There are a lot of old wives’ tales when it comes to arthritis, mostly involving food. I’ve been told a number of different things about how someone’s grandmother cured her arthritis by giving up this food or that food, or by taking a particular food on a daily basis. I’ve also been told that certain foods are ‘well known’ to trigger flare ups –usually aubergine (my favourite vegetable!), tomatoes and peppers. While I appreciate their intention is to help, quite often they are talking about a relative with osteoarthritis, which is NOT the same as an auto immune arthritis and has different causes and treatments. The interaction with diet is also likely to be different.
Last year, my cousin sourced a research paper conducted in 2000 and published in Clinical and Experimental Rheumatology 18:375-0378 (Palindromic Rheumatism: Effect of Dietary Manipulation). This research was unusual in that it was specifically done on patients with a diagnosis of PR (believe me, there is VERY little research conducted solely on PR patients). The research was only with a small sample (16 patients) and they were monitored to see if there was any link between their flare ups and food. The experiment found that in a small number of patients (only 5), there WAS a link between food and flare ups, though it wasn’t the same food for everyone.
My family all thought that it could be worth me keeping a detailed food diary to see if that was the case with me – after all, if there WAS a link, then maybe I could cut out the specific food and reduce my flare ups (or even stop them altogether). I was highly dubious. The sample size was small and only a few people had a link. The process of keeping a diary seemed laborious and making connections between flares too complicated. After all, for some of those patients, it could be up to 36 hours between ingesting the food and a flare up.
Since joining the Facebook PR group, I’ve discovered that some people within the group do think that their flares ARE aggravated by certain foods, and one person was even advised to give up meat by her rheumatologist. I also found myself a really clever food diary app for my phone which allows you to enter all sorts of things – not just the food you eat and the ingredients in all the dishes – but also things like stress, energy levels, fatigue, sleep quality, and exercise. You also keep a record of all your symptoms (and it also allows you to grade the symptom on a scale of 1- 10) and then eventually, when there is enough data, it calculates the most likely culprits.
So I’ve decided to give it a go and have been keeping a food diary for the last two weeks. So far there is not nearly enough data to show anything conclusive yet. I expect that it’ll actually take around 3 months or even more than that to have enough data to really calculate any possible links. And even then there might not be any connection.
However, I’m not just wanting to find a link between flares and food. I also want to find out what of my other lifestyle choices impact on my symptoms – both flares in terms of pain, and in terms of fatigue. Because of this, I’m also entering stress, exercise, medication and supplements, and meditation. Perhaps I’ll notice that I’m less fatigued when I regularly meditate? Or maybe more fatigued if I’m exercising too much or if I’m too stressed? I hope to be able to keep this up consistently for a few months and see what the app might find.
So far, the main obstacle to entering data is when I don’t cook food myself and need to find out the ingredients. In a cafe yesterday, the chef REFUSED to tell me what was in her soup in case I stole the recipe! It reminded me to be more mindful when I ate so that I can work out for myself what might have gone into a dish and enter as much detail as I can.
I shall keep you posted of any findings.
Generally, life’s not bad right now. There is pain from time to time but I haven’t had anything too debilitating for a month or so in terms of pain or fatigue. Long may it last (it probably won’t!)