DEAR DR. BLONZ: I am 77 with arthritis, and tend to have pain all over in my body. I live by myself and do not eat very well. Could my poor diet be contributing to my pain? Is there any type of test to tell me if I am deficient in any nutrients I might need? If so, are there supplements that I might take? I don't have a weight problem and am currently taking pain medication for the discomfort in my spine. -- E.F., Phoenix
DEAR E.F.: I am sorry that you are suffering and have to rely on medications to provide relief. Those who have a nutritious diet and active lifestyle do tend to have better health statistics, and it follows that a healthy body is better able to heal itself. I encourage you to eat well, but there is no guarantee that switching to a diet full of wonderful foods will rapidly make your discomfort disappear.
You obviously want to find your way out of this downward spiral; otherwise you wouldn't have written. I don't think your first move should be to a bottle of supplements. Rather, it should be toward a better approach to your diet. If you are unable to cook, find someone with nutrition savvy and skill in the kitchen and make them your best friend. You can speak with your physician to get referrals to local registered dietitians, who might be of assistance. There are also likely to be social services in your area providing programs that could help.
You daily diet needs to be populated with superfoods: ones that are chock-full of nutrients. A list might include: berries, melons, broccoli, sweet potatoes, yams, spinach (and other dark-green vegetables), citrus fruits, fish, apricots, legumes, carrots, tomatoes, low-fat milk and cheese (that's right, cheese!), bananas, oats (and other whole grains) and lean meats. These are all foods that are rich in vitamins, minerals and other healthful compounds. As you begin to feel better, your appetite will begin to improve, as well. A good daily supplement can be added to this mix, but it cannot replace the goodness that comes from real food.
Finally, when you are beginning to feel better, and after you get the OK from your doctor, you can begin to move around and take up the reins of a more active lifestyle. Ask for a referral to a physical therapist who can evaluate you and provide a plan that involves gradually increased ranges of movement. You state that you live alone, and there is an important element of socialization offered by physical training, especially if it is done at a local YMCA or similar organization. You will find that you are not alone, and will have the chance to interact with others who are, or have been, in a similar situation.
It may sound simple reading it here, but there is a road to travel before you will see some results. Taking those first steps is the only way to start, so I am hoping that you are willing to give it a shot. Check back in and let me know how things are working out.
Send questions to: "On Nutrition," Ed Blonz, c/o Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO, 64106. Send email inquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org. Due to the volume of mail, personal replies cannot be provided.