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Dietary Guidelines for Rheumatoid Arthritis

Dietary Guidelines for Rheumatoid Arthritis
By Xiaomei Cai, L.Ac., Ph.D., O.M.D. (China)

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic disease, mainly characterized by the inflammation of the lining, or synovium, of the joints. It can lead to long-term joint damage, resulting in chronic pain, loss of function and disability.
RA progresses in three stages. The first stage is the swelling of the synovial lining, causing pain, warmth, stiffness, redness and joint swelling. The second stage is the rapid division and growth of cells, which causes the synovium to thicken. In the third stage, the inflamed cells release enzymes that may digest bone and cartilage, often causing the involved joint to lose its shape and alignment, eliciting more pain and loss of movement. Because of its chronic nature, RA continues indefinitely and may not go away. Frequent flares can occur.

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RA affects people differently. For some people, it lasts only a few months or a year or two and then goes away without causing any noticeable damage. Other people may have mild or moderate forms of the disease, with periods of worsening symptoms, called flares, and periods when they feel better, called remissions. Still, others may have a severe form of the disease that is active most of the time, lasting for many years or even a lifetime. This form can lead to serious joint damage and disability.

The cause of RA is unknown. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, this condition is called Bi Zheng, which is typically divided into four types: Wind-Cold Bi, Cold-Bi, Dampness-Bi and Heat-Bi. Through a thorough examination and consultation, including an assessment of the pulse and tongue, a diagnosis is made. Specific acupuncture points and herbs are prescribed and an appropriate diet is designed for the patient to follow. For Wind-Bi, adding green onions and ginger to your diet will help expel the Wind. For Cold-Bi, choose black pepper and dry ginger. Soy bean sprouts and pearl barley are beneficial for Dampness-Bi. For Heat -Bi, you should consume mung bean sprouts and winter melon.

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Generally, your daily diet should include enough fresh vegetables, and foods rich in omega 3 and 6, such as flax seeds, sunflower seeds and walnuts. Supplement 100% of your calcium. During flares, eat more bitter melon and dandelion greens to reduce heat. Add some pearl barley, tofu, celery and Chinese yam to alleviate swollen joints. During remissions, eat more mushrooms such as black wood ear to strengthen your immune system. People suffering from RA should avoid oily and greasy food, dairy, shellfish, seaweed, egg, sugar, alcohol and excessive salt. Depending on your specific condition, consult with a TCM practitioner for an appropriate diet.

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