Want to reduce your risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis? How about increase your life expectancy?
These two studies suggest ways that changing your diet and getting in shape could help...
What is Rheumatoid Arthritis?
Typically when you think about the term “arthritis”, the first thing that comes to mind is the way various joints become painful as we grow older – typically attributed to wear and tear.
This is more properly known as Osteoarthritis, and it affects millions of people worldwide. In a nutshell, osteoarthritis occurs when the cartilage that cushions the ends of your bones deteriorates and friction begins to occur between your bones.
Rheumatoid arthritis is completely different – and more insidious.
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder. It occurs when your immune system begins to attack your body’s own tissues. Typically it affects the small joints in your hands and feet – but it can also affect the skin, eyes, lungs and blood vessels.
In contrast to osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis can appear rather suddenly. Typically the affected joints will swell, and in about a third of cases small, firm, pea-sized lumps of dead tissue called rheumatoid nodules may form.
There is no cure, and we don’t know yet how to prevent rheumatoid arthritis – but your risks can be improved. Much of your risk is genetic – however people who smoke have been found three times more likely to develop rheumatoid arthritis later in life.
How diet can improve your chances
This week at the American College of Rheumatology (ACR/ARHP) Annual Meeting in San Francisco, some surprising new light was shed on the effect that diet has on rheumatoid arthritis.
Bing Lu, MD, DrPH; assistant professor of medicine; Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School lead a study examining the relationship between a typical western diet and rheumatoid arthritis rates.
“Overall dietary pattern analysis examines the cumulative effects of multiple nutrients and foods, and may be more predictive of disease risk than individual foods or nutrients. The single-nutrient approach may be inadequate for taking into account complicated interactions among nutrients, and high levels of inter-correlation makes it difficult to examine their separate effects. Therefore, we proposed a prospective study examining the overall effect of dietary patterns to furnish novel information about diet and etiology of RA,” said Dr. Lu on Saturday.
Dr. Lu’s study followed 93,859 women from 1991 through 2011. Over the course of the study, 347 women developed rheumatoid arthritis at an average age of 49.
Results were split into two basic diet groups:
The first, a typical western diet high in red meat, processed meat, refined grains, fried food, high-fat dairy and sweets.
The second group, a balanced diet of fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, poultry and fish.
Dr Lu’s team then adjusted the results to account for age, smoking status, alcohol consumption, physical activity and more.
The results indicated that those who consumed the healthier diet were at lower risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis.
Body Mass Index was also a factor – that is, being overweight also showed a connection with increased risk, and tying diet directly to weight is simply intuitive.
To put it simply – eating an unhealthy diet and being overweight were both shown to increase your risk of being diagnosed with this chronic and incurable disease later in life.
What is the risk? To get a better understanding, Dr Lu’s team embarked on a second study with narrowed parameters focused specifically on adherence to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans based on the Alternate Healthy Eating Index 2010. These guidelines are intended to help people make informed food choices and be physically active to maintain a healthy weight.
They found that study participants who followed the Dietary Guidelines and maintained a healthy diet were 33% less likely to develop rheumatoid arthritis.
“As we found with the first study, it is clear that a healthy diet may prevent RA development, and our team is interested in conducting further studies to look at why diet is associated with this risk,” said Dr. Lu.
So far, these findings are only preliminary, as they have not yet been published in a peer-reviewed medical journal. Additionally, most research of this type only shows an association – and does not prove that a cause-and-effect relationship exists.
Rheumatoid Arthritis Treatment and Mortality
There are no known cures for rheumatoid arthritis, so most treatments focus on slowing the progression of the disease and managing pain. Treatments range from pain reducing drugs, to surgery for relieving swelling and inflammation.
If you’ve been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, getting regular exercise is recommended. Physical activity has proven beneficial in preventing fatigue and maintaining muscle strength and mobility. Physical activity of course is recommended for people of all ages, for these same results.
Rheumatoid arthritis doesn’t just cause pain and inhibit mobility – it is also known to reduce your life expectancy. It works very much like Diabetes – the disease itself causes a number of side effects, all of which can on their own have life threatening complications.
A few of the more common dangers include increased risk of infection, increased risk of lung cancer or lymphoma, inflammation or scarring of the lungs, stomach bleeding – and most commonly, heart disease. Heart disease accounts for nearly half of deaths in rheumatoid arthritis patients – and the exact reasons are still unclear.
On average, rheumatoid arthritis typically reduces life expectancy by anywhere from 3 to 12 years.
An ounce of prevention
Rheumatoid arthritis is scary stuff – but heart disease and other diet & weight-related illnesses are even scarier. Heart disease as a whole kills 1 in 4 people in the United States today. It is the leading cause of death for both genders.
Want to increase your life expectancy? Want to cut your risks of developing painful and debilitating diseases as you grow older?
Then you should start TODAY.
There’s never been a better time to change your life than today.
Today, you can begin eating more fruits and vegetables.
Today, you can cut back on refined foods and sugars.
You might not have done it yesterday, and you can’t do it tomorrow...
Today is your chance. Make the most of it!
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