THE ROLE OF DIET IN ARTHRITIS
By HOWARD LYMAN: MAD COWBOY TURNED VEGAN
For years people have suspected that foods are an important factor in the development of rheumatoid arthritis. Many notice an improvement in their condition when they avoid dairy products, citrus fruits, tomatoes, eggplant and certain other foods.
Initially, the evidence was anecdotal. A woman from the Midwest once suffered from painful arthritis. Today she is a picture of health, thin and athletic, and her arthritis is totally gone. It seemed that dairy products were to blame for her arthritis, for when she eliminated them from her diet, the arthritis disappeared completely.
A 1989 survey of over one thousand arthritis patients revealed that the foods most commonly believed to worsen the condition were red meat, sugar, fats, salt, caffeine, and nightshade plants (e.g., tomatoes, eggplant). Once the offending food is eliminated completely, improvement usually comes within a few weeks. Dairy foods are one of the principle offenders, and the problem is the dairy protein, rather than the fat, so skim milk products are as much a problem as whole milk.
An increasing volume of research shows that certain dietary changes do in fact help. For example, polyunsaturated oils and omega-3 supplements have a mild beneficial effect, and researchers have found that vegan diets are beneficial. One 2002 study looked at the influence of a very low-fat vegan diet on subjects with moderate-to-severe RA. After only four weeks on the diet, almost all measures of RA symptoms decreased significantly. The Journal of Rheumatology published a study that found a gluten-free vegan diet improved the signs and symptoms of RA. An uncooked vegan diet, rich in antioxidants and fiber was shown in another study to decrease joint stiffness and pain in patients with RA. Some research studies have looked at fasting followed by a vegetarian or vegan diet. A review of multiple research studies concluded that this dietary treatment might be useful in the treatment of RA.
Vegan diets dramatically reduce the overall amount of fat in the diet, and alter the composition of fats. This in turn can affect the immune processes that influence arthritis. The omega-3 fatty acids in vegetables may be a key factor, along with the near absence of saturated fat. The fact that patients also lose weight on a vegan diet contributes to the improvement.
In addition, vegetables are rich in antioxidants, which can neutralize free radicals. Oxygen free radicals attack many parts of the body and contribute to heart disease and cancer, and intensify the aging processes generally, including of the joints.
Iron acts as a catalyst, encouraging the production of these dangerous molecules. Vitamins C and E, which are plentiful in a diet made of vegetables and grains, help neutralize free radicals. Meats supply an overload of iron, no vitamin C, and very little vitamin E, whereas vegetables contain more controlled amounts of iron, and generous quantities of antioxidant vitamins.
As well as being helpful in preventing arthritis, antioxidants may also have a role in reducing its symptoms. Some arthritis treatments, including non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, work at least in part by neutralizing free radicals. For the most part, however, vitamins and other antioxidants will be of more use in preventing damage before it occurs, rather than in treating an inflamed joint.
A diet drawn from fruits, vegetables, grains, and beans therefore appears to be helpful in preventing and, in some cases, ameliorating arthritis.
The Four-Week Anti-Arthritis Diet (adapted from Foods That Fight Pain, by Neal Barnard, M.D.) For four weeks, include generous amounts of foods from the pain-safe list in your routine. At the same time, scrupulously avoid the major triggers. It is important to avoid these foods completely, as even a small amount can cause symptoms.
You may well experience benefits earlier than four weeks, but for some people it can take this long for chronically inflamed joints to cool down.
Pain-safe foods virtually never contribute to arthritis or other painful conditions. Pain-safe foods include:
Cooked or dried fruits: cherries, cranberries, pears, prunes (but not citrus fruits, bananas, peaches or tomatoes)
Cooked green, yellow, and orange vegetables: artichokes, asparagus, broccoli, chard, collards, lettuce, spinach, string beans, summer or winter squash, sweet potatoes, tapioca, and taro (poi)
Water: plain water or carbonated forms, such as Perrier, are fine. Other beverages, even herbal teas, can be triggers.
Condiments: small amounts of salt, maple syrup, and vanilla extract are usually well-tolerated.
After four weeks, if your symptoms have improved or disappeared, the next step is to nail down which one or more of the trigger foods has been causing your problem. Simply reintroduce the foods you have eliminated back into your diet one at a time, every two days.
