It is known that processed and sugary foods can wreak havoc on everything from your teeth to your waist, but research shows that foods high in carbohydrates and refined sugars could also contribute to the pain, inflammation and joint stiffness of arthritis.
Editor's Note: This article was medically reviewed by Dr. George Kruick.
Hyperglycemia, even if it only lasts for a short period of time, can trigger the release of chemicals called cytokines from inflammation.
A study by the American Heart Association
Sugar and rheumatoid arthritis
The cases studied suggest that eating habits, particularly the inclusion of certain foods in the diet, can significantly impact the body, especially those who suffer of arthritis. A 1989 survey of patients with arthritis found that many experienced an increase in symptoms when they consumed a diet rich in meats, salt, caffeine, fats and even certain vegetables of the belladonna family, such as potatoes, tomatoes and Eggplants
Sugar is a known culprit and a 2006 study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology investigated the relationship between transient (short-term) hyperglycemia, often as a result of consuming foods high in sugar and carbohydrates, and inflammation, specifically in people with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). RA is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system mistakenly attacks and destroys healthy tissues. In the case of RA, the thin synovial membrane that covers the joints is destroyed and produces generalized inflammation and pain.
People who suffer from this type of arthritis may also have difficulty managing their blood sugar levels. This may be due to the fact that corticosteroid injections, a common treatment for RA, may increase blood glucose levels or because certain inflammatory diseases (including RA) may increase insulin resistance.
Insulin is a hormone produced in the pancreas that helps the sugar derived from food reach other cells, where it is converted into energy. When the cells become resistant to insulin, the glucose remains in the blood.
According to a similar study published by the American Heart Association, hyperglycemia, even if it only lasts a short period of time, can trigger the release of chemicals called cytokines from inflammation. These cytokines can increase the inflammatory response and cause damage throughout the body.
Another research study on the effects of diet in patients with RA published in the journal Rheumatology asked patients to eliminate certain foods from their diets, including sugar.The participants followed the elimination diet for a year and then gradually reintroduced the food into their diet. The results showed that 45% of patients with RA who participated in the study felt an increase in arthritis symptoms when reintroducing foods such as meat, sugar and coffee.
Changes in the diet to reduce inflammation
Although research on the subject is promising, the truth is that more studies are needed on the effects of a diet low in sugars on the pain of arthritis. Although some patients experience a decrease in symptoms after eliminating sugars from the diet, more research is needed in order to confirm the relationship between sugar consumption and inflammation.
Medications can treat inflammation and hyperglycemia, but good nutrition may provide supplemental relief for arthritis symptoms. In patients with RA, maintaining controlled glycaemia through a low carbohydrate diet can help prevent hyperglycemia peaks and the release of inflammatory cytokines.
Consuming a balanced diet and exercising regularly also helps maintain a healthy weight, which in turn, can significantly reduce pressure on the joints. Being overweight adds considerable stress to the joints. The Arthritis Foundation puts it this way: for every pound you increase, you add four pounds of pressure to your knees. A reflection topic for those suffering from arthritis.
About the author
With a Master of Science degree, Christine Case-Lo is an independent writer and advocate for special needs. He received his Master's degree in pharmacological chemistry from the University of California, San Francisco and his degree in Bioengineering from the University of California, Berkeley.
Case-Lo is a member of the American Health Information Management Association.