In the UK, around 10 million people have some form of arthritis. Of those, 8 million people have osteoarthritis and 400,000 have rheumatoid arthritis. 1 There are many medical interventions that may be prescribed, depending on the form of arthritis. But one overlooked part of managing any form of arthritis is a person’s food choices.
Can diet choices contribute to arthritis?
More research into trigger foods and arthritis is required before any definite elimination can be recommended. However, there are a number of foods that may exacerbate arthritis symptoms in many people. These foods may inflame the joints, worsening pain and reducing mobility.
Dairy is one food group that can be problematic for people with arthritis. It’s believed that the problem lies in casein, the protein in dairy products. Casein can have an inflammatory effect on the body, including the joints. This means that both low-fat and full-fat dairy could be implicated as triggers.2
However, some research shows that dairy can also have anti-inflammatory properties that could benefit joint health.3 So if you’re uncertain whether dairy is an issue for you, eliminating it for a few weeks then reintroducing it could be a good option. Dairy is an excellent source of calcium and joint-supportive nutrients such as vitamin D, so you may require a supplement if you exclude it from your diet.
Nightshades are a group of plant foods that have been associated with joint pain for many years. These plants include tomato, aubergine, potato and capsicum. Nightshades contain a substance called solanine, which is poisonous in high doses. People who experience flare-ups when consuming nightshades may be more sensitive to solanine compared to the average person. Eliminating nightshades for 4-6 weeks and monitoring symptoms for improvement is advised.4
Processed foods are generally less healthful than wholefoods, but they could be a concern for those with arthritis. Although there is no direct link demonstrating that a diet high in processed foods can worsen symptoms, there are a number of reasons to reduce processed foods. Processed foods often contain compounds such as advanced glycation end products (AGEs) that cause inflammation.5 They are also lower in anti-inflammatory nutrients and antioxidants that could relieve symptoms.
Finally, eliminating foods that you are sensitive or intolerant to may help to reduce symptoms.6 Identifying problematic foods can be difficult to do, so your best option is to seek the guidance of a nutrition expert.
Simple changes to ease arthritis symptoms
The good news is there are plenty of ways that you can support joint health and help to relieve arthritis symptoms naturally. Here are just a few to consider.
Weight management is one area that many experts highlight as important in managing arthritis symptoms. Joints are subject to the weight put upon them, which is why obesity is associated with more severe arthritis symptoms. Maintaining a healthy weight is one of the most critical steps for managing arthritis, particularly in weight-bearing joints such as knees.7
Focusing the diet on anti-inflammatory foods could be a good strategy for minimising symptoms and optimising wellbeing. A Mediterranean diet approach is beneficial in both rheumatoid and osteoarthritis.8, 9 In a study of osteoarthritis, the diet reduced inflammatory markers by up to 47% and cartilage degradation by 8%. Participants also saw improvements in joint mobility and reduced their weight by 2.2%.10
Vegetarian and vegan diets are also worth considering, although more research is required to confirm the benefits. One study showed that a whole-food plant-based diet showed significant improvement in people with osteoarthritis. 10 Others show that a plant-based gluten-free diet for rheumatoid arthritis helped to reduce inflammation, as well as reducing immune reactions to food.11
However, even if you choose not to follow a specific diet, you can still include anti-inflammatory foods to support your joint health. Green tea, olive oil and oily fish are just a few anti-inflammatory foods to include in your diet. One study focused on therapeutic foods in rheumatoid arthritis, and listed blueberries, pomegranate, wholegrains, ginger and turmeric as some of the most beneficial.12
Supplements can play a supportive role in managing arthritis symptoms and preventing deficiencies that could impact on joint health. Omega-3s including fish oil and krill oil, vitamin D and glucosamine are just a few to consider.
One study showed that people with rheumatoid arthritis who took omega-3s (3.6g EPA/4.2g DHA) daily for 12 weeks saw significant improvements in symptoms. Some were even able to reduce their anti-inflammatory medication use. 13 Another showed that taking 300mg of krill oil daily reduced inflammatory markers, pain and stiffness in those with arthritic symptoms. Krill oil contains omega-3 fatty acids as well as antioxidants, so could have additional benefits when reducing inflammation.14
Healthspan offers both fish oil and krill oil options, including the Super Strength Omega-3s and Super Strength Krill Oil. Vegetarians and vegans can opt for a vegan option like the Veg-Omega 3.
Vitamin D, the ‘sunshine’ nutrient, plays an essential role in joint and bone health. It also plays a role in balancing the immune system. Research suggests that low vitamin D levels are associated with more disease activity and higher use of steroid medication to manage symptoms.15
Currently, there are no approved European health claims for glucosamine supplementation. However, there are a number of research studies that suggest it may be beneficial. 16 It is suggested that glucosamine can prevent breakdown of tissue, reduce oxidative stress and lower inflammation, which can all support healthier joints. 17 Before using glucosamine, do your research and make a decision that is right for you.
If you’re interested in learning more about how to keep your joints healthy, head over to our advice centre for more information.