Cancer, heart disease, obesity – these are three of the most common serious health problems in the United States. Know what they may all have in common with rheumatoid arthritis? Inflammation. That’s right, the same inflammation that causes arthritis may cause other health problems, and your diet can play a big role in helping all those conditions.

Scientists know that the enzymes cyclooxygenase-1 (COX-1) and 2 (COX-2) cause inflammation; that’s why you may take medications – such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, which block COX-1 and COX-2 enzymes, or COX-2 inhibitors – to treat your arthritis. Researchers have learned that COX-2 enzymes become more active and cause more inflammation when you take in more omega-6 fatty acids than omega-3 fatty acids.

Omega-6 fatty acids are found in corn, sunflower, safflower, soybean and cottonseed oils and are prevalent in many snack foods, fried foods, margarines and other spreads. (They’re also in egg yolks and meats.) In fact, many of the foods that people overindulge in during “snack attacks” are linked to increasing inflammation and obesity. Interestingly, inflammation is connected to obesity – and obesity to arthritis – because fat cells can produce cytokines (proteins that encourage inflammation).

Are there diets for inflammation? What can you do? Eat more veggies, fruit, nuts, tea and even dark chocolate. Many plant-based foods contain antioxidants and phytochemicals, both of which may decrease the activity of the COX-2 enzyme, reducing inflammation. And don’t forget to load up on omega-3 fatty acids, found in fish like salmon and tuna.

To learn more about fish oil and other nutrients with the potential to help arthritis, check out Arthritis Today's Supplement Guide.