Eat Your Way Out of Arthritis


This week our contributing writer Doctor Gifford-Jones talks about the foods that help prevent and heal arthritis.

Could the thousands of recent knee and hip replacements have been prevented by the right diet? And could millions of people suffer less arthritic pain by following more nutritious food consumption?

Arthritis has been called the “chronic-care challenge of the 21 century century.” It’s estimated that 30 million North Americans suffer from osteoarthritis (OA). And that 70 percent of hip replacements are due to this disease.

Osteoarthritis is the “wear and tear ” form of arthritis. Like an aging car that starts to squeak, human joints begin to grate and scrape as we get older. But research at Tufts University in Boston shows that there’s more to arthritis than the stresses associated with aging. They say, inadequate nutrition also sets the stage for arthritis.

Several years ago I interviewed Dr. Linus Pauling, two-time Nobel prize winner. Pauling publicized the importance of vitamin C in fighting the common cold. But he also believed that vitamin C had a much more important role.

Pauling stressed that what he called “Big C” was needed to manufacture healthy collagen, the major component of cartilage. Cartilage acts as a cushion between bones. And without sufficient C collagen and cartilage are inadequate and bones start rubbing together causing the pain of osteoarthritis.

But Big C is also important in treating rheumatoid arthritis, the inflammatory type of this disease. It’s believed that free radicals, the waste products of metabolism are partly responsible for injuring cartilage and destroying vitamin C. Studies show that the joints of patients with this disease are deficient in C. Since vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that fights free radicals, patients need extra C to decrease the pain and deter progression of the disease.

During a recent trip to Boston I spoke with researchers associated with the famous Framingham Health Study. They have followed thousands of patients for 40 years trying to discover what is good or bad for arthritis.

The study shows that people with osteoarthritis who consumed over 9,000 international units of beta-carotene a day had decreased progression of this disease. And were less likely to suffer from knee pain later in life. And a Finnish study showed that patients with low levels of beta-carotene were eight times more likely to develop rheumatoid arthritis as they aged. Beta-carotene is present in deep-coloured vegetables and fruits.

The same Framingham study showed vitamin D is important. Those suffering from arthritic knees who consumed less than 350 units were more likely to have more arthritis in the future than those who took over 400 units a day. There’s good reason why this is true.

Vitamin D is needed for the proper absorption of calcium. And the only major source of vitamin D in our diet is milk. Not many people today are drinking three glasses of milk daily, nature’s near perfect food.

The Framingham study uncovered another vital fact. The oils we consume also oil our joints. But not all oils are equal. The oils in our food contain different types of fatty acids. The good omega-3 fatty acids fight inflammation, the bad omega-6 fatty acids trigger inflammation.

Obviously it’s better to have more of the good oils than the bad ones. But today North Americans eat 10X more omega-6 than omega-3 which then trigger not only arthritis, but also heart disease. Recent research shows that death form heart attack may be the result of a combination of both clogged and inflamed coronary arteries.

The logical solution is to change our diet. Increase the amount of fruits and vegetables to obtain vitamin C. One carrot contains 20,000 international units of beat-carotene and a sweet potato with skin 25,000 IU. And drink three glasses of milk daily.

The best sources of omega-3 are salmon, halibut and sardines. It’s also present in walnuts, beans, tofu, flaxseed oil, pecans and green leafy vegetables.

To avoid omega-6 oils reduce processed foods in supermarkets, frozen and boxed foods, crackers, cookies and many desert items. And be sure to buy the right cooking oils. Omega -6 is present in corn, sunflower and cottonseed oil. Olive, soybean and canola cooking oils contain omega-3.

Don’t neglect weight control. If you weigh 150 pounds the pressure on the joints increases to 450 pounds on movement. If you’re going down stairs it reaches 900 pounds. So any weight reduction goes a long way to increase the benefits of sound nutrition.