By: Chris Litten
For most of us, the inflammation stemming from some form of arthritis is the norm. According to the Arthritis Foundation, it accounts for 44 million outpatient visits and 992,100 hospitalizations every year. Arthritis is actually a more frequent cause of inactivity than heart disease, cancer, or diabetes.
What’s a body to do? There is compelling evidence to support the idea that our dietary habits may prolong and exacerbate our aches and pains. This article will begin by first examining inflammation for what it is and why it causes us pain. We will then examine alternatives to medication to combat our inflammation. Finally, we will review an eating plan that has been proven to decrease pain associated with chronic inflammation.
Inflammation is actually a necessary ingredient of the healing process after an acute injury such as a sprained ankle. Without it, certain chemical mediators that are responsible for providing the raw materials needed to repair and remodel injured tissue would not be released.
It is when other chemical mediators, such as the pro-inflammatory enzymes cyclooxygenase-1 (COX-1) and cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2) linger in conditions such as arthritis that it becomes quite problematic. The chronic inflammation in rheumatoid and other forms of autoimmune arthritis affects joints, making them swell and turn red and tender. As a result of pain and tenderness, an individual will often react by moving less to avoid hurting. After a while, less movement leads to decreased mobility, balance and strength. This cycle ultimately leads to a loss of independence when activities of daily living become almost impossible to complete without help from others.
Medical professionals prescribe anti-inflammatory medications to those with arthritis to slow the process of decline. The non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, COX-2 inhibitors Celebrex and Bextra for example, are designed to block these pro-inflammatory enzymes, thus reducing symptoms of pain that are a reality of inflammation. However, these drugs have been demonstrated to promote other health challenges with gastrointestinal, kidney, and liver problems being the most common. Cardiovascular complications have also been cited and were a main cause for the 2004 recall of the once well-known COX-2 inhibitor Vioxx.
Medication can be a necessary reality but you may want to consult your doctor to discuss the things you can do in conjunction with or instead of additional medications. Let’s look at our nutrition. Those same COX-2 pro-inflammatory enzymes mentioned earlier have been demonstrated to increase in activity when in an environment that is higher in Omega-6 fatty acids versus Omega-3 fatty acids. These are the two forms of essential fatty acids necessary for the creation of chemical mediators involved in the inflammatory cycle. Some medical research suggests that excessive levels of Omega-6 relative to Omega-3 may increase the probability of numerous diseases; with arthritis being one of them. Given that the typical Western diet has ratios of Omega-6 to Omega-3 that is four times higher than recommended for decreasing inflammation, there is a compelling argument that the increase in arthritis and other inflammatory conditions is a result of our own lifestyle choices.
Thankfully, we can control our fate to some degree by simply swapping the aforementioned unhealthy ratio for the less inflammatory one. Choose foods such as wild salmon, sardines, flaxseeds, spinach, grass-fed versus grain-fed poultry and beef, walnuts, and oils such as canola, coconut, and olive. These specific foods are beneficial because of their extremely low ratios of Omega-6 to Omega-3.Eliminate high sugar items such as cookies and pastries. Steer clear of trans-fats and all foods containing them. Minimize consumption of processed grains such as pasta and cereals and maximize intake of fruits, particularly berries, as well as vegetables.
Another sure-fire way to combat inflammation is through activity, particularly for those who are overweight and also have knees that are painful and swollen. Staying active will aid in maintaining mobility and strength of course. However, physical activity is essential for maintaining a healthy weight. For every pound lost, four pounds of pressure is removed from your knees. That means by simply eliminating 10 pounds you could free 40 pounds of pressure from your knees! And because fat cells can produce cytokines, proteins that promote inflammation, losing weight also helps decrease inflammation in your body.
A diet that most closely resembles the preferred ratio of Omega-3 to Omega-6 is the Mediterranean Diet. The Mediterranean diet features lean protein like fish and poultry and is high in plant-based foods such as beans, fruits and veggies, and olive oil. According to a 2011 review in Rheumatic Disease Clinics of North America, people with rheumatoid arthritis, or RA, who followed a Mediterranean diet, reported a decrease in joint tenderness and an improvement in their sense of well-being.
Be your own informed advocate for optimal health. Stay active to maintain a healthy weight to reduce stress on your joints. Eat more foods consistent with the Mediterranean diet. Food is fuel. The next time you sit down to a meal consider the food you’re about to eat. Think beyond the immediate effects to your taste buds and growling stomach. Will that meal perpetuate a cycle of inflammation, inactivity and dissatisfaction with life or will it fuel a more vibrant, active lifestyle with a greater sense of well-being?
with Amelia Olson and Amber Stazenski featuring 8 Steps to a Pain-Free Back
Phaedra first started working with Chris in his boot camp before there was a BodyBasics. She kept in touch but did not find the time to work out regularly until over a year ago when she returned to join the 6 a.m. group. Her goals were to improve endurance for running, lose a few pounds, and to help prevent injuries.
Phaedra has become very committed to her morning work outs; increasing from two to three days per week, has brought some great results! She has grown stronger and is running smarter. She is even training for a half marathon and staying relatively pain free. The complete picture of health really started to come together when Phaedra got serious about her nutrition. She is now making better choices, watching portion sizes and lost 20 pounds!
Phaedra is a pleasure to coach because of her great attitude. She brings so much positive energy to the group even at that early hour! Thanks for working so hard and setting such a great example!
Chris, Kris, Mike, Maureen, Nick, Amelia, Amber and Nate
Melissa Franklin has been working with her trainer, Maureen, and has been noticing her strength and balance improving dramatically. She referred her friend, Shirley Steward, and won a free session at the referral reward board! Who do you know that is at risk for falling or needs to develop some strength?
Mo Goldman has been so pleased with his progress while working with his trainer, Amelia, that he referred his mom and his wife! Thanks for making your family a part of our BodyBasics family, Mo!
Suggested serving size 1-2 per person
Ingredients for 1 large mushroom top
- Portobello Mushrooms 1-2 per person
- Spinach 1/4 cup per pizza
- Salsa or diced tomatoes 2 tablespoons
- Pine Nuts 1 tablespoon per pizza
- Goat Cheese 1 oz
Preheat oven to 400. Place mushrooms, upside down, on a baking tray and top each one evenly with the ingredients listed above. Bake 10-12 minutes
180 calories, 11 grams fat, 4 grams fiber, 8 grams protein, 12 grams carbohydrate, 10 grams fat
Amber Stazenski, Nick McKim, Maureen Raine, Chris & Kris Litten, Mike Haas, Amelia Olson (not pictured Nate Burrous)