability – and RA.
The researchers noted that ketones produced as a result of fasting can help suppress the release of pro-inflammatory molecules. And, simply changing the diet to avoid animal products could cause reductions in immune-reactivity to certain food antigens.
For the same reason, the “elimination diet,” which is free of allergens, preservatives and additives, can be beneficial in treating RA.
But, dietary interventions for RA involve much more than simply reducing inflammatory foods. Consuming certain anti-inflammatory foods can produce dramatic results as well – and this is where the Mediterranean diet shines.
Flavorful Mediterranean fare can be the first line of defense against RA
The Mediterranean diet involves abundant amounts of fresh fruits, vegetables, legumes and nuts, along with high-quality proteins such as wild-caught fish and (unrefined) carbohydrates from whole grains.
The diet provides healthy amounts of dietary fibers and beneficial fats, and is particularly rich in polyphenols – plant compounds with bioactive effects. In fact, scientists say that the Mediterranean diet can provide a whopping 1,500 mg of polyphenols per day.
Polyphenols have been credited with anticancer, anti-diabetic, anti-obesity and anti-allergenic qualities.
Unsurprisingly, the polyphenol-rich Mediterranean diet has been found to reduce the rates of heart disease and prolong quality of life.
In the review, the authors examined staple foods of the Mediterranean diet – and found that they helped to reduce levels of inflammatory cytokines, such as TNF-a, IL-1 and IL-6.
For example, blueberries, blackberries, black soybean and eggplant are all rich in anthocyanins – antioxidant plant pigments found in purplish or blue fruits and vegetables. Studies have shown that anthocyanins increase levels of beneficial superoxide dismutase in the body, while decreasing levels of pro-inflammatory molecules and harmful malondiadehyde, or MDA.
Resveratrol – found in grapes – and mangiferin in mangos both lower oxidative stress, cut the release of inflammatory cytokines and protect joints and tissues. In fact, researchers reported that mangiferin actually “prevented destruction” of joints – a powerful (but proven) claim!
Grapefruits contain a flavonoid known as kaempferol, which reduce molecules that destroy bone and articular cartilage. And pineapple is loaded with the anti-inflammatory digestive enzyme bromelain, which caused “promising” results for RA patients in a study cited by the authors. (20 to 40 mg of bromelain 3 to 4 times a day for 13 months improved RA symptoms substantially – with absolutely no unwanted side effects).
And, olive oil – a keystone of the Mediterranean diet – is rich in beneficial oleic acid. Extensive studies show that olive oil is both therapeutic and protective when it comes to RA.
Not only does it help treat symptoms, but this healthy oil reduces the risk of developing the disease in the first place. Just be sure to purchase a quality brand, the olive oil industry is filled with low quality (low polyphenol count) products.
Other constituents work hand-in-glove with polyphenols to battle RA
Researchers also noted the benefits of the healthy amounts of soluble and insoluble dietary fiber provided by the Mediterranean diet. Fibrous whole grains such as whole wheat, wild rice, oats and barley are rich in the antioxidant and disease-fighting mineral selenium, as well as in antioxidant vitamin E.
Spices – particularly ginger and turmeric – are important players in the fight against inflammation as well, with one important study showing that a blend of ginger and turmeric had protective effects against rheumatoid arthritis. In fact, curcumin in turmeric not only blocks release of pro-inflammatory IL-1 and IL-6 – but also helps prevent oxidative stress caused by pharmaceutical RA medications.
Finally, the researchers endorsed probiotic and prebiotic foods in the Mediterranean diet. Probiotic foods are defined as those that contain beneficial live microbes, while prebiotic foods provide non-digestible fibers that serve as food for the bacteria.
The team credited Lactobacillus casei, a bacteria found in yogurt, with powerful anti-inflammatory effects – and reported that it even helped make pharmaceutical RA medications, such as methotrexate, more effective.
Researchers identify the “ideal meal” for RA patients
In concluding the review, the authors expressed their hope that beneficial compounds from foods could be used to develop new medicines and nutraceuticals – which would not only be cheaper than chemically-tailored medications, but also free of side effects.
And, they outlined an “ideal meal” for relief of rheumatoid arthritis symptoms – which could contain fresh seasonal fruits, raw or moderately cooked vegetables spiced with turmeric and ginger, along with a probiotic food such as yogurt, and a source of omega-3 fatty acids, such as fish.
Of course, the menu includes many of the beneficial whole foods that natural health experts have been recommending (for quite some time, to prevent disease and maintain optimal health.
While following a Mediterranean diet is a wise choice for RA sufferers, experts recommend consulting a knowledgeable dietitian (or health coach), who can help tailor a plan suited to your individual needs.
Sources for this article include:
Food & Nutrition
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