Arthritis Basics

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Because arthritis is a disease of inflammation, an anti-inflammatory diet can go a long way toward reducing painful symptoms.

Arthritis is not a single disease but a category that includes about a hundred joint-related disorders. According to the National Institutes of Health, arthritis affects just over one in every five people in the United States — most of whom don't realize how much nutrition can improve the way they feel.

What Is Arthritis?
As anyone with arthritis can tell you, arthritis sufferers truly suffer: Osteoarthritis can wear down the knees. Rheumatoid arthritis can twist and deform the fingers. And gout can make the simple act of walking agony.

In medical lingo, the suffix “itis” means inflammation. Arthritis, then, means any disease that involves inflammation of the joints — the places where bones come together (such as in the knees, wrists, hands, fingers, elbows, feet, and toes). Of all the different types of arthritis, the two most common are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.

  • Osteoarthritis (OA) occurs when the cartilage covering the end of the bone deteriorates, causing pain and swelling when bones rub against each other. In some people, the damage can be so extensive that the joint may have to be replaced. OA is due to a combination of factors, including genetics, past injury, joint use and overuse, and the aging process in general. We can’t help our genetics, past injuries, or the aging process and overuse; however, stress caused by excess weight can be reduced by losing weight. Every pound of weight you lose equates to four pounds less stress and pressure on your knees.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a disease that causes inflammation of the lining of the joint capsule — the synovial membrane. Early in the disease process, affected joints can feel swollen, painful, hot, and tender to the touch. As the disease progresses, the synovial membrane begins to release enzymes that can dissolve bone and cartilage inside the joint. If these enzymes eat away enough tissue, the joint can become deformed — and the pain can be excruciating. Scientists don’t know what triggers the process, why it goes into remission, or why it flares up periodically. Genetics plays at least some role. Hormones are also believed to play a part, as RA affects women more often than it affects men and because flares often occur after a pregnancy. RA cannot be cured, but it can be managed with medication and lifestyle changes.

Many people with these two conditions don’t realize how much their food choices can worsen the pain or, on the flip side, improve the way they feel.

How Food Affects Arthritis
Because arthritis is a disease of inflammation, the most effective — and logical — treatment is anything that fights inflammation. Medical management of arthritis usually starts with ibuprofen and other anti-inflammatory medications, and nutritional care starts with anti-inflammatory foods.


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