Centuries ago, Hippocrates wrote, “Let food be thy
medicine”—advice that’s particularly wise if you suffer from arthritis.
Several studies show that certain foods help relieve tender
joints, reduce morning stiffness, and may even help arthritis sufferers reduce
the amount of medication they need. Conversely, other foods can actually worsen pain and inflammation.
While there’s no cure for arthritis, eating an
anti-inflammatory diet can help quell the symptoms—and may also lower your risk
for other chronic conditions, including diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and
possibly even Alzheimer’s disease.
Osteoarthritis (OA), which affects 27 million Americans,
used to be blamed on gradual deterioration of cartilage in overused joints.
Recently, investigators at Stanford School of Medicine revolutionized medical
thinking about OA by showing that the disease is actually driven, for the most
part, by chronic, low-grade inflammation.
“It’s a paradigm change,” said William Robinson,
MD, PhD, the study’s senior author, in a report on the Stanford
website. “People in the field predominantly view osteoarthritis as a
matter of simple wear and tear, like tires gradually wearing out on a car.”
Actually, the joints of people with OA harbor an abnormally high
number of inflammatory cells. The study, which was published in Nature, found that early in the disease,
initial damage to the joint sparks a molecular chain reaction that escalates
into an immune system attack.
Inflammation has long been known to be a key player in rheumatoid
arthritis (RA), an autoimmune disease that triggers inflammation of the joints
and surrounding tissues. It’s like being shot by friendly fire, since the body
mistakenly attacks healthy tissue as if it were an enemy invader.
RA can start at any age, but is more common in the
middle-aged. It’s three times more common in women than men, and typically
affects joints on both sides of the body, sparking pain, swelling, redness,
stiffness (particularly in the morning), and fatigue. Over time, joints may lose their range of motion and
The disease can also affect other organs, leading to such
symptoms as chest pain, dry eyes and mouth, itchiness and burning of the eyes,
and numbness or tingling in the feet, according to the National
Institutes of Health.
If you take medication, consult your healthcare provider or
pharmacist before making major changes in your diet, since some foods can have
harmful interactions with certain drugs.
Research suggests that these anti-inflammatory foods may be
particularly beneficial for arthritis sufferers:
fish, such as herring, salmon, mackerel, and tuna. The omega-3 fatty acids
in these fish—or fish oil supplements—are considered to be among the most
powerful anti-inflammatory compounds in food. Studies show that fish oil
combats joint pain and morning stiffness, according to the University of
Maryland. One study also found that people with RA were able to lower their
dose of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) if they took fish oil.
Another source of omega-3 fatty acids is shellfish, such as mussels.
Researchers reported improvements in walking pace, grip strength, joint
stiffness, and pain in people with OA when they ate mussels. An analysis of 17
randomized studies also found that omega-3 supplements reduced joint pain in RA
patients, University of Maryland reports.
cherries. A 2012 study presented at the American College of Sports Medicine
conference in San Francisco reported that tart cherries “have the highest
anti-inflammatory content of any food,” according
to CBS News. The scientists found that in a study of women with
inflammatory OA, drinking tart cherry juice twice a day for two weeks
significantly reduced markers of inflammation. An earlier study of OA patients
found that a daily dose of tart cherries (in the form of extract) reduced OA
pain by more than 20 percent for the majority of men and women in the study.
oil. A small study
of people with RA found that supplementing their diet with fish oil and olive
oil resulted in greater relief of joint pain, hand grip strength, morning
stiffness, and fatigue than taking fish oil alone, compared to a placebo group
of patients who were given soy oil.