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Treating painful arthritis
The right foods and exercise can help ease arthritis pain

Date published: 3/27/2005

QI'm 29 years old and was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis at age 16. I used to take fish oil tablets as recommended for rheumatoid arthritis. Now looking back, I'm not sure if I was getting enough. I'm curious if you recommend any fish oil supplement brand specifically, and any other anti-inflammatory diet ideas you may have.

--J.R., Fredericksburg

AMy heart is with you--rheumatoid arthritis is a painful disease. When the body's immune system attacks joints, they can become swollen and sometimes deformed, making everyday activities painful. About one in 100 people has rheumatoid arthritis. It is less common than the "wear-and-tear" type of osteoarthritis suffered by many older people.

As you know, the first line of treatment for rheumatoid arthritis is prescription medicine provided by your doctor. Good nutrition can complement this treat-ment but not replace it.

There is limited evidence that emphasizing fish oil and avoiding trans fats may be helpful. I don't recommend any particular brand of fish oil. Certain vitamins and culinary herbs may also be helpful and have anti-inflammatory effects.

Other important nondrug treatments include physical therapy and exercise. Meditation and acupuncture may be helpful, as well.

Who's at risk

People who have rheumatoid arthritis are more likely to have been smokers.

And a recent British study of 25,000 people showed that those who ate the most red meat were twice as likely to develop rheumatoid arthritis.

Scientists are unsure whether tobacco and meat actually trigger rheumatoid arthritis or if they are just markers for a lifestyle that is somehow linked to the disease. However, it could be helpful to to avoid smoke, even secondhand smoke, and to substitute chicken, fish, eggs and beans for red meat most of the time.

Eating lots of olive oil, oil-rich fish, fruits and vegetables seemed to reduce the risk of rheumatoid arthritis, according to another British review.

Eating through the pain

A small study showed that a lacto-vegetarian diet may help decrease symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. This involved avoiding meat, poultry and eggs and instead eating milk, yogurt, cheese, fruits, vegetables and grains. Participants also took fish oil supplements.


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