Someone on the NRAS blogging site mentioned that Food Hospital, a programme on Channel 4 that aims to help people tackle their medical problems through food, was featuring someone with RA this week, so I gritted my teeth and watched it.
It’ not something I’ve ever watched before and it exceeded my expectations; however, my expectations were spectacularly low! It’s a typical ‘magazine programme’ where each week they have three or four different featured illnesses and dietary solutions, and some other features too, and they switch from one to another and back – which meant I had to watch it all and not just the RA bit!
I was pleasantly surprised to see that they had genuine hospital-based medical practitioners involved, and pleased to see that they did in fact explain the difference between rheumatoid and osteoarthritis, and had a reasonable explanation of rheumatoid.
The lady who they were helping had very severe rheumatoid arthritis and had already had a number of joints replaced. As she couldn’t exercise at all she had become quite overweight, and I did feel that they didn’t make enough of the fact that this hadn’t caused her arthritis and indeed that many people with RA are not at all overweight. (I am, of course, not one of them, but that’s another story.) I also strongly objected to the fact that they actually said that her diet contained ‘a lot of red meat and processed meats’ and then showed a picture of a counter-top (if I remember rightly) piled high with cakes, muffins, fried food etc.
I was chatting to a friend about it a couple of days later and she said, ‘Gosh, her normal diet looked awful!’ And I pointed out that there was no reason to suppose that that was her diet (apart from the red and processed meats comment). That was just a TV ploy: let’s show a pile of fattening food because we’re talking about being overweight, and of course if you’re overweight you obviously must scoff cakes and fried bacon the whole time.
Anyway, they put this lass on a high omega-3 anti-inflammatory diet, with the side benefit that she would also lose weight, and hey-presto she lost quite a bit of weight and in ten weeks her ESR (erythrocite sedimentation rate, anti-inflammatory marker) had gone down from 28 (well above normal) to 20 (just within the normal range). Good news indeed. Good enough that I’m going to be increasing my oily fish intake, as any penguin should!
However, what they neglected to mention on the telly, although if you check out their website they do tell you, is that although the ESR went down during that period there have been “no clinical changes yet, in pain or mobility”, but that is expected as this is a long-term approach.
They also say “Beth’s rheumatoid arthritis will continue to be difficult for her but with continued weight loss she should continue to see slight improvements in her condition.” So again, the emphasis seems to be on the weight, encouraging people (especially ones who don’t think too hard – the majority?) to see this as a cause of her rheumatoid arthritis.
And the final bit on the website that I’m dubious about is the sentence: “Beth lost weight on the diet which has helped her ESR level drop within normal range.” To me the way this reads is slightly misleading. I think they meant, “Beth lost weight on the diet. The diet helped her ESR levels to drop to within the normal range.” However, the way it reads suggests that weight-loss has a direct correlation with ESR reduction. I’ve never heard that, and I’ve done an internet search to look for a link between the two and can’t find anything at all. As I say, I think it’s just the way it’s written that’s misleading, rather than that they’re trying to claim there is a link, but it’s just another little irritation in what was, all things considered, not too bad a programme after all!