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A woman seeing her doctor about her arthritis
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Sugar’s Impact on Arthritis

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Arthritis is another condition that can be worsened by frequent sugar consumption. If you’re looking to manage your current arthritis or trying to prevent its development down the road, choosing other alternatives to sugar in your diet can be a beneficial step in the right direction. 

What Is Arthritis?

Arthritis is an umbrella term that refers to swelling or inflammation of the joints. There are many different types of arthritis: osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, juvenile arthritis, and conditions like fibromyalgia and gout being just a few. There are actually over 100 arthritis types and related conditions; it is the leading cause of disability in the US. Over 22% of American adults have been diagnosed with arthritis, and almost half of these people report that it limits their daily movement and activities.

Medical professionals still don’t have a perfect understanding of arthritis, and each type is slightly different. For example, rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease where the body’s immune system attacks the joints, while osteoarthritis is generally caused by “wear and tear” and inflammation that breaks down the cartilage at the ends of bones.

Arthritis is responsible for pain, swelling, and mobility problems in the joints, and it can cause permanent joint damage as well as unfavorable symptoms in the eyes, heart, lungs, kidneys, and skin.

How Does Sugar Contribute to Arthritis Risk?

As you eat sugar over time, you can increase your risk of developing various types of arthritis. First, sugar triggers the production of cytokine molecules, which promote the body’s defensive inflammatory response, and this low-grade chronic inflammation can lead to arthritis-related problems. Second, high sugar consumption can lead to weight gain and obesity, and this additional weight can create and exacerbate joint problems of all kinds. So, between the inflammation and the weight gain, sugar contributes to two major risk factors for osteoarthritis.

Additionally, the chemical breakdown of sugar in the body leads to byproducts that can increase the risk of gout. When mouth bacteria are triggered by the starches in sugar, they can enter the bloodstream and create infections and problems in the joints. Sugar can also throw your gut microbiome out of whack, messing up the balance of bacteria in your body, which can also increase inflammation in the body and lead to arthritis.

How Does Sugar Impact Arthritis?

In people who already suffer from arthritis, sugar can worsen the problem. Many people report rheumatoid arthritis flare-ups after eating sugary treats, suffering from additional swelling and joint pain. The mechanisms by which sugar causes arthritic flare-ups are similar to the ways it increases the risk of developing arthritis in the first place – inflammation and preventing meaningful weight loss.  

Arthritis Management

If you suffer from arthritis (or just want to prevent it down the road), there are lifestyle changes you can adopt in order to manage the condition and minimize debilitating symptoms:

  •       Avoid inflammatory foods such as sugar, trans fats, alcohol, and gluten
  •       Instead, choose anti-inflammatory foods like vegetables, fruits, avocados, nuts, olive oil, fish, dark chocolate, and whole grains
  •       Check for hidden sugars in your foods so you don’t unintentionally trigger arthritis flare-ups
  •       Be active, since it can reduce pain and increase function. Low-impact activities like swimming, cycling, and yoga are popular options for joint protection
  •       Maintain a healthy weight or lose weight until you get to a healthy weight

Arthritis can be a painful, debilitating disease, and eating sugar can worsen your symptoms and quality of life. Instead, make healthy lifestyle choices to manage or prevent the development of arthritis.

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