Arthritis is a disease caused by inflammation in the joints that often leads to pain and deformity. Among the most common types are osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and psoriatic arthritis. While not likely the sole cause of arthritis, certain foods can contribute to pain and joint damage due to the inflammation-inducing compounds they contain.
Omega-6 Fatty Acids
Like omega-3 and -9 fatty acids, omega-6 fatty acids are essential for optimal health. While some omega-6s actually reduce inflammation, certain members of this family can have deleterious effects on arthritis.
According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, arachidonic acid—a substance in the omega-6 family—produces compounds called eicosanoids, which increase inflammation, blood pressure, allergic reactions and other negative processes. Foods containing high levels of omega-6 fatty acids include mayonnaise and cottonseed, soybean and corn oils.
Saturated and Trans Fats
While some types of fat can reduce the inflammation that leads to arthritic pain, trans fats and saturated fats are known to worsen inflammation. Often referred to as "bad" fats, these substances are also a major cause of weight gain and obesity, which puts extra strain on joints over time.
Trans and saturated fats can be found in most fried foods, pre-packaged meals and fast foods. Foods that rank highest in bad fats include milk products like butter and cheese, fatty cuts of meat like beef and pork and substances like margarine that contain hydrogenated oils.
Nightshade vegetables have long been at the top of the list of foods suspected to worsen arthritis symptoms. According to TrustedHands.com, one-in-three arthritis sufferers reacts negatively to nightshade vegetables. Foods in this family contain a compound called solanine, which disrupts enzymes in muscles and is thought to be responsible for their negative effects on arthritis. Eggplant, tomato, potato and tobacco are among the foods belonging to the nightshade family.
Despite the warnings about nightshades and arthritis, foods from this family contain valuable nutrients and shouldn’t be avoided entirely unless a direct cause-and-effect relationship has been established.
Food allergens are proteins in certain foods that set off complex immune reactions when ingested. The list of potential food allergens is endless, but some of the most common include eggs, wheat, milk and soy.
Eating foods to which one is sensitive or allergic can cause problems for arthritis patients, particularly those with rheumatoid arthritis. According to ArthritisToday.org, the intestinal fluid of patients with rheumatoid arthritis often contains greater levels of antibodies against common food allergens like cow’s milk and cereal grains than is present in those without the disease. These antibodies then accumulate in joints, where they cause pain and inflammation.
Maintaining a healthy weight is especially important for arthritis patients, as excess weight causes unnecessary strain on joints. A diet high in fiber and healthy carbohydrates, fats and proteins can help prevent obesity, as can daily exercise. Arthritis patients are generally advised to avoid high-impact exercise like running in favor of gentler workouts like swimming, yoga and weight-bearing exercise.
If food allergies or sensitivities are suspected, a simple blood exam like the ELISA test can help pinpoint problem substances. Once food allergies are detected, a nutritionist can help advise a well-balanced diet that focuses on fighting inflammation and reducing pain.