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Rheumatoid arthritis

By Elizabeth Hartland [email protected]

Elizabeth Hartland has a Bachelor of Science Degree in nutrition, together with a Diploma from the Institute of Nutritional Therapy. She is married with two young children and has a passion for good nutrition and helping others to find better health. Elizabeth is writing a series of monthly articles on nutrition.

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is the second most common form of arthritis affecting millions of people worldwide. Referred to as an autoimmune disease, RA causes chronic inflammation of the joints, the tissues around the joints, as well as other organs in the body.

Patients with an autoimmune disease have antibodies in their blood which target their own body tissues, causing inflammation and subsequent joint damage. The symptoms of RA come and go, depending on the degree of tissue inflammation. When body tissues are inflamed the disease is active. When tissue inflammation subsides, the disease is inactive (in remission).

Remissions can occur spontaneously and can last weeks, months or years. During remissions, symptoms of the disease disappear and patients generally feel well. When the disease becomes active again, symptoms return. The return of disease activity and symptoms is called a flare.

When the disease is active, symptoms can include fatigue, lack of appetite, low grade fever, muscle and joint aches, and stiffness. Muscle and joint stiffness are most notable in the morning and after long periods of inactivity.

Arthritis (meaning joint inflammation) is common during disease flares in which the joints became red, swollen, painful and tender.

The small joints of the hands, wrists and feet are frequently involved making simple tasks of daily living, such as turning door knobs and opening jars difficult during flares. Chronic inflammation can cause damage to body tissues, cartilage and bone. This leads to loss of cartilage with erosion and weakness of the bones as well as the muscles, resulting in joint deformity and destruction.

Diet and lifestyle recommendations

Many things may be addressed to reduce the impact of rheumatoid arthritis on everyday life.  Natural therapy involves reducing as many of the possible contributing factors as possible including dietary measures, weight control and in some cases, supplementation.


Apart from the following dietary guidelines below, the question of food allergy should also be investigated. A standard elimination diet should only be followed under the guidance of a qualified Nutritional Therapist.

Things to include:

• Eat plenty of fresh fruit. Berries and other fruits with a purple/blue colour such as black grapes, bilberries, cranberries, blackcurrents and blueberries are especially rich in a type of flavonoid called anthcyanidins and proanthocyanidins. These phytonutrients are very powerful antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents.

• Include seeds such as sunflower, linseed, pumpkin, hemp and nuts.

• Drink herbal teas, dandelion coffee, mineral water and non citrus fruit juices. If you have a juicer, try the following mix each day to re-alkalize your system: carrot, celery, cabbage, and a tiny piece of chopped fresh root ginger. Aim to incorporate Ginger into the diet consuming up to 20 grammes or ½ inch slice of fresh ginger root daily. Ginger possesses numerous therapeutic properties, including the inhibition of the formation of inflammatory compounds and as an antioxidant.

• Include lots of organic green vegetables especially cabbage, broccoli and kale in your daily diet.

• In addition to being the number one food allergen, dairy products are also acid forming. Try alternatives to dairy produce including goat’s milk and rice dream, goats or sheep’s cheese and yogurts. While soya milk is also a dairy alternative, it may present as an allergen in some people.

• Use extra virgin olive oil for cooking and salad dressings.

• Steam, grill or stir-fry foods.

• Increase the consumption of oily fish e.g. salmon, sardines, tuna. The omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil have been found to have an anti-inflammatory role within the body.

Things to avoid:

• Sugar is found to neutralise calcium in the blood stream reducing the amount of calcium available for uptake by the bone.

• Stimulants such as coffee, tea, alcohol and cola based drinks and ‘junk food’ can have an adverse affect on mineral balance.

• Acid fruits e.g. rhubarb, plums, plus citrus fruits (oranges, lemons, grapefruit and their juices).

• Tomatoes, pickled, smoked and preserved foods.

• Aim to minimize your intake of red meat and processed meat products (e.g. pork, beef, ham, bacon, and sausages) should be severely restricted. Meat contains saturated fats which will contribute to the synthesis of leukotrienes, potent biological substances that trigger inflammation. Replace meat products with white and oily fish or poultry such as chicken.

• A diet low in salt is helpful in the treatment of all forms of arthritis.

• Refined carbohydrates. These contribute to a generalized acid condition within the body, especially when accompanied by a diet low in fresh vegetables.

• The nightshade family of foods (tomatoes, aubergines, peppers) and may need to be avoided in some sensitive individuals. These vegetables contain a toxin called solanine to which some people, particularly those suffering arthritis, can be highly sensitive to. In such sensitive individuals this toxin will interfere with the enzymes in the muscles causing pain and discomfort.

• Fried and processed foods are high in acid and are of little nutritional value.

• Wheat and dairy products. For some RA sufferers the avoidance of wheat and dairy products may be of benefit.


Therapeutic exercises recommended by a doctor, physical therapist or osteopath performed on a regular basis may help to decrease fatigue, strengthen muscles and bones, increase flexibility and stamina, and improve the general sense of wellbeing.

Weight control is an important concern for people with RA.

To book an appointment, please contact Elizabeth Hartland on 282427652, 916384029 or [email protected]