Can an Anti-Inflammatory Diet Improve Your Health and Reduce Pain?
by Lisa DiFalco
A healthier diet has become a focus for many. While the Mediterranean diet has long since received a green light, what is known about the “anti-inflammatory” diet and can it help individuals improve their health? Can certain foods reduce levels of inflammation in a person’s body and help those with arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis and other similar conditions decrease the frequency and severity of flare-ups?
Get an overview of the anti-inflammatory diet, how it compares to the Mediterranean diet and understand some of the benefits for patients with arthritis.
The Mediterranean Diet
The Mediterranean diet is well-known for offering a variety of health benefits including potentially cutting womb cancer risk and improving cognitive function. Previous blogs mentioned the basic elements of a Mediterranean diet. Close adherents of the diet generally consumed:
- An array of fruits, vegetables and nuts
- Pulses, cereals and potatoes
- Fish and monounsaturated fats
- Small amounts of dairy products and meat
- Alcohol in moderation
The Mayo Clinic adds other key components of the diet and lifestyle. Other factors include:
- Regular exercise and physical activity
- Moderate consumption of red wine
- Eating with friends and family
- Consuming fish and poultry at least twice per week
- Having red meat only a few times a month
- Relying on spices and herbs to flavor meals
- Making plant-based foods the majority of a meal
A Mediterranean diet may improve heart health, in addition to memory function and more. However, should some individuals take their diet a step further and look into trying an anti-inflammatory diet? How do the two diets differ and what makes an anti-inflammatory diet beneficial for some patients?
The Anti-Inflammatory Diet and Arthritis
For any individuals with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), it has been found that some of the foods found in the Mediterranean diet may help control inflammation. Like in the Mediterranean diet, fish is a staple in the anti-inflammatory diet. Cold water fish should be consumed twice a week. In addition to fish, other foods that appear to help reduce signs of inflammation include:
- Berries and green vegetables: blueberries, cherries, blackberries, kale, spinach and broccoli support the immune system and are rich in antioxidants
- Nuts: almonds, pistachios, pine nuts and walnuts are recommended to provide inflammation-fighting monounsaturated fat
- Beans: this inexpensive source of protein and fiber also supports health with potassium and a range of minerals
- Extra-virgin olive oil: oleocanthal is a compound in olive oil that may lower inflammation and associated discomfort
- Onions: raw, sautéed or grilled, onions appear to reduce inflammation, “bad” cholesterol levels and heart disease risk
- Fiber: foods with carotenoids, found in carrots and some fruits, may be a natural way to lower C-reactive protein (CRP), an indicator of inflammation
Many of the foods above are found in both the anti-inflammatory diet and the Mediterranean diet. These foods support the health needs of the average person and may address inflammation and other symptoms naturally.
Key Differences in an Anti-Inflammatory Diet
Some differences when following an anti-inflammatory approach in a diet is the potential reduction or avoidance of nightshades. Tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and potatoes are part of the staple foods in the Mediterranean diet. For some with arthritis, they may trigger a flare-up. However, more evidence is needed to support the link. Individuals are encouraged to eliminate nightshades from their diet for two weeks before reintroducing them. See if the change in diet reduces the severity and frequency of flare-ups.
Another difference is the consumption of red wine. While those following a Mediterranean diet are encouraged to enjoy a glass of wine with a meal, individuals with RA who are looking to reduce their inflammation may need to limit any alcohol consumption. While red wine may deliver resveratrol, a compound that may reduce inflammation, RA patients taking methotrexate and similar medications may not be able to enjoy such beverages. Such a consideration may extend to other patients taking medications that may interact poorly with alcohol.
In both the Mediterranean and an anti-inflammatory approach, a diet relying on whole foods and eschewing processed foods, including chips and cookies, is recommended. Those with inflammatory conditions should stay away from the unhealthy fats delivered in processed foods and junk food. It is also important to be mindful of the sodium levels in some canned goods. Canned soups and vegetables may include unusually high levels of salt. Choose fresh or frozen vegetable options and either low sodium canned soups or make soup from scratch and freeze extra for later. Salt has been found to have a direct relationship to high blood pressure and fluid retention. Corticosteroids can allow the body to retain excess sodium. Those with RA should consider reducing sodium intake and to try adding spices and herbs as a tasty swap.
Other Dietary Considerations
A variety of different foods may help those experiencing different forms of arthritis. Some foods appear to help reduce the severity of symptoms naturally. An antioxidant in green tea may slow the progression of joint damage. A study on green tea’s anti-inflammatory effect was published in the International Journal of Rheumatic Diseases in May 2015. Those with osteoarthritis (OA) may experience a significant reduction in pain when following a plant-based diet. While dairy consumption in women with osteoarthritis appeared to slow progression in a study, high cheese consumption appeared to aggravate OA. Variations to the anti-inflammatory diet may be needed to support the health needs of those diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, gout and osteoporosis.
More patients are looking to address health issues starting with their diet. Healthcare professionals, nutritionists and case workers who learn more about the types of diets available and their benefits may help patients with arthritis, cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure manage their condition using dietary changes as one component. Resources on different dietary approaches and easy recipes are available to help patients take important steps that may eventually reduce their need for certain medications. Patients with arthritis and related conditions and health professionals can explore an anti-inflammatory diet for themselves and experience the potential health benefits starting today.