Features December 2003 Issue

Drink To Your (Joint) Health

Which beverages are apt to ease—or aggravate—arthritis pain?

There’s water, water everywhere, and people with arthritis should drink a lot of it —at least two or three 8-ounce glasses daily. Although offering no nutritional value in itself, water transports essential nutrients throughout your body. It hydrates your cells, enabling them to carry out vitally necessary metabolic activity. And since water is the prime component of the synovial fluid filling the spaces in your joints as well as the cartilage that cushions your bones, staying well hydrated is bound to reduce arthritic pain.

Moreover, nutrition expert Andrea Dunn points out, water is especially important for people who are taking arthritis drugs.

“Medications need water in order to be digested and absorbed properly,” says Dunn, an outpatient dietitian and advanced practitioner at The Cleveland Clinic’s Westlake Family Health Center. “And people with arthritis tend to take more medications than others.”

Beyond Water
Of course, few people would be content to rely on water as the sole source of their total daily fluid requirement, which Dunn and other nutrition authorities agree should be from six to eight 8-ounce servings. (Dunn’s recommendation: “Try to drink at least a half-cup—4 ounces—of fluid every hour that you’re awake.”) She is quick to add, however, that not all fluids are appropriate for people with arthritis. Some are highly recommended and others are acceptable, but there are beverages that arthritis patients—especially those on medication—should vigilantly avoid.

Here’s what Dunn and other nutritionists have to say about beverages that either pass or fail the “arthritis test”:

Highly Recommended
• Low-fat or skim milk. The bone-weakening disease osteoporosis and other arthritic problems can be helped by an abundant intake of vitamin D and calcium—and milk is rich in both nutrients. Whole milk, however, is also high in calories, which can add weight and thus contribute to increased pressure on the joints. When it comes to recommending beverages for arthritis patients, “Low-fat milk is my favorite,” says Dunn.

• Tea. Whether green or black, tea is loaded with antioxidants that inhibit the production of prostaglandins, hormone-like substances that contribute to chronic inflammation. Studies have shown that drinking at least three cups of tea per day—either freshly brewed or iced—can reduce your risk of rheumatoid arthritis.

• Most citrus juices. Anti-inflammatory drugs tend to deplete the body’s store of vitamin C. It makes sense, therefore, that the intake of most citrus juices—especially orange juice—can help maintain your level of vitamin C. Keep in mind, however, that due to adverse drug interactions, grapefruit juice should not be consumed along with certain medications, such as cyclosporin or methotrexate. When in doubt about the compatibility of the drug you’re taking, check with your doctor.

To Be Avoided
Most experts agree that three beverages should be avoided or, at most, consumed in limited quantity by people with arthritis: those containing caffeine; those containing alcohol; and those that are carbonated. Caffeine is dehydrating and can interfere with the effectiveness of methotrexate and other arthritis medications. Alcohol is also dehydrating, can interact violently with some medications, can cause severe stomach upset when consumed with anti-inflammatory drugs, and will exacerbate some arthritic conditions, such as gout. Carbonated beverages contain phosphorous, which makes them bubbly but is also known to increase the risk of osteoporosis.

When in doubt, says Dunn, have a glass of water. If that’s too boring, spice it up with a wedge of lime or lemon.