Rheumatoid Arthritis Sufferers: How Food Can Protect Your Bones

When you have rheumatoid arthritis, inflammation releases enzymes that eat away at cartilage and bone in your joints. Keeping this autoimmune condition under control through medication and exercise are essential to protecting your bones. However, you're probably familiar with the old adage "you are what you eat?" This holds true especially when you're battling a chronic disease. Try to add more of these foods to your diet for strong, healthy bones.

• Omega 3 fatty acids. Several studies suggest that oils found in fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, herring, and mackerel can benefit rheumatoid arthritis and help you maintain healthy bones. That's because they are packed with omega-3 fatty acids called eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) that help to lower inflammation in the body. In addition, omega-3 fatty acids reduce the amount of corticosteroids you need to take (corticosteroids are very effective at fighting inflammation, but also weaken bones).

Try to eat at least two to three servings of fish each week. Other good omega-3 foods to add to your diet include flaxseeds, walnuts, and soybeans. Alternatively, you could take fish oil supplements. But, pregnant women and young children should limit their intake of fish and fish oil supplements to reduce their exposure to chemicals such as mercury.

• Vegetables and fruits. These nutrient-rich foods are beneficial in several ways when you have rheumatoid arthritis. A diet rich in veggies, fruits, nuts and seeds help to maintain your weight, which takes pressure off your joints, thereby protecting your bones.

But, a vegan diet (no meat, meat products, or fish) also changes the fat composition in your body, which impacts immune system activity in your body, according to the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM). Also, these foods are some of the richest sources of antioxidants, which fight off free radicals that attack the joints.

For the average person, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends eating two cups of fruit and 2 1/2 cups of vegetables a day

• Soy. Several studies show that the isoflavones in soy help to increase bone mineral content and bone density. In particular, the isoflavones genistein and daidzein stimulate protein synthesis and bone formation. Also, isoflavones have anti-inflammatory properties that further benefit conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis.

Don't like the taste of soy milk or tofu? Try adding soy milk or silken tofu to fruit shakes instead of milk. Or, try soy yogurt or ice-cream to see if they please your palate.

• Calcium. This mineral is renowned for its bone-building benefits. For the average person, the daily adequate intake level of calcium is 1,000 milligrams (mg), and the tolerable upper intake level is 2,500.

Most consumers rely on dairy products for their daily dose of calcium. However, some people with rheumatoid arthritis find that these foods worsen their symptoms. Fortunately, there are many other good food sources for calcium including the fish that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids such as salmon, sardines, herring and mackerel. Other good sources include dark green, leafy vegetables such as kale and collard greens, and fortified drinks and cereals.

Your doctor may also recommend that you take a calcium carbonate supplement if you're taking rheumatoid arthritis drugs that weaken your bones, such as corticosteroids. To enhance calcium's bone-protecting abilities, take a vitamin D supplement as this nutrient increases your body's ability to absorb calcium.