Understanding the Relationship Between Diet and Arthritis: Foods to Include and Avoid

Discover how dietary choices impact arthritis symptoms & joint health. Learn which foods to embrace & avoid for optimal well-being.

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by
Sarah Zimmer, PT, DPT
— Signos
PT, DPT
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Updated by

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Science-based and reviewed

Published:
May 20, 2024
April 4, 2024
— Updated:
April 4, 2024

Table of Contents

Arthritis, a blanket term for various joint-related conditions, affects millions worldwide, causing pain, stiffness, and often significant impairment in mobility. Yet, amidst the challenges posed by these chronic ailments, there lies a realm of hope and potential in an unexpected place: our plates. Recent research continues to find a profound connection between diet and arthritis, unveiling how the foods we consume can either exacerbate or alleviate symptoms.1 

As the medical community delves deeper into the intricate interplay between nutrition and joint health, it becomes increasingly evident that dietary choices wield significant influence over the progression and management of arthritis. From the anti-inflammatory properties of certain foods to the detrimental effects of others on joint inflammation, understanding the impact of diet on arthritis offers a promising avenue for improving symptoms, enhancing the quality of life, and empowering individuals with the tools to take charge of their health. 

In this article, we will discuss the role of diet in managing arthritis by exploring the latest discoveries in practical dietary strategies that illuminate the transformative potential of harnessing the power of nutrition in the battle against arthritis.

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The Link Between Diet and Arthritis

In the discussion about joint health, most physicians and researchers highlight arthritis, which translates to “inflammation of the joint.” Among the most prevalent forms are osteoarthritis (typically associated with age-related wear and tear on the joints) and rheumatoid arthritis (an autoimmune disorder where the body's immune system mistakenly attacks joint tissues). Arthritis affects millions worldwide, with estimates suggesting over 350 million individuals grappling with this debilitating condition. Its impact extends beyond physical discomfort, impairing mobility, reducing quality of life, and posing significant challenges for individuals across various age groups and demographics.2

Understanding the intricate relationship between diet and arthritis is crucial for effectively managing symptoms and promoting joint health. One key mechanism through which diet influences arthritis is controlling inflammation.3 Certain foods have been found to either exacerbate or alleviate inflammation in the body, directly impacting arthritis symptoms. By exploring how foods affect inflammation, individuals can gain valuable insights into crafting dietary patterns that support joint health and mitigate the discomfort associated with arthritis. 

Scientific research has identified certain foods rich in anti-inflammatory compounds, such as omega-3 fatty acids found in fatty fish like salmon, as well as fruits and vegetables abundant in antioxidants like berries and leafy greens, which can reduce inflammation in the body.1 Conversely, pro-inflammatory foods high in refined sugars, saturated fats, and processed carbohydrates have been linked to heightened inflammation, exacerbating arthritis symptoms.6 Adopting a diet rich in anti-inflammatory foods while minimizing intake of pro-inflammatory fare holds promise for reducing joint pain, stiffness, and swelling associated with arthritis and fostering improved overall health and vitality.4

Which Diet Is Best for Reducing Arthritis?

olive-oil-in-a-bowl

Navigating the vast landscape of dietary recommendations can be daunting, particularly when seeking to alleviate the symptoms of arthritis and promote joint health. The anti-inflammatory diet and Mediterranean diet emerge as a beacon of hope, offering a holistic approach grounded in the transformative power of nutrition.4 Designed to mitigate inflammation in the body, this dietary paradigm emphasizes consuming foods rich in anti-inflammatory compounds while minimizing intake of pro-inflammatory fare.5 

By prioritizing whole, nutrient-dense foods such as fruits, vegetables, fatty fish, nuts, and seeds while limiting processed foods, sugars, and refined carbohydrates, individuals can cultivate an internal environment conducive to joint health and overall wellness. Check out this list of foods to incorporate and foods to avoid to craft a dietary approach tailored to managing arthritis symptoms and optimizing overall well-being.

