Those living with Ankylosing Spondylitis (AS) already know the difficulty of living with chronic back pain and stiffness. While AS is not curable, there are definitely ways you can be proactive to slow down and minimize the symptoms, as well as lessen the severity of the condition.
AS is a seronegative spondyloarthropathy disorder which is characterized by chronic inflammation of the joints and spine. This progressive arthritis leads to curvature and fusion of the spine, which can cause restriction to your rib cage, as well as put you at higher risk for fractures and joint problems. The most helpful things you can center your AS management on are exercise, diet and effective medication. Here are four tips that you can use in your dietary guidelines for better AS management.
AS Dietary Tips
Diet is key to living well with AS. Not only can a good diet help with decreasing pain from AS symptoms, it is also crucial for weight management (excess weight causes more strain on your back and joints). Here are some great AS-friendly food tips to incorporate into your everyday meals.
1. Keep a Food Record
How your body responds to food is fully unique to you, and this is a journey to discover the best AS diet for you. Some healthy foods that are helpful for other people with AS may not agree with you, and vice versa. Tracking what you are eating and how your body and symptoms feel afterwards is an excellent way to learn what works for you. Note that certain foods may not cause a reaction right away – you may feel fine immediately following the meal but find your symptoms are flaring up later in the day or even the next day. Writing down both specific notes and general notes at the end of the day or week are helpful for you and your doctor to be able to see any patterns. For example, if there is one week where you eat more vegetables or more fish than usual and you find that you felt good that week, that is a great thing to note.
2. Calcium and Vitamin D are Non-Negotiables
Both calcium and vitamin D are proven to build bone strength, so calcium-rich foods should be constants in your diet. Great sources of calcium include broccoli, kale, fortified cereals and dairy products. If you are consuming a good amount of calcium, don’t forget that your body requires vitamin D in order to convert calcium. If you live in a climate that does not have much sunlight (the easiest source of vitamin D is 10 minutes of daily sunlight exposure on your skin), you can ask your doctor to recommend a good vitamin D supplement. Besides sunlight, you can also get vitamin D from eating certain fish such as smoked salmon, swordfish, canned trout, and smoked white fish.
3. Be Aware of Medication and Food Interactions
You are likely taking a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) medication to treat your AS, but each person’s specific medication will differ in ingredients, dosage, and purpose (as in, which symptom or AS issue it is addressing). How your body absorbs and reacts to food and drinks will be affected by your medication, so it is important to take that into account. Some AS medications lower your folic acid or potassium, and some causes sodium retention. You can learn from your doctor and/or pharmacist what you need to pay special attention to, and whether it may be a good option to take supplements to ensure properly balanced nutrients.
4. Protect Your Stomach and Intestinal Lining
When you take NSAIDs long-term, especially if your condition requires higher dosages, this can damage the lining of your digestive system, particularly your stomach and small and large intestine. You can help protect your stomach lining by making sure your fruit intake includes bananas. Bananas are gentle on your digestive tract, and are a natural antacid and is pH-balancing because of their high potassium levels. They help coat your stomach with a thick mucus, and also provide fiber for better stool passage if you are prone to diarrhea. You can try taking your NSAIDs with live-culture yogurt, which will also help neutralize the damaging effects on your digestive lining.
We hope these tips are helpful for your everyday management of AS. Building beneficial dietary habits is difficult to put into practice, but is worth it in the long run. Next up, we’ll be going over specific food items that are good for limiting inflammation caused by AS.