Colorful Foods Protect Against Arthritis
Eating carotenoid-rich foods may help protect against inflammatory polyarthritis (inflammation of two or more joints), reports the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (2005;82:451–5).
Although it may be associated with conditions such as lupus, psoriasis, inflammatory bowel disease, or certain infections, inflammatory polyarthritis is most commonly a manifestation of rheumatoid arthritis. Rheumatoid arthritis occurs more frequently in women than in men, with symptoms that may include morning stiffness, joint deformities, and other organ involvement, such as heart disease.
Antioxidants are substances that can help minimize the damage caused by highly unstable free radical compounds believed to cause conditions such as cancer, heart disease, and macular degeneration. Free radicals may also contribute to the development of chronic inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis.
Carotenoids lend deep red, orange, yellow, and green colors to different fruits and vegetables, and they function as antioxidants. Beta-carotene, the best known carotenoid, is abundant in carrots, yams, and mangoes. Another carotenoid, lycopene, is found in tomatoes and watermelons; lutein is plentiful in egg yolks, spinach, and collard greens; zeaxanthin can be found in tangerines and orange peppers; and beta-cryptoxanthin is concentrated in oranges, cilantro, corn, and red bell peppers.
An earlier study found that beta-cryptoxanthin might help protect against rheumatoid arthritis. To determine the effect of carotenoids in the diet on the incidence of inflammatory polyarthritis, the diets of 88 people with inflammatory polyarthritis were compared with those of 176 healthy individuals of similar age and gender (controls) as a part of the European Prospective Investigation of Cancer Incidence–Norfolk study. At the onset of the study, the participants recorded the type and amount of all foods and beverages consumed over a seven-day period. During the eight-year study, the participants were screened for inflammatory polyarthritis development. Analyses were performed to estimate the daily intake of beta-cryptoxanthin, zeaxanthin, lutein, lycopene, and beta-carotene. Carotenoid intake levels were divided into thirds for purposes of comparison.
Zeaxanthin intake was 20% lower and beta-cryptoxanthin intake was almost 40% lower among the participants who developed inflammatory polyarthritis than among the controls. Compared with the lowest third of beta-cryptoxanthin intake, participants in the highest third of intake were about 58% less likely to develop inflammatory polyarthritis. Zeaxanthin intake also appeared to decrease risk, but the association was not as strong as it was for beta-cryptoxanthin. There were no differences between the groups with respect to dietary intake of beta-carotene, lutein, or lycopene.
Drinking one glass of orange juice per day provides enough beta-cryptoxanthin to help reduce the risk of developing inflammatory polyarthritis.
Kimberly Beauchamp, ND, earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Rhode Island and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA. She cofounded South County Naturopaths in Wakefield, RI. Dr. Beauchamp practices as a birth doula and lectures on topics including whole-foods nutrition, detoxification, and women’s health.
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