8 Foods to Eat for Arthritis

  1. Fatty Fish: Rich in omega-3 fatty acids, fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, and sardines possess potent anti-inflammatory properties that can help alleviate arthritis symptoms by reducing inflammation.10
  2. Berries: Packed with antioxidants such as anthocyanins and vitamin C, berries like strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries help combat oxidative stress and inflammation, promoting joint health.
  3. Leafy Greens: Spinach, kale, and other leafy greens are abundant in vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients that possess anti-inflammatory properties, supporting overall joint function and mobility.
  4. Nuts and Seeds: Walnuts, almonds, chia seeds, and flaxseeds are excellent sources of omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, and antioxidants, which help reduce inflammation and support joint health.
  5. Turmeric: Known for its active compound of curcumin, turmeric exhibits powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, making it a valuable spice for managing arthritis symptoms.11
  6. Ginger: Ginger contains gingerol, a bioactive compound with potent anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties, offering relief from joint pain and inflammation associated with arthritis.11
  7. Olive Oil: Extra virgin olive oil is rich in monounsaturated fats and polyphenols, which possess anti-inflammatory properties and may help alleviate arthritis symptoms when used in a balanced diet.
  8. Green Tea: Green tea contains polyphenols such as epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG), which exhibit anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects, potentially reducing inflammation and slowing the progression of arthritis. Incorporating these foods into your diet can provide valuable nutritional support for managing arthritis and promoting joint health.12

7 Foods to Avoid for Arthritis

  1. Processed Foods: Highly processed foods often contain high levels of refined sugars, unhealthy fats, and additives, which can contribute to inflammation and exacerbate arthritis symptoms.8, 9
  2. Sugary Beverages: Beverages like soda and sweetened juices are laden with added sugars, which can trigger inflammation in the body and worsen arthritis symptoms.8
  3. Red Meat: High consumption of red meat, particularly processed and fatty cuts, has been associated with increased inflammation and may aggravate arthritis symptoms.6
  4. Fried Foods: Fried foods are typically high in unhealthy fats and trans fats, which can promote inflammation and contribute to joint pain and stiffness in individuals with arthritis.
  5. White Bread and Pastries: Foods made from refined grains, such as white bread and pastries, have a high glycemic index, leading to spikes in blood sugar levels and inflammation, which can exacerbate arthritis symptoms.
  6. Dairy Products: Some individuals with arthritis may find that dairy products, particularly those high in saturated fats like cheese and butter, can trigger inflammation and worsen joint pain. 
  7. Alcohol: Excessive alcohol consumption can disrupt the body's inflammatory response and lead to increased inflammation, potentially aggravating arthritis symptoms.7

<p class="pro-tip"><strong>Also Read: </strong><a href="autoimmune-disease">Treating Autoimmune Disease Through Diet and Lifestyle Changes</a>.</p>

Other Risk Factors for Arthritis

An unhealthy diet is no doubt a leading factor in the development and worsening of arthritis symptoms; however, there are many other risk factors for developing joint inflammation. Some of the key factors that can cause arthritis include:

  • Aging: As individuals age, the cartilage cushions the joints gradually deteriorates, leading to osteoarthritis, the most common form of arthritis. Over time, this wear and tear can result in joint pain, stiffness, and reduced mobility.
  • Autoimmune Disorders: Conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis occur when the body's immune system mistakenly attacks its tissues, particularly the synovium, the lining of the membranes that surround the joints. This autoimmune response triggers inflammation, leading to joint swelling, pain, and eventual damage. Adopting an autoimmune diet may help manage symptoms associated with rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Obesity: Excess body weight places added stress on weight-bearing joints, such as the knees, hips, and spine, increasing the risk of developing arthritis, particularly osteoarthritis. The additional strain can accelerate joint degeneration, leading to pain, inflammation, and reduced mobility. Moreover, adipose tissue produces inflammatory cytokines, contributing to systemic inflammation and exacerbating arthritis symptoms. Managing body weight through diet, exercise, and lifestyle modifications is crucial for reducing the risk of arthritis and alleviating its associated discomfort.
  • Joint Injuries: Trauma or repetitive stress injuries, such as those sustained in sports or physical labor, can damage joint structures and increase the risk of developing arthritis. 
  • Infections: Certain infections caused by bacteria, viruses, or fungi can infiltrate the joints, triggering inflammation and leading to infectious arthritis. This type of arthritis typically presents with sudden onset joint pain, swelling, and warmth, often accompanied by fever and chills.
  • Genetics: Genetic factors can predispose individuals to developing certain types of arthritis, such as rheumatoid arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis. While not deterministic, genetic susceptibility can influence the likelihood of developing arthritis and the severity of symptoms.
  • Metabolic Disorders: Metabolic conditions like gout arise from the accumulation of uric acid crystals in the joints, leading to inflammatory arthritis. Gout typically affects the big toe but can also involve other joints, causing sudden and severe pain, swelling, and redness.