Have a generous amount of each newly reintroduced food, and see whether your joints flare up again. If so, eliminate the food that seems to have caused the problem, and let your joints cool down again. Then continue to reintroduce the other foods. Wait at least two weeks before trying a problem food a second time. Many people have more than one food trigger.
It is not recommended to bring meats, dairy products, or eggs back into your diet. Not only are they major triggers, but they also encourage hormone imbalances that may contribute to joint pain, and also lead to many other health problems.
Avoid Major Arthritis Triggers:
1. Dairy products* 2. Corn 3. Meats** 4. Wheat, oats, rye 5. Eggs 6. Citrus fruits 7. Potatoes 8. Tomatoes 9. Nuts 10. Coffee
*All dairy products should be avoided: skim or whole cow?s milk, goat?s milk, cheese, yogurt, etc.
**All meats should be avoided: beef, pork, chicken, turkey, fish, etc.
HOWARD LYMAN: MAD COWBOY TURNED VEGAN
You may savor the following excerpts from Howard Lyman's book "Mad Cowboy."
" There is, simply, a never-ending stream of good news about vegetarian food. In the words of Natalie Angier of the New York Times, "The truth is that the more researchers understand about the ingredients found in fruits, vegetables, beans, and herbs, the more impressed they are with the power of those compounds to retard the bodily breakdown that results in cancer and other chronic diseases.
But you never hear any good news about meat. You never switch on the news to learn that a medical study at Harvard has revealed that roast beef boosts the immune system, or that fried chicken helps prevent arthritis, or that ham is good for the prostate. There's not a single encouraging news tidbit about veal, say, aiding the gonads. Nothing positive ever turns up even about the highly-regarded turkey escalopes fontina. There's simply never anything health - enhancing that any researcher can uncover about flesh foods. Meanwhile, a torrent of revelations confirms the benefits of plant foods.
Some who are ignorant of the facts may tell you that you can't get enough protein on a vegetarian diet - but as we know, most Americans suffer from an unhealthy excess of protein. You will have absolutely no problem getting sufficient protein on a balanced vegetarian diet. Other naysayers may warn you that you're likely to become anemic. In fact, most vegetarians have very healthy hemoglobin levels; only those who eat a diet of junk foods and dairy products may run into problems.
Some sceptics may bring up the cloudier matter of vitamin B12. It's a fact that only animal foods contain substantial amounts of this vitamin (writer of this blog notes: tempeh contains B12, so does dulse seaweed and Brewer's yeast). The human need for vitamin B12 is miniscule - about 2 micrograms per day, and our bodies store this vitamin for a period of years. To be conservative, I recommend supplemental B12 found in many cereals , soy milks, and other packaged foods that are enriched with B12. Nutritonal yeast and textured vegetable protein are also good sources. Finally, all multivitamins -including vegetarian formulas - contain more B12 than you will ever need.
Never mind the statistics about heart attacks and cancer, never mind that vegetarians live longer than meat eaters, never mind the obesity rate that is the common result of an animal-based diet, never mind all the environmental reasons for a diet that is plant-based.
Study after study has linked the consumption of animal products to heart disease. When I say to you the consumption of meat, fish, poultry, and dairy products is the primary cause of atherosclerosis in nonsmokers, I am not just giving you my opinion; I am reporting a medical fact that has been established with as much scientific unanimity and consistency as the fact that smoking cigarettes dramatically increases the risk of lung cancer, emphysema, and heart disease.
As the noted preventative health care expert Dr. Jjulian Whitaker points out, 'Death from heart disease is as unnecessary as dying of drug abuse, yet it is taken as a normal thing.'
What would happen to all the jobs in the meat industry if the entire nation went vegetarian? They would be lost of course. Gone would be all the jobs in slaughterhouses - the most dangerous jobs in America as well as all the other foul jobs in meat processing, not to mention all the minmum-wage jobs flipping burgers.They would be replaced by even more jobs - safer, cleaner, more satisfying, and probably better-paying jobs - in the production and selling of organic, healthy, plant-based products. The savings in medical costs attributable to meat consumption, estimated at $28 to $61 billion annually, would be plowed back into the economy and boost its productivity enormously." - from "Mad Cowboy" by Howard Lyman