If you’re experiencing ankylosing spondylitis symptoms like joint pain, stiffness, and swelling, taking these steps to reduce inflammation in your body may help.
When you have ankylosing spondylitis — as with any other form of arthritis — your condition may be sensitive to the overall level of inflammation in your body. Inflammation is a body-wide response designed to help fight infections and heal injuries, and in these situations, it can be crucial to your well-being.
But when you have a condition like ankylosing spondylitis, inflammation can increase symptoms of pain, stiffness, and swelling. “Any time you have an autoimmune condition, when there’s inflammation in the body, you’re more susceptible to flares,” says Gerardo Miranda-Comas, MD, a rehabilitation and physical medicine specialist at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City.
Inflammation can also cause more lasting damage. “In diseases like ankylosing spondylitis, long-term inflammation can lead to bony damage and fusion of joints,” says Kevin Deane, MD, a rheumatologist at University of Colorado Hospital in Aurora. “And that can lead to lack of motion and really disabling arthritis down the road.”
The good news is that there are several steps you can take to minimize inflammation in your body. Try these tips to reduce inflammation and improve the outlook of anykylosing spondylitis.
1. Take your medications as directed.
Drugs used to treat ankylosing spondylitis — whether they’re over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen or naproxen, or prescription therapies like TNF inhibitors — all have the effect of reducing chronic inflammation in the body.
People with ankylosing spondylitis should consider “following what their healthcare providers and rheumatologists recommend” in terms of drug therapies to be a key step in reducing inflammation, says Deane.
2. If you smoke tobacco, quit.
According to Deane, not smoking is probably the single most important lifestyle factor to reduce inflammation in ankylosing spondylitis. If you smoke, he says, quitting is “critically important.”
“We know that smoking drives the immune system, revs it up, and makes inflammation worse,” he says.
There’s a large body of evidence that links smoking to increased inflammation in the body. One recent example, published in March 2017 in the journal BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine, showed that smokers had higher levels of high sensitive C-reactive protein — a marker of inflammation — than nonsmokers.
3. Include good fats in your diet.
While there isn’t any perfect, proven diet for ankylosing spondylitis, Deane says that following a Mediterranean-type diet — rich in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, olive oil, nuts and seeds, and fish — is probably the best way of eating to reduce inflammation in the body.
Omega-3 fatty acids, in particular — found in certain fatty fish, nuts, and seeds — may help counter inflammation. In a study published in March 2017 in the Scandinavian Journal of Rheumatology, researchers found that people with psoriatic arthritis — an inflammatory type of arthritis closely related to ankylosing spondylitis — who took omega-3 supplementsexperienced less disease activity, showed lower markers of inflammation, and required lower doses of medications to control their condition.
On the other hand, Miranda-Comas notes, saturated fats like those found in red meat and full-fat dairy have been linked to pro-inflammatory processes in the body and should be avoided as much as possible.
4. Avoid high-heat cooking.
According to the Arthritis Foundation, cooking food at high temperatures can lead to the formation of chemicals called advanced glycation end products (AGEs), which can trigger your body’s inflammatory response and have been linked to a number of different health conditions.
To reduce AGEs in your diet, it’s especially important not to use high heat to grill, sear, or fry beef, pork, chicken, and fish.
5. Try using anti-inflammatory spices.
Incorporating spices like garlic, turmeric, ginger, cinnamon, and cayenne pepper into your diet may help reduce inflammation, according to the Arthritis Foundation.
Deane notes that when people make efforts to include these spices in their diet, “They often change their cooking habits to incorporate these potentially very valuable items” — increasing their intake of vegetables and reducing fried foods in the process, which helps reduce inflammation even further.