Here's How Caffeine, Sugar, and Alcohol Impact Your Arthritis
Understand how and why they worsen the inflammatory condition.
Arthritis can be a debilitating disease, and it affects a whopping 53 millions Americans—that's 23 percent of all adults, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While there is no one single cure for arthritis, many patients notice a direct correlation between the food they eat and the way their joints feel. In fact, the topic of diet and arthritis comes up frequently in Texas Orthopedics rheumatologist Robert Koval's patient visits. "Some studies suggest over 25 percent of patients feel a direct correlation between arthritis pain and diet, while other studies show that diet and weight loss results in improved outcomes in diseases like psoriatic arthritis and rheumatoid arthritis (RA)," he says. "High-fat and high-carbohydrate diets have also been linked to cartilage loss, while mediterranean diets have been linked to improved pain in all types of arthritis."
It's easy enough to stick to a low-carb, low-fat diet most of the time, but what about enjoying a few of your favorite sometime-vices, like caffeine, sugar, or alcohol? Although there aren't any formal arthritis-related guidelines on the specific intake for each, Koval notes that those who partake in the so-called "western diet," which do involve these three players, are more likely to exhibit symptoms of both types of arthritis. It's no secret, then, that the some of the elements arthritis sufferers should aim to eliminate from their diets are caffeine, sugar, and alcohol. Here, a look at how each impacts the condition.
While caffeine in moderation has not been linked to an exacerbation of arthritis, Koval notes that high amounts of caffeine (more than two cups per day) has been shown to worsen pain and accelerate restless leg syndrome, amongst other ailments. When possible, it's best to choose non-caffeinated beverages and decaf coffee after you've already had a cup of the caffeinated kind. While this isn't guaranteed to show large-scale differences in terms of your arthritis symptoms, it certainly won't hurt.
Most of us know from an early age that too much sugar is never a good thing—that's even more true if you suffer from arthritis. "Sugar is pro-inflammatory and artificial sweeteners have been linked with the development of diabetes," explains Koval. "An intake of two sugary drinks or more per day has been associated with increased mortality." When possible, consume natural sugars—the kind found in fruit, as these also provide a myriad of nutrients that the body can use for fuel.
Although there is no direct link between the consumption of alcohol and the development of arthritis, many patients notice worsening health overall when they consume too much. "When it comes to alcohol consumption, a good rule of thumb is to not exceed one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men to prevent worsening of the disease," notes Koval. "High amounts of alcohol impairs the immune system and also increases the risk for falls and injury."
While there is no particular diet for inflammatory arthritis, which comprises rheumatoid and psoriatic arthritis, Umbreen Hasan, M.D., a rheumatologist with Allina Health in Minneapolis, Minnesota, recommends maintaining as healthy a lifestyle as possible. "Aim to eat a diet with plenty of grain products, fruits, and vegetables and balance those with physical activity to maintain or improve your weight," she says. "'All things in moderation' is truly the key to a happy and sustainable life with arthritis."