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Arthritis Today

Six Food Choices to Help Ease Arthritis Pain

Can certain foods ease your arthritis symptoms and improve your joint health? Here’s what research says about inflammation-fighting.

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For many years, people have claimed that certain foods in their diet reduced pain and joint inflammation from arthritis. Researchers continue to investigate whether foods and spices actually may play a role in relieving joint pain and, if so, how they work.

“Mostly it’s just healthy eating, with a lot of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds,” says registered dietitian Ruth Frechman, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and author of The Food Is My Friend Diet.

Fruits, veggies and whole grains are natural inflammation fighters that can also help control your weight. “It’s important to stay at a healthy weight to ease up some of the stress on the joints,” Frechman adds. For every 1 pound of weight you lose, you reduce the load on your knee joint by 4 pounds.

Foods to Try

Remember, there’s no magic food,” stresses Frechman.  But growing evidence suggests that following a healthy diet and adding in specific foods and spices could help fight inflammation and joint pain.

  • Broccoli, Brussels sprouts and cabbage. These veggies are part of the cruciferous family, and they are full of a compound called sulforaphane, which helps slow cartilage damage in joints due to osteoarthritis, according to a 2013 study involving mice. Admittedly, it’s an early study. But veggies are always a healthy choice. Try adding broccoli, Brussels sprouts or cabbage to your salad or stir-fry. Other foods rich in sulforaphane include kale and cauliflower.
  • Fatty fish. Fatty fish like salmon, tuna, trout and mackerel are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which help fight inflammation and boost heart health. Try adding fish to your diet a couple of times a week. If you’re not a big fan of fish, ask your doctor about taking an omega-3 supplement. Studies have found that omega-3 supplements reduce inflammation in rheumatoid arthritis (RA).
  • Garlic. Garlic is a member of the allium family—which also includes onions and leeks. These items contain a compound called diallyl disulfide that may help with a number of diseases—including arthritis. “This compound may have some effect in limiting cartilage-damaging enzymes,” says rheumatologist Scott Zashin, MD, clinical professor at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School in Dallas, and author of Natural Arthritis Treatment. One 2010 study noted that people who regularly ate alliums had less evidence of hip OA on x-ray images.
  • Tart cherries. Some people with arthritis have found relief from products made from tart cherries. The ingredient in cherries that helps with joint symptoms is the same one that gives this fruit its red color—anthocyanin. A 2013 study published in Osteoarthritis and Cartilage found that subjects who drank tart cherry juice had improvements in the pain and stiffness of OA. 
  • Turmeric. One of the best-researched inflammation fighters isn’t a food at all, but a spice. “Turmeric is really promising as being anti-inflammatory,” says Frechman. Tumeric contains a compound called curcumin. A 2012 review published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences said that “curcumin could be beneficial in the management of chronic inflammatory-related joint disease,” but authors warned that there is a considerable lack of data regarding side effects and safety. The compound has, however, been used for centuries in India to ward off inflammatory diseases. You’ll find this yellow spice in Indian cuisines—particularly curries—or you can add it to your own dishes.
  • Vitamin C. Antioxidants in vitamin C may slow the progression of OA, research finds. A 2011 study from the University of South Florida reported that people who took vitamin C supplements were 11 percent less likely to develop knee OA than those who didn’t take the supplements.   You can safely get vitamin C from fruits like strawberries, kiwi, pineapple, or cantaloupe. However, Frechman warns against taking supplements with much higher doses than the recommended daily allowance of 65 to 85 milligrams, because in large doses vitamin C can increase the risk of kidney stones.

Foods to Avoid

Some people find that certain foods aggravate their arthritis. For example, people have reported that eating foods in the nightshade family – such as eggplant, tomatoes, potatoes and most peppers – increases their pain, although studies haven’t confirmed this.

When it comes to your diet, eat what works for you. If you think a particular food is aggravating your arthritis, try eliminating it from your diet and see how you feel.

Foods high in saturated and trans fats – such as red meat, fried food and packaged baked goods – should be avoided. They are unhealthy in general, and can lead to weight gain, which can make symptoms worse. If you tend to wash down your meal with a sugary soda – don’t. A 2013 study revealed that OA of the knee tended to get worse in men who drank a lot of soda.

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