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A Diet Rich in Anti-Inflammatory Foods May Help Ease Arthritis

What you eat and how much you weigh won't cause osteoarthritis (OA, the most common form of arthritis) or cure it, but both may have an e ffect on its symptoms. A substantial body of evidence is making the case that in¬flammation of joints--or the lack of it--could be associated with certain foods.

"During the past decade, we have learned that dietary changes may improve arthritis symptoms and promote overall health," says Rachel Stahl, RD, CDN, a clinical dietitian at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell.

"At one level, the research indicates a link between diet and in-flammation. Some foods seem to offer protection, while others may cause it. At another level, potential commonalities exist among in¬flammatory conditions such as arthritis, cardiovascular disease, and obesity. Eating habits might lessen some of the consequences of these conditions."

Anti-in¬flammatory foods
Omega-3 fatty acids found in fish, including salmon, tuna, and sardines, and in plant foods such as walnuts, flaxseeds, and chia seeds, have anti-in¬flammatory properties, according to Stahl. They play a vital role in maintaining healthy cells throughout the body, including joints.

Extra-virgin olive oil contains a natural compound called oleocanthal that may help prevent arthritis-related in¬flammation.

Antioxidants help neutralize free radicals, which are unstable molecules that can produce in¬flammation. The antioxidant nutrients vitamin C, beta-carotene, and lycopene are found in many foods, especially deep, vibrant-colored fruits and vegetables, including kale, strawberries, carrots, and beets. Dark chocolate, green tea, nuts, red wine, and certain spices also contain antioxidants.

Eat the rainbow
"I recommend to my patients that they 'eat the rainbow' when it comes to fruits and vegetables," says Stahl. "Doing so will ensure you are receiving a wide spectrum of antioxidants and other beneficial nutrients."

The role of vitamins in treating arthritis is uncertain. The symptoms of OA are less likely to get worse in people who have a high intake of vitamin C and high blood levels of vitamin D. A study in the January 2020 issue of The Clinical Journal of Pain found that obese individuals who su ffer from OA and have adequate vitamin D levels were able to walk, balance, and rise from a seated to standing position better than those with insufficient levels.

However, it's unknown if supplements have the same e ffect, and caution is advised with supplements, since their contents are not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Turmeric, a member of the ginger family, appears to have anti-in-flammatory properties, as does ginger itself, but the evidence is not conclusive enough to recommend these spices for all arthritis patients. In general, foods that have anti-in¬flammatory properties may be bene ficial for some, but not for others.

Foods to avoid
Researchers at Mount Sinai School of Medicine found that reducing the intake of processed and fried foods, which are higher in toxins called advanced glycation end products (AGEs), can reduce in-flammation and restore the body's natural defenses.

Stahl's advice: "Consume less processed foods and opt for more whole foods. Cooking foods at lower temperatures and/or using moist-heat methods can be bene ficial. Infusing meats in an acid-based marinade (to help tenderize) before grilling, broiling, or baking also can help."

The weight loss bene fit
The link between weight and arthritis is clear. Being overweight puts extra weight on the joints, especially those that bear weight--the knees, hips, feet, and ankles. Over time, the extra weight leads to wear and tear. In addition, body fat produces hormones and in¬flammatory substances, and arthritis is an in¬flammatory disease.

According to the Johns Hopkins Arthritis Center, obese women have nearly four times the risk of knee OA compared to women who are not obese. For obese men, the risk is five times greater. People in the highest category of body weight have up to 10 times the risk of knee OA than those in the lowest category.

According to a report in the journal Arthritis & Rheumatism, among overweight and obese adults with knee OA, losing one pound of weight resulted in four pounds less pressure on the knees. Losing 10 pounds would relieve 40 pounds of pressure.

Take charge
The diet-in¬flammation-arthritis connection has been established, as has the problem of excessive weight placing extra stress on the joints. You can minimize the risk of both by eating foods that limit in-flammation, by avoiding foods (and ways of preparing food) that invite in¬flammation, and by managing your weight through healthy dietary choices.

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