There is an age-old adage, “You are what you eat,” we’re all familiar with; like most adages, there is a grain of truth to it, if not more. What we eat has a profound effect on our bodies; we use what we eat as fuel, and the components of our diets shows up in our cholesterol levels, blood pressures, blood sugar levels, and in our cardiovascular system. Highly-processed carbohydrates, refined sugars, and highly preserved foods, while common in our diets, cause damage to bodies evolved from centuries of fresh fruits, whole grains, home-grown vegetables, and fresh meats and fish. Science is still arguing about the diseases caused by the modern diet, and the risks caused by nontraditional diets. The arguments will go on for centuries, no doubt. There are foods shown to be anti-inflammatory in nature, and also foods shown to be triggers for inflammatory reactions. These foods are important for patients with rheumatoid arthritis to know about – which to consume, and which to avoid.
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is one of the hundred forms of arthritis. It is an auto-immune disorder, meaning your own body attacks itself when it mistakes healthy tissue as a foreign disease invader. As with all forms of arthritis, there is no known cause and no known cure. Rheumatoid arthritis is marked by painful swelling in the joints, inflammation in the joints and surrounding tissues, pain, loss of mobility, and deformity in the affected joints. Rheumatoid arthritis is bi-lateral; it attacks both sides of the body at the same time. Most forms of arthritis will affect one side – a knee, a hand, a hip – but rheumatoid arthritis will attack both sides at once. Allopathic medications are available, but they carry significant side effects. Rheumatoid arthritis patients should take control of their condition, and investigate all forms of treatments and therapies available, both allopathic and alternative.
Diet and RA
One of the first steps an RA patient can take is to modify their diets. Every case of RA is individual; no one diet modification will work for everyone, and the RA patient will have to experiment with their diets to determine what foods trigger an inflammatory attack and what foods aid in preventing them.
Veganism is the strictest form of the vegetarian diet. Ethical vegans eat no animal products at all; while this diet gives the vegan a more slender body, lower cholesterol levels, and better blood pressure, it also leaves the vegan open to calcium deficiencies, vitamin B12 and vitamin D3 deficiencies, lower levels of iodine and iron, and a higher risk for osteoporosis. A vegan diet lacks the known foods triggering inflammatory responses and contains all of the foods known to fight inflammation. However, a strict vegan diet contains low levels of Omega-3 fatty acids, and the Omega-3s are shown to have beneficial effects in the treatment of RA.
Moderation in all Things
Most serious vegans became that way because of the moral and ethical principles surrounding veganism – veganism was founded to stop people from exploiting and mistreating animals. The vegans have proven a vegan diet is a good thing for a healthy adult, but a strict vegan diet for infants, children, the elderly, the adult with a compromised immune system, and for pregnant women is not recommended. Too many of the nutrients growing children and older adults require for health are lacking in a vegan diet. You can still eat vegan if you supplement the missing nutrients, but supplementation in the very young and very old is problematic at best. A better way for an RA patient to modify their diet is to follow the Mediterranean diet, or to modify their diet to include locally grown fruits and vegetables, buy whole grain flours from a farmer’s market or a health food store, and to find a local farmer and purchase eggs, cheese, and milk fresh from the cow, so to speak. The RA patient will also benefit from reducing their consumption of highly-processed carbohydrates, refined sugars, commercially fried foods, foods high in trans fats, and foods high in preservatives. The RA patient will also maintain a healthy salt level by cooking fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables, and avoiding frozen meals or shelf-stable microwavable meals, as these foods are high in sodium. Salt is used as a preservative in these foods, and consumption of them drives up your daily salt intake to an unacceptably high level.
Should an RA patient go vegan? This is a personal choice, but you should make it from a moral and ethical point of view, not from your physical condition. You can modify your diet to improve your RA without diving head-first into veganism. Vegetarianism, especially a lacto-ova vegetarian diet, is not a bad thing, and it still allows the RA patient to consume the fish and eggs containing Omega-3 fatty acids and high levels of vitamin D3 and calcium. Take baby steps in modifying your diet, and when you’re done, determine if the benefits were worth it. If they are, then think about going vegan if you want to, but go vegan because you love animals, not because you have RA.