If you have Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA), you should totally be concerned about inflammation. A bodily inflammation, by right, is not supposed to be a bad thing, because at the right place and at the right time, it is necessary to protect our body from infection and healing from injuries.
Rheumatoid Arthritis and excessive inflammation
With RA, we are dealing with excessive or chronic inflammation, which we do not want in our system. This inflammatory response is neither protective nor healing and over time, it increases risk of contracting other life threatening diseases.
The inflammation properties of our body are either pro-inflammatory or anti-inflammatory. These varieties of pro and anti inflammatory chemicals known as prostaglandins are produced by our cells using the compounds or nutrients from the food we eat. And these compounds are the fatty acids founds in our food.
Certain types of fatty acids (primarily omega-6 family) are pro-inflammatory while others (primarily omega-3 family) are anti-inflammatory. Excessive inflammation happens due to imbalance between these pro and anti inflammatory bodily functions by consuming too much omega-6 fatty acids and lesser of omega-3 fatty acids.
The foods we eat are making us sick. What is wrong?
Everything is going wrong with our modern diet, ie the standardised American diet, because:
1. Refined carbohydrates and processed foods are pro-inflammatory. We consume too much refined flour, sugar, junk and food high on glycemic index (GI). These foods score high for sugar contents and damaging fats, and are known to elevate insulin and glucose levels, which in turn trigger inflammation.
2. Food allergies or intolerance are known to accentuate the inflammatory responses in a body. The allergy is an overreaction of our immune system to a protein that is perceived as threat. To a person without allergies, they are totally harmless. For food intolerance or sensitivity however, it is a fairly similar type of reaction but draws on slightly different aspect of the immune system than allergy. It is sometimes also known as ‘delayed’ food allergies. Researchers believe that much of our immune system is found in our digestive tracts or guts, where inflammatory cascade occurs and have far-reaching implications.
3. Unhealthy fats found in vegetable oils such as corn, safflower, sunflower and soybean oils; as well as butter and margarine are omega-6 fats and they metabolise into hormone-like compounds that stimulate inflammation.
4. Commercially produced grains-fed meats are also inflammatory due to high concentration of arachidonic acid. These animals also gain excess fats and end up with high saturated fats. Furthermore, in the process of making them grow faster and prevent them from getting sick, these animals are injected with hormones and fed with antibiotics.
Scientists at University of California San Diego School of Medicine found that red meat also contains a molecule that humans do not naturally produce called Neu5Gc. After ingesting this compound, the body will develop anti-Neu5Gc antibodies which reflect an immune response that trigger inflammation.
The link between processed meat consumption and cancer is even stronger. In the 2007 report by the World Cancer Research Fund and the American Institute for Cancer Research, processed meat has been stated as a convincing cause of cancers of the colon and rectum, and possibly esophagus and lung cancer too. Processed meat includes animal product that has been smoked, cured, salted or chemically preserved.
Anti-inflammatory diet makeover – the foods that heal
If RA is making life painful enough for you, we must think changes. Changes in life are a constant. Dietary change for someone with RA is an absolute MUST for keeping the disease under control.
My two years of experiencing with different foods and diet have me convinced that there is a very strong connection between the foods we eat and the inflammatory level of our RA. The saying that goes ‘we are what we eat’ is so true because if I have been eating an anti-inflammatory diet, I can feel improvements in my RA symptoms within the next few days. Do understand that the food proteins that trigger inflammation may take up to few days to clear out from our systems if we are following a food avoidance anti-inflammatory diet; meaning to say that it may take a while before you start to see the positive effects and feel more energy, less brain fog, less joint pains and redness.
Generally speaking, this is a completely natural approach which does not cost you more than what you are paying for your current diet. What is required of you is time commitment and discipline to stick to an anti-inflammatory diet for two weeks and see how you are faring with this diet. It is also about selecting and preparing foods (preferably home cooked) based on knowledge of how they can help your body maintain optimal health and nourishment (ample vitamins, minerals, essential fats, fiber and protective phytonutrients).
Get started now by:
1. Reduce intake of unhealthy fats and unhealthy carbs
Avoid trans-fats by eliminating or minimizing deep fried foods, processed or sugary foods that are high in saturated fats. Avoid vegetable oils such as regular safflower and sunflower oils, corn oil, cottonseed oil and other mixed vegetable oils. Remember to also strictly avoid butter, margarine, vegetable shortening and products that list them as the ingredients because they are all high in omega-6 fatty acids.
