A shout out to Pitt County Schools Nutrition Services who are making pick up or delivery of healthy food possible for online learners. Children need healthy food to succeed academically and physically. And don’t forget to wear your face covering, wait 6 feet apart and wash hands frequently.

Q I have rheumatoid arthritis that causes my joints to ache. My friend heard drinking tea can help relieve joint pain. Is it true? JJ, Winterville

A I asked Marissa Bare Burchette, a fourth-year Brody medical student who spent time with Kay Craven practicing her skills on nutrition and diabetes counseling, to answer this question. She has some firsthand experience to share with you.

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a lifelong, autoimmune condition that causes pain, swelling and stiffness in the joints and may involve other organ systems such as the heart or lungs. In autoimmune conditions like RA, a person’s immune system attacks healthy body tissues. This attack on a patient’s joints may result in permanent destruction of cartilage and bone as early as within the first year of diagnosis.

While no cure currently exists for RA, there are medications that can help keep the condition from worsening. Ultimately, if left untreated, some patients with RA may become wheelchair-bound and the chronic inflammation can damage their heart or lungs, increasing the risk of early death. For this reason, if you are prescribed a class of drugs known as DMARDs or Disease Modifying Anti-Rheumatic Drugs, it is important you continue to take these as prescribed by your doctor.

You are asking about tea so you may be thinking, “what other steps can I take in the meantime to protect my body from future complications of RA?” In a hot-off-the-press study, patients who drank more than three 8-ounce cups of jasmine tea per day were more likely to have lower RA disease activity than those who did not. Similarly, previous research suggested the consumption of 4-6 cups of green or black tea per day may alleviate symptoms in RA patients.

The exact process by which jasmine, black and green tea alleviate and prevent joint pain in RA is unknown. Scientists have suggested that molecules in tea leaves known as polyphenols may be responsible for the positive effects. Polyphenols may decrease inflammation caused by RA in the body. Green tea is often cited as the most beneficial for RA patients to drink because of its specific polyphenol known as epigallocatechin-3-gallate or EGCG. EGCG also has been shown to be protective against heart disease, cancer and other inflammatory conditions.

While drinking green tea or another tea high in polyphenols such as black or jasmine tea might help prevent and relieve the joint pain of RA you may want to avoid store-bought bottled tea drinks that are often high in added sugar and calories. These sugar-sweetened bottled teas have fewer polyphenols than home brewed teas. Drinking six cups of sugar sweetened tea could give you about 300 calories that might contribute to weight gain and worsening of other conditions such as diabetes or heart disease. Therefore, it is important that if you begin drinking jasmine, black or green tea for their health benefits, one should shop for the tea bags to brew at home instead of bottled tea drinks. If you need to sweeten it, then use a non or low caloric sweetener.

In addition to drinking tea, the nutrition experts suggest following a healthy diet and exercising regularly to help manage your RA. Avoiding high salt or fatty foods in highly advised. Instead stick to a diet such as the Mediterranean diet, which is high in fish, fruits, vegetables and healthy fats like olive oil. This type of eating pattern is considered to be anti-inflammatory as well. Scientists say this may alleviate RA symptoms and progression.

Studies have shown that people with RA who drink tea high in polyphenols and follow a healthier diet and lifestyle report decreased joint morning stiffness and better physical functioning. This allows them to enjoy more quality activities with their family and friends (physically distanced and wearing a mask these days) and less time resting indoors due to joint pain and stiffness. Even so, nearly every health care provider agrees that while more research needs to be done to fully understand how tea and diet effect RA.

The physicians and registered dietitian nutritionists agree that the advice I provided is unlikely to do any harm. In the meantime, since RA runs in my family, I will be advising my loved ones and to pick up some green tea bags the next time they visit the grocery store and to follow the Mediterranean style of eating, and will be doing so myself. For great information about the Mediterranean diet, see the North Carolina-born site medinsteadofmeds.com

Professor emeritus Kathy Kolasa, a registered dietitian nutritionist and Ph.D., is an affiliate professor in the Brody School of Medicine at ECU. Contact her at kolasaka@ecu.edu.