Arthritis means inflammation in a joint. That inflammation causes redness, warmth, swelling, and pain within the joint.
Rheumatoid arthritis affects joints on both sides of the body, such as both hands, both wrists, or both knees. This symmetry helps to set it apart from other types of arthritis.
RA can also affect the skin, eyes, lungs, heart, blood, or nerves.
How Does It Affect the Body?
Immune system cells move from the blood into the joints and joint-lining tissue, called synovium. Once they arrive, those immune system cells create inflammation, which wears down cartilage (the cushioning material at the end of bones). As the cartilage wears down, the space between the bones narrows. As it gets worse, the bones could rub against each other.
Inflammation of the joint lining causes swelling and makes fluid build up within the joint. As the lining expands with inflammatory cells, it can produce substances that damage the bone.
All of these things cause the joint to become very painful, swollen, and warm to the touch.
The Arthritis Diet
The best approach to food for people with RA – or anyone else – is a well-balanced diet which, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, should be centered on plant-based foods. Approximately two-thirds of your diet should come from fruits, vegetables and whole grains. The other third should include low-fat dairy products and lean sources of protein.
Foods That Help Fight Rheumatoid Arthritis
Be sure your diet includes such cold-water fish as herring, mackerel, trout, salmon and tuna. Although there may be no magic elixir, the omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil are the most promising anti-inflammatory in food, says Ruth Frechman, registered dietitian and spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association.
Studies have shown that fish oil can relieve tender joints and ease morning stiffness. It has also allowed some people to reduce the amount of conventional medication they take for RA. Servings of fish provide about one gram of omega-3 fatty acids per 3½ ounces of fish. If you choose to try fish oil supplements, talk to your doctor about a dosage. People with RA can often take a higher level of fish oil than is recommended for the general public, but there can be side effects. Higher doses of fish oil may interact with certain drugs, including those for high blood pressure.
Increasing your intake of fiber from fruits, vegetables and whole grains may also help reduce inflammation. Studies show that adding fiber to the diet results in lower levels of C-reactive protein (CRP) in the blood; CRP is an indicator of inflammation.
Extra-virgin olive oil may also help reduce inflammation, in the same way that a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) such as ibuprofen or aspirin can – it contains a compound called oleocanthal that blocks the enzymes that cause inflammation. Instead, use the oil as an alternative to other cooking oils and butter.