How diet can impact joint aches and pains
Joint pain is typically due to either an injury or health condition, but whatever the case may be, there are a number of important ways that diet can affect your experience of this. Your body needs to use certain nutrients in order to heal the damage to those areas, and when you don’t have sufficient nutrients in the body, your pain will likely continue.
This can be exacerbated by consuming foods that you’re intolerant to, for instance, because food intolerances can trigger inflammation, which can then impact any part of the body.1 The flipside of this, though, is that there are a number of foods you can consume to help support your joint health, reduce inflammation, and try to reduce the ache or pain. Let’s take a look at these beneficial foods first.
Foods for reducing joint aches and pains
Inflammation can play a role in any form of joint ache or pain. It’s important, then, when looking for foods to reduce your symptoms, that you focus on selecting foods with anti-inflammatory properties.
Foods high in omega-3s, for instance, are potent anti-inflammatories. Omega-3s play an essential role in preventing excess inflammation, and there is plenty of research that suggests that omega-3 supplementation can help to relieve joint pain, and may be beneficial for managing symptoms.2 Some studies show that consuming fatty fish, like salmon and sardines, four times per week can reduce inflammatory compounds in the body, and the British Dietetic Association recommends at least one serving of oily fish per week.3,4 For plant-based sources, consider flaxseeds, chia seeds, walnuts and hemp seeds as good sources of omega-3, including them in your diet several times per week.
Berries, which are full of nutrients like vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that all help to reduce inflammation, are another tasty and effective addition to your diet. One study showed that people who ate at least two servings of strawberries per week were 14% less likely to have elevated inflammatory markers, while another suggested that blueberries and strawberries may offer protection against arthritis.5,6 To get the most out of your berries, consume them fresh when in season — and for the colder months, it might be worth using frozen berries as an alternative.
Another option to consider including in your meals is olive oil, which is well-known for its general health benefits. Importantly, it also has properties that may help to reduce joint-related symptoms: one study, for instance, showed that people who consumed olive oil were less likely to have rheumatoid arthritis.7
Olive oil can be used for cooking, but in doing so it’s best to avoid cooking at high heats to make sure the oil isn’t damaged. It’s is also a great addition to dishes such as salads and pasta. In terms of types of oil to choose, it’s best to opt for extra-virgin olive oil, as this will contain the most antioxidants, thus being the best fit for supporting joint health.
Tart cherry juice
Another good option is tart cherry juice, with one study showing that consuming around 16 ounces, or 475ml, of the juice daily may significantly reduce the symptoms of osteoarthritis and inflammation.8 This has been supported by another study, which found that consuming tart cherry juice can reduce inflammatory markers.9
A bonus of tart cherry juice is that it contains melatonin, which can be useful for getting a deep, restful sleep. This is important as, If you’re not sleeping well, your body can’t repair damage effectively, which could ultimately contribute to joint pain levels.10
It’s also important to remember that, when looking for tart cherry juice, make sure you choose an unsweetened variety to avoid consuming excess sugar.
Foods to avoid
Though it’s important to eat certain foods to help reduce joint aches and pains, there are also a number of foods that are best avoided, too, including:
Gluten, for example, is one substance in food that could cause joint aches and pains. Gluten is a protein found in the cereals like wheat, barley and rye, and an intolerance to this protein is classified as Coeliac disease. Joint pain can be a common symptom of undiagnosed Coeliac disease, and research suggests that a gluten-free diet can relieve these symptoms in those with Coeliac disease.11 Gluten can also cause symptoms in people without Coeliac disease, which might also lead to inflammation and joint pain.12 If you suspect you have Coeliac disease or are reactive to gluten, though, it’s important to consult with your health practitioner for diagnosis.
Nightshades are another potential concern. Vegetables such as potato, aubergine, and tomatoes are part of the nightshade family, and they contain small amounts of solanine, which is poisonous in very high doses. It’s been suggested that people with joint pain might be more sensitive to solanine, and though there is currently limited research to confirm whether or not nightshades contribute to joint pain, it’s commonly advised that people with joint pain try eliminating nightshades for 4-6 weeks and see if symptoms improve.13
It’s also worth taking a look at your intake of processed foods when it comes to joint aches and pains. Although there is no direct link between processed foods and joint pain at this time, processed foods can be sources of advanced glycation end products (AGEs), AGEs are known to cause inflammation, which could contribute to your aches and pains.14 Reducing processed food consumption can also have many health benefits, so you have nothing to lose by minimising it.
If you’re interested in learning more about how to keep your joints healthy, head over to our advice centre for more information.