Diet Changes That Helped My AS
Last updated: July 2023
Living with condition like AS is not as simple as taking medicine and getting on with it. Medication can only do so much. I'm very grateful for how well my injections have been going but sometimes it is not enough.
I think it is very important to look after our bodies in other ways too. I want to share some of the changes I have made that have really helped my condition.
Have you made dietary changes to better manage AxSpA?
After finally getting my AS diagnosis, I was told that it would be a few months before I could get my hands on Eternacept (or Enbrel for my American friends) as the hospital needed to apply for funding. In the meantime, I would have to make do with painkillers and anti-inflammatory medication.
This was not ideal for me as my body was in a bad way. My joints were so swollen that I was unable to get around without crutches or a wheelchair. I was constantly in a huge amount of pain. The medication I was taking while I waited for my biologics was not helping my situation at all. I decided to take matters into my own hands and do some research into ways to make myself feel better. I knew that anything I tried was not going to cure me. But I figured that if I could reduce the pain and swelling, I would hopefully be in a lot less pain while I waited.
The main problem I was experiencing was inflammation in my joints. I decided to try and tackle this in two ways. I started eating more foods with anti-inflammatory properties and avoided anything that could potentially cause inflammation.
Cutting out dairy and gluten
After many hours of intense googling, I saw that in some cases gluten and dairy (milk products) can cause inflammation so I decided to see if cutting these out would have any effect on my condition.
As a lacto-ovo vegetarian, the prospect of life without cheese and bread sounded very daunting at first, but I was so determined to get myself better that I reluctantly rose to this challenge.
This decision was probably not very popular with my friends and family. It had been hard enough to go out for meals with me before (due to my vegetarian ways) and this took it to a whole new level of awkwardness.
I also tried to steer away from processed foods. The majority of my meals consisted of omelettes and various types of salads. I looked up different ways of seasoning and preparing these meals to keep them interesting.
I started to feel an enormous difference. My gigantic swollen joints were reduced to almost a regular human size. This decreased the pain I was in and allowed me to be a lot more mobile. I also saw a difference in my energy levels which in turn enabled me to be a lot more active and do more exercise which further benefitted my condition.
Additions and replacements
I also made additions to my diet.
I experimented with a few supplements and anti-inflammatory foods. The ones that worked best for me were ginger and turmeric. This was because I enjoyed the taste; they were easy to implement in meals and I felt as though they were helping my inflammation the most.
I also made a few trade-offs to make the transition a little easier. Instead of a bag of potato chips, I would opt for walnuts, and I replaced fizzy drinks with a glass of natural ginger beer or ale.
Unfortunately for me, alcohol can be a big cause of inflammation too. I did refrain from drinking for most of this time. This was arguably the toughest lifestyle change I implemented.
However, on the few occasions I let my hair down a bit I drank gluten free alcoholic ginger beer. I convinced myself that the ginger in the beer would cancel out the affects of the alcohol. But if I am being honest this theory was probably fuelled by delusion.
Keeping this up post flare-up
Of course it is not always easy or particularly enjoyable to always follow strict diets like this. Sometimes we need to live a little - which for me means eating and drinking things that aren't exactly AS-friendly.
Now I am out of a flare up, I’m not quite as strict with my diet but I still keep an eye on what I am putting in my body. I'm more aware of how different food and drink can affect my condition. One of my saddest discoveries was that when I eat pizza, my pain levels increase after about an hour.
As a Londoner, social situations involving alcohol are inevitable. I realized that after a night's drinking there’s an intense brain fog alongside a hangover. This brain fog usually makes it harder for me to look after myself properly which leads to my condition deteriorating. For this reason I try to limit the amount of alcohol I consume and only partake if my body is feeling up to it.
Everyone's body is different and I am under no illusion that this is the magic cure for all. But I do truly believe our diet has a direct impact on how our body behaves and in turn how we feel.
Of course how strict you should be depends on what condition your body is in. I follow these eating and drinking habits religiously whenever I am in a flare-up. But when I am feeling more pain and stiffness free, I allow myself to indulge in a few naughty treats. AS adds enough stress to our lives; we should be able to enjoy ourselves with a beer or a bit of cheese sometimes.
If these changes don’t work for you, don't despair. There are so many alternatives to try that may benefit you more. Keep experimenting until you find what works best for your body.
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