6 Foods That May Help Your Arthritis 

These foods, spices and ingredients may help relieve different types of arthritis.

Updated by Linda Rath | April 17, 2023

People with arthritis have long felt that certain foods reduced their joint pain and inflammation. Now researchers are discovering more about the foods and spices that play a role in relieving arthritis symptoms and how they work.

The Top Six

Ruth Frechman, a registered dietitian nutritionist in California, stresses that there’s no single magic food. But evidence suggests that a healthy eating plan along with specific foods, herbs and spices may make a notable difference. On your next grocery run, stock up on these:
  • Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower and cabbage. These veggies contain a compound called sulforaphane. In animal studies, sulforaphane slows or prevents the production of B-cells and inflammatory cytokines like tumor necrosis factor (TNF) — both of which drive inflammatory arthritis. Other experimental studies have found that sulforaphane may help prevent human ailments, including Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases, stroke and possibly cancer. The amount of sulforaphane in studies is generally many times greater than in food. To get the most bang for your buck, try eating your veggies raw in salads or lightly cooked in stir-fries.
  • Fatty fish. Fatty fish like salmon, tuna, trout and mackerel are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which help fight inflammation. Try adding fish to your diet a couple of times a week. If you’re not a big fan of fish, consider taking an omega-3 supplement. And if you’re vegetarian or vegan, look for oil supplements from algae. They have the same benefits without the fishy aftertaste or burps.
  • Garlic. Garlic is a member of the allium family — which also includes onions, leeks and shallots. All contain a compound called diallyl disulfide that may help in some 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.
  • Tart cherries. Hundreds of studies have reported the benefits of cherries and products made from them. Cherries have a successful track record of relieving gout, mainly due to reduced uric acid, though study results on uric acid have been mixed. Cherries, especially in supplements, concentrate or extract, may also reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes and cancer, and may help with insomnia, thinking and recovery after exercise.  
  • Turmeric. Few anti-inflammatory foods have been as well researched or have as long a track record as curcumin, a compound in turmeric, one of the main spices in curries. Curcumin is an anti-inflammatory that specifically targets pro-inflammatory cytokines and dysfunctional T cells and B cells involved in rheumatoid arthritis. In animal and lab studies, it’s been shown to reduce stress and depression, lower high blood pressure and high cholesterol, regulate blood sugar and protect against liver disease and cancer. The catch? Curcumin isn’t readily bioavailable, meaning only a fraction is absorbed by the body from food. Combining turmeric with black pepper and oil makes it easier to absorb, but you may still not get enough. It can also be hard to find powdered turmeric that’s not contaminated with heavy metals and insect parts. Your best bet is a curcumin supplement that sidesteps the contamination issue and is likely to contain many times more curcumin than you would get from turmeric in food. Not all supplements are what they claim, though, so be sure to read labels or check with an independent testing company like ConsumerLab.  
  • Vitamin C-rich foods. Vitamin C is abundant in citrus fruit, strawberries, bell peppers, parsley, broccoli, kiwi and cantaloupe — not to mention Kakadu plums, the world’s richest source. Vitamin C is essential for wound healing and for forming blood vessels, muscle and the cartilage in bones. Because your body can’t make it, you need to get it from supplements or food. Though study results are inconclusive, some research has shown that this antioxidant may help prevent osteoarthritis or keep it from getting worse. Vitamin C also suppresses inflammatory cytokines such as interleukin-6 (IL-6) and tumor necrosis factor (TNF), which are the targets of many arthritis drugs. In recent studies, high-dose IV vitamin C has been shown to be an effective treatment for some cancer as well as helping offset chemotherapy side effects. One thing to note: The recommended daily amount of vitamin C — 75 milligrams (mg) for women and 90 mg for men — is the minimum needed to prevent serious illnesses like scurvy. Many trials have used more — around 1,000 mg a day. Depending on the type of vitamin C supplement and how often it’s taken, higher doses may cause nausea and diarrhea — side effects that are less likely if you get vitamin C from foods.  

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