I am a physical therapist and I have arthritis pain. There, I said it. Not a hard admission after all!
Recently, many of my patients have been asking about things they’re hearing about helping arthritis pain by eating an anti-inflammatory diet. It got me thinking about my own eating habits, and wondering if there might be room for change.
Nutrition is not my specialty, so I’m careful to avoid giving advice outside of my physical therapy realm. I took nutrition courses in school, even keeping up by taking more nutrition courses after college, and I know finding good information can be a challenge. I have concerns about patients, family and friends seeking information from less than reliable sources. In very little time searching, I found numerous websites, magazine articles and even television programs touting the “right” anti-inflammatory diet. Some information seemed like downright quackery. I looked for well referenced information from established, medically credible organizations. That seemed to me to be a safer bet than taking nutrition advice from a television show host!
After lots of reading, my search settled on a few credible websites offering good anti-inflammatory diet info. Dr. Andrew Weil, M.D. is the Director of the Arizona Center of Integrative Medicine and an internationally known expert on healthy lifestyle. The Arthritis Foundation is a well-rounded source for a variety of information for arthritis sufferers, including healthy diet information.
The fact-based information I gleaned was best summed up by Dr. Andrew Weil, M.D. An anti-inflammatory diet should be balanced and break down into acceptable proportions of carbohydrates, protein, healthy fats and other nutrients. It should optimize mental and physical health along with disease prevention.
I am spending more time preparing fresh food, but it tastes so good that it is worth the extra time.
Inflammation causes and/or exacerbates some chronic diseases like osteoarthritis. COX2 enzymes have been identified as probable causes of persistent inflammation with resulting osteoarthritis pain. Blocking these enzymes may decrease inflammation and may even prevent or lessen age-related conditions and diseases while promoting overall wellness. I was surprised to discover there are real “trigger foods” that let your arthritis take control of you, instead of vice versa. Sugar is one of the culprits, as are the inflammatory fats in many processed foods.
I also learned there is a unique shift that our bodies make during our twenties which may be partly behind the arthritis pain of some of us experience in later years. Up to the age of approximately 27, we produce proteolytic enzymes, long used in Europe to block COX2 enzymes in the treatment of inflammation. These proteolytic enzymes attack fibrin in our bodies—that’s a protein that seals off the sites of inflammation with scar tissue. Without those proteolytic enzymes, that scar tissue is not “digested” and related toxins are not cleared away. Anti-inflammatory diets with healthy doses of proteolytic enzymes from foods like pineapple, papaya and many spices like ginger may “flip the switch” inside our bodies to counteract the promotion of arthritic changes and subsequent tissue damage.
Some “pros” of an anti-inflammatory diet:
- Convenience: variety is encouraged, no there are no strict meal plans.
- Recipes are available from the professionals.
- You can eat out (yay!).
- You can feel full and satisfied.
- You can drink alcohol in moderation.
Some “cons” of an anti-inflammatory diet:
- Meal prep may be more time consuming if you’re used to using a lot of processed foods.
- Fresh food can be a bit more costly than processed or prepackaged food.
As a physical therapist, I must add that exercise should be part of the overall regimen in any holistic approach to wellness, including efforts to decrease inflammation. All in all, what nutritionists, naturopathic physicians and registered dietitians recommend is a sound diet that is healthy and gives a lot of freedom of choice, not a lot of sacrifice.
These are a few “nuggets” that I have put into action. I continue to shop the perimeter of the store for fresh food, going into the aisles for pet food and household items only. I now eat more of the recommended foods and avoid foods with simple sugars, which are inflammatory. I am spending more time preparing fresh food, but it tastes so good that it is worth the extra time. I stopped beating myself up, thinking my osteoarthritis was due to “overdoing” it with various things like my job and recreational activities. I realize now my body was going through unavoidable changes but that I can do things to ease inflammation. Lastly, and quite important to both me and my husband, enjoying a meal at a restaurant is possible by making thoughtful choices!
The most important point to remember, if you are contemplating trying a few dietary changes in an attempt to decrease osteoarthritis pain or other inflammation, is that there are some medically approved, scientifically researched diets out there.
~ Marion Howell, PT