Diet and Arthritis
The majority of arthritis patients, representing all socioeconomic classes and educational backgrounds, spend billions of dollars annually on unproven remedies. Prominent among these questionable or controversial remedies are diets. Although not well studied until recently, scientific data do not support an important role for diet in treatments for most patients.
Much has been written about food allergies and arthritis in the popular press, but most of the information does not meet recognized standards of scientific validity. Preliminary observations considered to be scientifically acceptable have identified some patients whose arthritis was aggravated by certain foods. Researchers, however, believe that these patients represent a very small percentage of arthritis sufferers. A few patients with rheumatic disease experience symptoms of arthritis that might be manifestations of food allergies. In a small number of other patients, certain types of diets might affect the immunologically mediated inflammation that occurs with arthritis. Additional studies are needed to better define and identify these patients, their prevalence, the impact of foods on their disease, and the implications for other arthritis sufferers.
A number of substances, including copper, zinc, vitamin B, fish oils, and plant seed oils, have also been claimed to be helpful for arthritis patients. In general, the evidence to support these claims has been scant. A number of studies examining the effects of fish and other oil ingestion on symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis showed only modest decreases in certain symptoms, such as the number of tender joints and time of fatigue. Available information, however, has not yet shown major clinical benefits of fish oil for most patients with rheumatic diseases.
Prolonged fasting has been associated with a reduction of arthritis symptoms for reasons that are not yet entirely clear. This observation would appear to be of scientific interest but does not seem to be of practical therapeutic relevance.
It is important to distinguish between hope and reality. Available scientific studies suggest two conclusions: (1) A type of immunologic reaction to foods may occur in the joints of a small number of patients. (2) Diets of certain nutritional content may alter inflammation and modestly improve certain symptoms in some patients with rheumatoid arthritis.
Nutritional therapy for arthritis remains largely experimental and has not been shown to consistently and instantly affect arthritis symptoms in most patients. Patients should continue to follow balanced and healthy diets, be sceptical of “miraculous” claims, and avoid elimination diets and fad nutritional practices.