When it comes to living with a chronic disease such as rheumatoid arthritis, the best nutritional advice is to eat a healthy well-balanced diet. Research shows that strategically loading your diet with certain nutrients can provide payoffs both for arthritis and general health.
Three key nutrients – omega-3 long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), selenium and vitamin D – are ones you’ll want to make part of your arthritis treatment plan, says Carol Henderson PhD, a registered dietitian and professor in the department of nutrition at Georgia State University.
Research has shown these nutrients have actions ranging from slowing cartilage loss to suppressing the out-of-control immune system that is characteristic of rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Here’s the lowdown on each of these nutrients:
Omega-3 PUFAs: “A number of robust, scientific, double-blind placebo-controlled studies of omega-3 PUFAs have demonstrated significant improvements in a variety of clinical outcomes – for example, tender joints, duration of morning stiffness, decreased pain and increased functional ability,” says Henderson. Omega-3 PUFAs are also known to protect against atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), for which people with inflammatory diseases, such as RA and lupus, are at increased risk. Good sources of omega-3 PUFAs include coldwater fish and certain nuts and seeds, such as walnuts and soybean kernels.
Selenium: A trace mineral with antioxidant properties, selenium may be useful in preventing arthritis and other conditions, including age-related blindness, cancers, cardiovascular disease, cataracts and kidney disease. You’ll get selenium from whole-grain wheat products and shellfish, such as oysters and crab. A recent study raised the possibility that taking selenium supplements might increase the risk of developing diabetes, so talk to your doctor before taking extra selenium. Getting more selenium in your diet appears safe.
Vitamin D: Although vitamin D is best known for its protection against the brittle-bone disease osteoporosis, recent research suggests it may be good medicine for RA, too. Data from the Iowa Women’s Health Study raise the possibility that greater intake of vitamin D may be associated with a lower risk of developing RA in older women. Researchers suspect vitamin D may act as an immuno-suppressant – kind of like a natural disease-modifying drug for RA, says Henderson. Eggs and fortified breads, cereals and milk are good sources of vitamin D.