Ankylosing spondylitis (AS) is a chronic inflammatory condition and a type of arthritis. It usually causes pain, stiffness, and reduced mobility in the spine. It can also affect other joints. Some people may find symptom relief by making dietary changes, though evidence is limited.
There is currently no cure for ankylosing spondylitis. However, getting an early diagnosis and using appropriate management techniques can help a person cope with the symptoms and reduce their risk of complications.
However, people with AS can try using diet alongside conventional treatments to reduce the symptoms. Unless a person has food intolerances or allergies, these dietary changes should be safe to try.
This article discusses how dietary choices can impact AS, which foods to eat and avoid, and the complications that this condition can trigger.
Although there is no specific diet for people with AS, consuming certain foods may help people manage symptoms of the condition.
The sections below cover diet’s role in AS in more detail.
AS and weight management
The Spondylitis Association of America notes that maintaining a moderate weight is important for people with AS, as excess weight places stress on the bones and joints of the body. This can make the symptoms worse.
Diet and inflammation
Adopting an anti-inflammatory diet may help reduce inflammation in the body. The foods in this type of diet are similar to those of the Mediterranean diet.
The following foods may help reduce inflammation.
Omega-3 fatty acids
The following foods are good sources of omega-3 fatty acids:
- chia seeds
- fatty fish, such as salmon, sardines, and tuna
- flaxseed oil
Whole grains are high in fiber and nutrients. Examples of whole grains include:
According to a
However, some people may find that grains containing gluten — such as barley, wheat, and rye — trigger their AS symptoms.
Anti-inflammatory herbs and spices
Certain herbs and spices may also be anti-inflammatory, including:
- Garlic: Some compounds in garlic exhibit anti-inflammatory properties, according to a
review from 2015.
- Ginger: People have used ginger as an anti-inflammatory remedy for centuries.
2015 researchnotes that gingerols, a major compound in ginger, can help reduce arthritis and pain.
- Turmeric: One of the main components in turmeric is curcumin, which is a compound that
may help reduceinflammation.
Fruits and vegetables
Eating a variety of fruits and vegetables each day ensures a high intake of many of the vitamins and minerals necessary for overall health. These foods also tend to be low in calories and high in fiber.
The National Axial Spondyloarthritis Society (NASS) of the United Kingdom recommends eating fruits and vegetables of different colors. These contain a wide array of antioxidant compounds that help protect against disease.
Food sources high in calcium include:
- dark leafy greens, such as watercress and kale
- fortified plant milks
- low fat dairy products
- canned sardines with bones
- Chinese cabbage
- fortified tofu
- fortified cereals
Vitamin D allows the body to absorb calcium and is another vital nutrient for healthy bones.
The body gets vitamin D from sun exposure and foods such as:
- fish and seafood
- egg yolk
- cod liver oil
- fortified products, such as juices, cereals, dairy, plant-based milk, and tofu
Foods that trigger inflammation may worsen AS symptoms. These foods include:
According to one
As a result, those with AS may wish to reduce the amount of sugary foods and beverages they consume, including:
Salt and high sodium foods
Although a low sodium diet cannot reverse AS, reducing salt intake is a good idea to help manage the condition.
Eating less or no red meat may help reduce the symptoms of AS.
High fat foods
The Arthritis Foundation recommends limiting types of fat that cause inflammation, including saturated fats and omega-6 fatty acids.
Foods that contain saturated fats include:
- red meat
- cheese and full fat dairy products
- processed foods
Excess consumption of omega-6 fatty acids may trigger the production of pro-inflammatory chemicals.
Foods that contain omega-6 fatty acids include:
- vegetable oils, including corn, safflower, sunflower, and soy oils
- salad dressings
- processed foods
People should try to avoid trans fats, which may be present in processed foods.
Manufacturers have now phased trans fats out of food due to regulations from the
Wheat and gluten
Gluten-containing grains — such as wheat, rye, and barley — may contribute to inflammation in some people.
A gluten-free diet is helpful for some individuals with RA, and it may also benefit those with AS.
People with AS should try to limit their alcohol intake or completely avoid it.
Making certain dietary changes may improve the symptoms of these conditions.
Some recommendations for people with IBD include:
- reducing the intake of high fat foods
- limiting or avoiding alcohol
- cutting back on dairy products
Adopting an anti-inflammatory diet may also help alleviate the symptoms of IBD.
The packaging of some dietary supplements may suggest that they could help people with AS. However, some supplements are of poor quality, and the body may not readily absorb them. Others may not have the effects they claim.
Some of the supplements that manufacturers suggest for AS demonstrate no proven benefits for the condition.
However, consuming probiotics
Probiotics may alter the gut microflora to help reduce a person’s susceptibility to AS.
However, more research on humans is required to confirm the benefits of probiotics on AS.
It is usually safe to make dietary changes to manage the symptoms of AS, especially when a person does this alongside taking the medication or other treatments that a doctor has recommended.
However, low calorie, low fat, and low protein diets may not provide enough nutrients to support the immune systems of people with AS.
To ensure adequate nutrient intake, it is important to discuss any dietary changes with a doctor and dietitian beforehand. Certain foods and supplements can
Foods that trigger pain and other symptoms of AS vary from person to person. Keeping a food diary for a month can help a person pinpoint any foods that seem to make their symptoms worse.
There are a number of different treatments other than diet for ankylosing spondylitis.
Keeping active and regularly exercising may help prevent people’s spines from becoming stiff and painful. According to the Spondylitis Association of America, people with ankylosing spondylitis can benefit from four main types of exercise:
- range of motion or stretching
- aerobic or cardiovascular
A workout routine involving each of these types of exercises can help relieve symptoms.
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are the most commonly used type of medication to treat the pain and stiffness that comes from AS. NSAIDs relieve pain and reduce inflammation in the body.
Examples of NSAIDs include:
The high doses that people may require to treat AS can lead to significant side effects, including:
- inflammation of the stomach lining
- sometimes ulcers and bleeding
People should always speak with a doctor before trying a new treatment.
Other treatment options for ankylosing spondylitis include:
Below are some frequently asked questions about ankylosing spondylitis and diet:
Can a vegan diet help reduce inflammation?
Plant-based diets can
Those who incorporated more plant-based foods and limited processed foods and animal products reported improvements in their disease symptoms, including:
- joint and muscle pain
Authors of a 2019 review suggest that people who eat a vegetarian or vegan diet tend to lose weight more so than with other types of diet, which could influence inflammation.
Can a paleo diet help reduce inflammation?
The paleo, or Paleolithic, diet is based on the food patterns of human Paleolithic ancestors from about 2.6 million to 10,000 years ago. More research is required to determine the health benefits of this diet.
There is some evidence from a
- waist circumference
- chronic diseases
Can a low starch help reduce inflammation?
Some people claim that a low starch diet may benefit people with AS. The theory goes that some types of gut bacteria can trigger the condition, and starch feeds these bacteria.
The evidence supporting a low starch diet is anecdotal, meaning that although it may work for some people, NASS cannot endorse the diet due to a lack of solid research.
A person can talk with a healthcare professional if they want to try a low starch diet to help with their symptoms of AS.
While managing AS with diet alone is not advisable, some people may find that certain foods trigger the symptoms of AS, and it can help to avoid them.
There is also no evidence to suggest harm if people make dietary changes, unless people have food intolerances or allergies. Therefore, people may make changes to their diet in order to see if certain foods help ease their symptoms.
However, they should talk with a doctor before doing so to ensure they will consume enough nutrients and calories to support their immune system and promote their overall health.