Painful joints seem to be a far way off from what’s on your menu for the week, but the two are likely more entwined than most of us imagine. Food and joint pain are linked for two reasons. The first link is that eating patterns frequently contribute to being overweight – the single most overlooked factor in joint pain. Second, choosing to eat the right foods can reduce inflammation – the physiological process that causes joint pain. Thus, careful food planning is one of the best, natural therapeutic prescriptions for helping relieve painful joints.
According to the National Institutes of Health, arthritis affects about one in every five Americans. Arthritis, or inflammation of the joints, is a category including over 100 disorders that cause joint pain. Physicians typically prescribe anti-inflammatory medications to ease arthritis, but other approaches that quell inflammation are just as – if not more – effective than taking drugs.
Eating Towards a Healthy Weight
The concept of dieting strikes a stressful chord for thousands of overweight people. Nonetheless, eating thoughtfully to lose excessive weight is more than a passing suggestion for arthritis sufferers. When it comes to relieving joint pain, there are two glaring reasons to be of a healthy weight:
- Joint Stress – For overweight individuals, weight-bearing joints (knees, hips and back) benefit directly from having to support less weight. Being overweight puts an additional stress on joints, increasing the likelihood of joint inflammation. Research has shown that with every pound gained, a person puts four times more stress on his or her knees.
- Inflammatory Substances – Body fat is a metabolically active material that can produce hormones and chemicals known to increase inflammation.
Achieving a healthful weight goal is a multi-pronged venture, with emphasis on regular aerobic exercise and consuming a low-fat, low-sugar diet that is high in fiber and nutrients. Experts condone:
- restricting or eliminating saturated fats like red meat and cream
- avoiding foods with lots of sugar or high fructose corn syrup
- making an assortment of brightly-colored fruits and vegetables the cornerstone of every meal
- drinking water and green tea throughout the day
- choosing high fiber grains like brown rice, quinoa and flax
In addition to getting your daily sustenance from a diet that encourages a healthy weight, there are some specific foods that have anti-inflammatory properties. Six of the foods with a history of fighting joint inflammation include:
- Fish – Cold water fish, like salmon, mackerel and sardines, are high in omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s help decrease inflammation by suppressing the production of cytokines and enzymes that erode joint cartilage.
- Turmeric – Also known as curcumin, this spice is the main ingredient in yellow curry. Studies have shown that turmeric may help arthritis by suppressing inflammatory body chemicals – having similar properties as anti-inflammatory medications.
- Olive Oil – Containing oleocanthal, a substance which blocks enzymes involved in inflammation, extra-virgin olive oil is useful for reducing joint inflammation. Since olive oil does contain 119 calories per tablespoon, one tablespoon a day is ideal for those with arthritis.
- Vitamin C-Rich Foods – Oranges, grapefruits, sweet peppers, lemons, guava and other vitamin C-rich foods help protect collagen, an important component of joint cartilage. While high doses are not advised, eating about 200-500 milligrams a day (one orange and one bell pepper) is recommended.
- Quercetin-Rich Foods – Quercetin is an antioxidant that inhibits inflammatory chemicals. Quercetin-rich foods include onions, leeks, kale, cherry tomatoes, broccoli, apricots and apples. Experts advise eating a half a cup of these foods daily.
- Green Tea – Shown to reduce the severity of arthritis, green tea contains epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG), a substance shown to lower the production of inflammatory substances that damage joints. While the research suggests consuming 3-4 cups a day for optimal benefits, be aware that only caffeinated green tea contains all of the health benefits touted. Thus, green tea is not advised for those sensitive to caffeine.
The six types of foods (and drink) listed above are well-known for their anti-inflammatory properties – a highly desirable characteristic for those with joint inflammation.
The way we eat can significantly impact how we feel – especially when it comes to the severity of arthritis. By choosing foods that help maintain a healthy weight and reduce inflammation, reliance on medications for joint pain relief can be reduced – and quality of life for arthritis sufferers can improve.