2. Increase your portion of vegetables
Decrease your consumption of animal protein except for fish. Choose fruits and vegetables from all parts of colour spectrum, in particular berries, orange and dark leafy greens for maximum natural protection against diseases. Vegetables are low in carbohydrates, high in fiber, has high antioxidant and other nutrients, and they have only trace amounts of fats. Because of this, they can be eaten in unlimited quantities to your heart’s content.
Choose organic produce wherever possible. Learn which conventionally grown crops are most likely to carry environmental toxicity such as herbicides and pesticides residues, and avoid them even though organic produce generally costs a lot more than these conventionally grown produce.
3. Spicy cuisines are anti-inflammatory
You are going to like an anti-inflammatory diet if you enjoy Asian, Indian or Latin American foods because these cuisines often make use of a lot of spices such as garlic, cayenne pepper, turmeric, ginger, etc; all of which are highly anti-inflammatory.
These pungent spices have been traditionally used in herbal medicine as natural treatment for joint pain, arthritis and other inflammatory conditions. When taken in adequate quantities, they can produce effects that are comparable to OTC painkillers such as ibuprofen or aspirin.
4. Increase your intake of mono-unsaturated oils
You may use extra-virgin olive oil as the main cooking oil. It is also desirable to include in your diet avocados and nuts including walnut and walnut oil, flax and flaxseed oil, hempseed and hempseed oil, almond and nut butters. For omega-3 fatty acids, eat oily fish such as salmon (preferably fresh or frozen wild or canned sockeye), tuna, mackerel, black cod (sablefish, butterfish) and omega-3 fortified eggs.
Fish or krill oil can also be taken on daily basis in the form of dietary supplements if you do not have a regular of consumption of fish (ie twice a week). Look for products that combine both EPA and DHA in a convenient daily capsule and one that are molecularly distilled and certified to be free from heavy metals and other contaminants.
5. Eliminate foods that cause sensitivities
Avoid foods that you are intolerant of or that result in sensitivities and allergies. If you are not sure which foods are causing you problems, there are a few approaches of finding out:
(a) Start to keep a food diary of your eating habits, symptoms and medications to pinpoint your problem. Once you have identified the allergens, you may commence an elimination diet by removing these suspect foods for few weeks and then add the food back into your diet again one at a time. Additionally, you may create a four-day food rotation for food that you can eat ensuring that the same food you eat today is not consumed within the next three days.
(b) Applied kinesiologist is able to ‘diagnose’ a person through muscle testing for food allergies or intolerance. Its basic notion is that an allergy or intolerance is accompanied by a specific muscle weakness when in contact of the allergens. This enables the diseases to be diagnosed through muscle testing procedures.
(c) Food allergies or intolerance can be revealed through a blood test. Food allergy is an IgE immune response that in fact only affects 4% of the US population. Most other immune reactions are more often associated with food intolerance. My preferred choice of blood test is the ALCAT test. ALCAT test is designed to test only for food intolerance, which have a delayed reaction. My personal experience with ALCAT test has proven that this test has been quite accurate in identifying my many food intolerance and by eliminating the many allergens identified, I witnessed profound improvement in my RA inflammation. Its effectiveness has also been confirmed by clinical studies that reported an 83.4% correlation with ALCAT test results and double blind oral challenges with foods.
Recognising foods that ‘heal’ and foods that ‘kill’
Fellow RAers, I strongly encourage you to pay attention to your diet because what you eat can affect how you feel. We no longer have the luxury of mindless eating and snacking we used to enjoy. Avoid foods that kill (ie omega-6 foods) and increase your portions of foods that heal (ie omega-3 foods).
I have covered in an earlier post a section on the importance of drinking a lot of pure water. Remember, at least 70% of our diet should consist of water-rich foods. This allows your body to cleanse itself. Failing to consume this percentage of water means that you are clogging your body and not cleansing it.
These are the powers of living waters and live foods. Give them a chance and give yourself a chance. You deserve better than feeling painful every single day of your RA life. And you will be on track to find amazing results with this diet.
This general piece of information put forth apply to everyone, regardless of age and health condition. The knowledge base on food and nutrition, food allergies/intolerance and their correlation with RA is very extensive. And finishing off with this background, I will cover more information again in each of these area in greater details in future.
So, are you a believer in making a change by getting started with an anti-inflammatory diet makeover? If you have tried before, you are welcome to share your stories and experiences with us. What are the challenges you have faced in this process and what are some good suggestions for sticking with a disciplined diet?
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