Do You Have Achy Joints? These Foods Or Drinks Could Be To Blame.

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There are about 350 joints in the human body, and if even a few are inflamed, it can really affect your life. Achy joints in your hands can make typing or writing difficult. Joint pain in the back, knees or feet can make any type of physical exercise painful ― even a short walk around the block.

For many people, the reason they have achy joints is due to arthritis, which is defined as joint inflammation. Dr. Grace Wrighta consultant rheumatologist in New York City and founder and president of the Association of Women in Rheumatology, told HuffPost that there are different types of arthritis, each with its own unique cause.

One common type is rheumatoid arthritis, which affects an estimated 1.3 million people in the U.S. Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic inflammatory disorder that can cause joint pain. The earliest symptom is pain in the smaller joints, such as the fingers and toes. Over time, it progresses to affecting bigger joints, such as the ankles, knees, hips and shoulders.

“Recognizing early signs of arthritis is crucial for timely intervention and management. These signs may include persistent joint pain, stiffness, tenderness, swelling and reduced range of motion,” said Dr. Francisco Contreras, director of the Oasis of Hope Medical Institute in Tijuana, Mexico. Contreras noted that some of the first symptoms of arthritis can include fatigue, weakness, morning stiffness and joint noises (like grinding or cracking).

Multiple doctors told HuffPost that changing one’s diet doesn’t help alleviate symptoms in all forms of arthritis, but it may play a powerful role in decreasing symptoms for rheumatoid arthritis and gout arthritis, which is also caused by inflammation. In fact, there are five types of food in particular that the doctors recommend minimizing as a way to reduce pain:

1. Ultra-processed foods and drinks

“Research suggests that [ultra-processed foods] can exacerbate joint pain and inflammation associated with arthritis. These foods are typically high in refined carbohydrates, unhealthy fats, added sugars and artificial additives, all of which can trigger inflammation in the body,” Contreras told HuffPost.

To this point, research shows that a diet high in sugar can make rheumatoid arthritis symptoms worse because it prompts an inflammatory response in the body. For this reason, nixing soda, boxed pastries, candy and other ultra-processed foods from your diet may help reduce joint pain.

2. Cured or processed meat 

According to Wright, cured or processed meat, such as bacon, sausage, hot dogs or ham, can make both rheumatoid arthritis and gout arthritis worse. This is because they’re high in nitrates, a compound found in meat preservatives that is linked to increasing arthritis pain. Wright explained that nitrates, similarly to sugar, can cause an inflammatory response in the body, which then leads to joint pain.

Wright added that joint pain doesn’t typically happen immediately after eating processed meat. Rather, a diet high in processed meat can result in joint pain years later. Because of this, cutting out processed meat may not alleviate symptoms immediately, but over time, it can make a difference.

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Fried foods have an inflammatory affect on your joints.

3. Fried food

If you regularly nosh on french fries, fried chicken or onion rings, learning how to make them in the air fryer could help alleviate your joint pain. Wright explained that fried food can make arthritis symptoms worse because of the oils involved in the cooking process, which can trigger inflammation.

A diet high in trans fats (found in fried food, and widely considered to be the worst type of fat) can make symptoms of gout worse because of this pro-inflammatory effect.

4. Gluten (maybe)

It’s a common belief that cutting out gluten can help with joint pain. Is there any truth to it? Wright and Contreras both told HuffPost that cutting out gluten can help alleviate joint pain for people with celiac disease or people who are sensitive to gluten. But for individuals who aren’t sensitive to gluten, cutting it out likely won’t make a difference.

“Some people are sensitive to gluten even though they are not necessarily celiac,” Wright said. With this in mind, Wright’s advice is to try cutting out gluten for three months. If you don’t notice any difference, go ahead and add it back into your diet. But anecdotally, she said it does help alleviate symptoms for many people with arthritis.

5. Alcohol 

Dr. Sonya Mehta, a rheumatologist at Intermountain Health in Las Vegas, told HuffPost that alcohol can worsen arthritis caused by inflammation for several reasons. First, the breakdown of alcohol creates inflammatory compounds. In other words, it causes an inflammatory response, which can then trigger symptoms.

Mehta explained that alcohol can also reduce the production of anti-inflammatory bacteria in the gut while increasing production of pro-inflammatory bacteria. An imbalance of gut bacteria can trigger rheumatoid arthritis. She noted that alcohol can weaken the immune system, making the body more susceptible to toxins, which can cause an inflammatory response (such as joint pain).

According to Contreras, yet another reason alcohol can make arthritis symptoms worse is because it can induce dehydration, decreasing the production of synovial fluid, which cushions the joints.

What To Eat Instead

All three doctors say that the best diet for people with inflammatory arthritis (such as rheumatoid arthritis and gout) is an anti-inflammatory diet.

“This [way of eating] includes foods we generally know are good for us anyway, including leafy green vegetables, nuts, fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, tuna and sardines which contain omega-3 fatty acids and are anti-inflammatory, and fruits, particularly berries and oranges, which are high in antioxidants,” Mehta said.

Both Mehta and Wright cited the Mediterranean diet as another eating plan that naturally includes foods that are anti-inflammatory and therefore good for people with achy joints.

“The Mediterranean diet prioritizes whole grains, vegetables, fish and other unprocessed foods while minimizing meat and processed foods. This way of eating seems to work universally for people with joint pain,” Wright said. Research does support the connection between the Mediterranean diet and improved rheumatoid arthritis symptoms.

Mehta emphasized that eating a diet high in anti-inflammatory foods isn’t just good for managing joint pain; it’s beneficial for overall health and preventing other chronic diseases such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease and certain types of cancer.

“An anti-inflammatory diet is a good idea for anyone to follow, not just patients with inflammatory arthritis,” she said. That means if you take the majority of your meals with others, eating this way will benefit everyone around the table, not just you.

If you have any questions about managing your joint pain, talk to your health care provider. Treating your pain may take more than diet changes alone. But revamping your diet is a great place to start. Your entire body will be better for it.

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