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Arthritis FAQ

older woman, ladyArthritis means inflammation of the joint (“arth” is joint and “itis” means inflammation). Most people when they think of arthritis only think of the “osteoarthritis” that happens because of wear and tear on the joints. In fact, there are over 100 different types of arthritis that can strike anybody from babies to older adults. While arthritis does commonly attack the joints, different types also cause musculoskeletal pain.

Here are some forms of arthritis that may be new to you: Juvenile arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, lupus, gout and osteoarthritis. For more information about types of arthritis, visit The Arthritis Society website.

Why is healthy eating important when you have arthritis?

When you have arthritis, eating healthy can help. Healthy food choices and physical activity can help you lose weight, which is important if you have arthritis in your weight bearing joints (knees, hips, spine and feet). 

If you have arthritis in other parts of your body, getting enough healthy nutrients can provide you with the energy to complete everyday activities.

To find out more about healthy eating and arthritis, call 1-877-510-510-2 and speak to a Registered Dietitian. You can also send an email.

I have rheumatoid arthritis and I’ve heard that I should follow a special diet. Is that true?

No. If you have rheumatoid arthritis, the healthiest way to eat is to follow Canada’s Food Guide. While there are many claims about “special diets” that can cure arthritis pain, there is no proof that fasting, going vegetarian, or following nightshade-free or dairy-free diets actually helps. And in some cases they can even be harmful to your health.

Find out more by reading, Arthritis: Five Common Myths are Busted

Is arthritis caused by food allergies?

No. It’s been popular to claim that rheumatoid arthritis pain is due to food allergies or a “leaky gut”, which causes food particles to enter the blood and set off pain and inflammation that is similar to an allergic reaction. Food allergies sometimes connected to arthritis pain are wheat, corn, peanuts, pork, dairy, soy, nightshade vegetables, MSG, beef, salt, and nitrates. 

There is no evidence to suggest that certain foods should be avoided to improve arthritis. If you suspect that you do have a food allergy, speak to your doctor or an allergy specialist before eliminating any food from your diet.

Find out more by reading, Arthritis: Five Common Myths are Busted.

What vitamins and minerals are important for people with arthritis?

By following Canada’s Food Guide, you will get all the nutrients that you need to stay healthy. However, there are some vitamins and minerals that are important to pay attention to:

Calcium: Calcium is important for bone health and to prevent osteoporosis. People with arthritis can be at higher risk for osteoporosis and should be sure to meet their calcium needs. Calcium is found in milk and milk products, fish with bones, and green leafy vegetables. Most adults need about 1000 mg of calcium a day. If you’re over the age of 50 you need 1200 mg of calcium everyday. If you have rheumatoid arthritis, you need 1500 mg of calcium per day from food and supplements. 

If you are concerned about your calcium intake, speak with your family doctor, pharmacist or Registered Dietitian about your calcium needs and how you can get more calcium from foods or supplements.

Vitamin D: Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium and is important for keeping bones healthy and preventing osteoporosis. We get most of our vitamin D from the sun, but it is also found in fortified milk, soy and rice beverages, some fish, margarine, eggs and liver. 

Since it can be difficult to get vitamin D just from sun and foods, speak to your doctor, Registered Dietitian or pharmacist about a vitamin D supplement.

Health Canada recommends that all adults over the age of 50 take a supplement with 400 IU of vitamin D each day.

Iron: Iron helps form hemoglobin in your red blood cells, which carry oxygen around the body. Many people with arthritis have anemia, which means they do not have enough hemoglobin or red blood cells. This is sometimes caused by arthritis medication. To help maintain the health of red blood cells and prevent anemia, it is important to get enough iron. The iron that your body absorbs the best comes from red meat and other animal products. If you don’t eat meat, you can also get iron from plant sources. Click here for a list of iron-rich food sources. 

If you’re concerned about your iron intake, speak to your doctor about taking an iron supplement. 

Omega-3 fatty acids: New research is suggesting that omega-3 fatty acids can help inflammatory arthritis (such as rheumatoid arthritis). Omega-3 fatty acids are found in cold water fish (salmon, mackerel, trout, herring, sardines), plant oils (flax, canola) and nuts. 

Speak to your doctor or Registered Dietitian about taking omega-3 fatty acid supplements if you don’t eat fish or other omega-3 sources. 

*Please note, fish oils and fish liver oil or cod liver oil are not the same. Fish liver oils can be dangerous in large amounts.

Antioxidants: Antioxidants such as vitamin C, vitamin E and selenium may help protect joints by removing some of the compounds in the body that may cause inflammation. To get the antioxidants you need, follow Canada’s Food Guide. Choose one dark green and one orange vegetable each day. Also include plenty of other brightly coloured vegetables and fruit such as berries, apples, avocado, cherries, oranges, beets and tomatoes. Other antioxidant rich foods include nuts, seeds and whole grains.

Most of the time, it is best to get the vitamins and minerals you need from food instead of supplements. However, depending on the type of arthritis you have or if you have other medical conditions, you may have trouble absorbing some nutrients. In this case, it may be helpful to take a standard multivitamin supplement. 

Speak to your doctor, Registered Dietitian or pharmacist to find out more about supplements.  

My father just got diagnosed with gout. Can you tell me what this means?

Gout is a type of arthritis that is most common in older men. It occurs because uric acid builds up in the blood and forms crystals, which cause pain in the joints. 

Gout can be controlled with medication, healthy food choices, limiting alcohol and maintaining a healthy weight.

Click here to find out more about gout.

My doctor told me that losing weight would help the pain in my knee. Why is that?

It’s true. You can reduce the pain in some joints by losing weight. When you are carrying extra weight, you are putting a lot of pressure on many of your weight bearing joints, especially the knees, back, hips, ankles and feet. Even a little bit of weight loss will make a big difference to your pain.

Losing weight is not easy; here are some tips to get you started:

  1. Follow Canada’s Food Guide. Fill your plate mostly with vegetables, fruit, and high-fibre whole grains or legumes. Round out your meals with low fat dairy and lean meat, poultry or fish.
  2. Watch your portion sizes. We tend to eat whatever is on our plate, even if we’re not hungry. Take this quiz to see how you measure up.
  3. Get active. Speak to your doctor if you are new to exercise and then aim for 30-60 minutes a day of a physical activity that you enjoy.
  4. Call EatRight Ontario at 1-877-510-510-2 to speak with a Registered Dietitian about healthy weight loss or send an email.
  5. Click here for more weight management and healthy eating resources.
  6. Get help with menu planning. Visit My Menu Planner to customize a meal plan that includes all your favourite foods.

I have osteoarthritis. Should I take glucosamine and/or chondroitin?

It’s a personal choice. These two have become popular supplements for people with osteoarthritis who have severe knee pain. This is because glucosamine and chondroitin are found in joint cartilage so taking these supplements may help rebuild cartilage that has worn away. There is very little research that proves that these supplements can ease pain, but they are safe to take. 

*Always speak to your doctor, Registered Dietitian or pharmacist before starting a new supplement.

*Note: If you have a shellfish allergy, do not take glucosamine.

For more information about arthritis:

Arthritis Society, Gout

Arthritis: Five common myths are busted

Read Nutrition & Arthritis by The Arthritis Society and Dietitians of Canada to learn how eating well can help arthritis.

Visit The Arthritis Society for more information on arthritis, supports and programs.

Last Update – May 10, 2017

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If you have questions about what you've read here, or other questions about food, nutrition or healthy eating, click to email our Registered Dietitians or call 1-877-510-5102.