Published: Sept. 12, 2005
Updated: Sept. 13, 2005
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By Duke Medicine News and Communications
Here's some "colorful" health news about how diet may help cut the risk of arthritis. That glass of orange juice or snack of carrot sticks may actually help stave off inflammatory disorders like rheumatoid arthritis.
That is the finding of a recent British study at the University of Manchester Medical School. The study showed for the first time that subjects who ate a diet high in dietary carotenoids – the chemicals that give certain fruits and vegetables their orange and yellow colorings – dramatically reduced their risk of inflammatory arthritis.
Rex McCallum, M.D., rheumatologist at Duke University Medical Center, said the study's findings are significant.
"It looks like eating these orange and yellow fruits really does make a difference. The incidence for people who ate the least of that kind of fruits in their diets, versus those who ate the most, doubled. That's a fascinating finding. Maybe it's by their antioxidant effects, which is what the authors put forth, but as far as fully understanding that, I don't think we do."
In addition to diet, McCallum says it's important to talk with your physician if you feel you may be at risk for inflammatory arthritis.
"If you believe you've developed an inflammatory type of arthritis, see your physician as early as possible. We treat rheumatoid arthritis very aggressively nowadays, and we believe we get much better results when we begin treatment early. The gold-standard treatment for rheumatoid arthritis is methatrexate. But we have five new agents in the last six years, which makes it an exciting time to be a rheumatologist.
"What I and many of my colleagues do is to start with methatrexate, and if it doesn't work as well as we want, we'll add some other agent to that. Oftentimes that will be one of the TNF alpha inhibitor agents. That combination of methatrexate plus one of those agents, which are biological molecules, is often very, very effective."
McCallum says earlier research has shown that a diet rich in carotenoids and other antioxidants can also help ward off osteoarthritis, or degenerative joint disease.
"There is so-called degenerative arthritis, which is osteoarthritis. Our present understanding is that it's a problem with the cartilage, which is the shock-absorber between the bones. Whatever inflammation there is, it's probably a secondary phenomenon. It's not the primary driver.
"There is also data about obesity and arthritis, particularly osteoarthritis," he continued. "It's clear that if you weigh more than you ought to, your risk particularly of knee osteoarthritis goes up. The most prevalent theory may that it changes your biomechanics, how you stand, how your knees work. They may take extra stress and strain and therefore you may develop osteoarthritis earlier. It may be a little like what we call traumatic or post-traumatic arthritis, where you get an injury to a joint. That's a clear set-up for getting early osteoarthritis.
"Otherwise, it comes down to common sense," McCallum concluded. "To have a balanced diet, to have a balanced lifestyle with some exercise, to make sure you don't gain excessive weight, to maintain your muscle tone, those are the kinds of things that I recommend to my patients, from the standpoint of decreasing the ill effects of arthritis."