If you’re one of the millions of people in the U.S. with the inflammatory disease psoriatic arthritis (PsA), you’ve probably wondered if changing the way you eat can help manage your condition. While there’s no one diet proven to manage the symptoms of psoriatic arthritis, there are a number of diet tweaks you can make that may help.
Psoriatic arthritis is a type of arthritis that occurs alongside psoriasis, a chronic, inflammatory skin and nail disease. People with PsA may have red scaly rashes and thick, pitted fingernails as well as inflammation and joint pain that can occur in other types of arthritis. (Read more about psoriatic arthritis symptoms.)
The Best Diet for Psoriatic Arthritis: Weight Loss
The diet most proven to help manage symptoms of psoriatic arthritis, according to the medical board of the National Psoriasis Foundation, is one that helps people with the condition reach a healthy weight.
The reason: Excess pounds may make it harder to control psoriatic arthritis symptoms.
People whose body mass index fell in the obese category (30 or greater) were 48 percent less likely than those with a healthy BMI (18.5-24.9) to have minimal symptoms like pain and swollen joints in a 2015 study published in the journal Annals of Rheumatic Disease. People who fell in the overweight BMI category (higher than 25) were 35 percent less likely.
Obesity may make certain psoriatic arthritis treatments, including disease-modifying drugs (DMARDs) and biologics, less effective and reduce patients’ changes of getting to low disease activity or remission. In fact, a study found that people who lost 5 percent or more of their baseline weight were more likely to have minimal disease activity
How Weight Impacts Psoriatic Arthritis Symptoms
Researchers say that fat tissue in the body releases inflammation-causing proteins, which can further exacerbate an already inflamed body. “Fat is essentially an inflammatory organ,” says Alexis Ogdie, MD, MSCE, director of the Penn Psoriatic Arthritis and Spondyloarthritis program at the University of Pennsylvania.
What’s more, extra pounds may put even more impact on the joints than you’d think. “The rule of thumb is that every 10 pounds on the body is 25 pounds to the knee,” says Ogdie.
An Anti-Inflammatory Diet for Psoriatic Arthritis
Since psoriatic arthritis is an inflammatory condition, following an anti-inflammatory diet is often recommended to help control symptoms.
But the science of how exactly anti-inflammatory diets may — or may not — help people with psoriatic arthritis is complicated and still developing. For example, some newer research shows that anti-inflammatory diets may not help people with PsA. When scientists tracked the diets of more than 80,000 women over four years, they found that those who ate an anti-inflammatory diet were no less likely to develop psoriatic arthritis compared with those who ate a pro-inflammatory diet.
While this may indicate that diet isn’t necessarily a silver bullet for PsA, there are still other reasons to follow an anti-inflammatory diet pattern. There is convincing evidence eating this type of diet pattern may help with weight loss as well as help prevent or manage diabetes and heart disease, which are more common in people with PsA.
A balanced diet that is heavy in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, fish, legumes, nuts, seeds, and plant-based fats is thought of as an anti-inflammatory diet. You may also hear this diet pattern referred to as a “Mediterranean diet.”
An anti-inflammatory diet pattern limits a number of foods that are considered pro-inflammatory. Those foods include fatty red meats, added sugars (and foods that are high in added sugars like packaged sweet snacks and sodas), and refined carbs like white bread, pasta, and rice. Here’s advice on how to cut out sugar to help manage your arthritis.
It’s possible that the inflammation caused by eating these foods can exacerbate inflammation in a person with PsA; some people with psoriatic arthritis do find avoiding these foods in favor of a more anti-inflammatory diet helps, says Dr. Ogdie.
Here are a few anti-inflammatory foods you’ll want to be sure to include in a healthy diet for psoriatic arthritis:
Fruits and vegetables: Produce loaded with antioxidants can help cut down on inflammation. Aim to get a range of colors each day from less processed fruits and vegetables. Fresh produce always works, but frozen is a nutritious option that’s also more affordable.
Fish: Fish, especially fatty fish like salmon and mackerel are loaded with anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids. Research shows that omega-3 fatty acids may help protect people with psoriatic arthritis against heart disease.
Whole grains: Refined grain foods can increase levels of inflammatory proteins in the body; whole grain foods, however, can have the opposite effect. Choose grain foods like brown rice, whole grain bread, quinoa, barley, and wheat berries to reap the benefits.
Nuts: Eating nuts frequently is linked with lower levels of inflammation in the body. Choose the ones you like the best: Peanuts, almonds, walnuts, cashews, pistachios and pecans are all great choices.