Understanding these diverse causes of arthritis is crucial for accurate diagnosis and effective management of the condition. Each case may require tailored treatment approaches to address underlying mechanisms and alleviate symptoms.

What Are Other Ways to Help Manage Arthritis?

man-holding-a-bike-while-looking-at-mountains

In addition to dietary modifications, individuals can employ several other strategies to manage arthritis and alleviate its symptoms effectively. Regular physical activity is crucial in maintaining joint flexibility, strength, and overall mobility. Low-impact exercises such as swimming, cycling, and yoga can help improve joint function without placing undue stress on arthritic joints. 

Additionally, incorporating strength training exercises to build muscle around the joints can provide added support and stability, reducing pain and improving function. Proper rest and relaxation are also essential for managing arthritis, as adequate sleep allows the body to repair and regenerate tissues, while stress reduction techniques such as meditation and deep breathing exercises can help alleviate tension and promote overall well-being.

Furthermore, seeking professional medical guidance and exploring various treatment options can be instrumental in managing arthritis symptoms effectively. This may include medications to reduce inflammation and alleviate pain and physical therapy to improve joint function and mobility. In some cases, joint injections or surgical interventions may be recommended to address severe arthritis symptoms or joint damage. Additionally, utilizing assistive devices such as braces, splints, or ergonomic tools can help reduce strain on arthritic joints and improve overall comfort and function. By adopting a comprehensive approach that encompasses lifestyle modifications, medical interventions, and self-care practices, individuals can effectively manage arthritis and optimize their quality of life.

Learn More About How to Improve Blood Sugar Health With Signos’ Expert Advice

If you have more questions on improving your health, fitness, and nutrition, seek the expert advice of the Signos continuous glucose monitor and Signos team. A continuous glucose monitor (CGM) can give you the insights to make smarter nutrition and exercise choices. The Signos app provides a unique, personalized program to help you lose weight and reach your health goals. Take this quiz to see if Signos is a good fit for you and reach your goals faster than ever before.

<p class="pro-tip"><strong>Learn More: </strong><a href="why-diets-fail">Why Diets Fail and How to Eat Healthier</a>.</p>

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References

  1. Zeng, J., Franklin, D. K., Das, A., & Hirani, V. (2023). The effects of dietary patterns and food groups on symptomatic osteoarthritis: A systematic review. Nutrition & dietetics: the journal of the Dietitians Association of Australia, 80(1), 21–43. https://doi.org/10.1111/1747-0080.12781
  2. Senthelal, S., Li, J., Ardeshirzadeh, S., & Thomas, M. A. (2018). Arthritis.
  3. Messier, S. P., Mihalko, S. L., Legault, C., Miller, G. D., Nicklas, B. J., DeVita, P., ... & Loeser, R. F. (2013). Effects of intensive diet and exercise on knee joint loads, inflammation, and clinical outcomes among overweight and obese adults with knee osteoarthritis: the IDEA randomized clinical trial. Jama, 310(12), 1263-1273.
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  5. Genel, F., Kale, M., Pavlovic, N., Flood, V. M., Naylor, J. M., & Adie, S. (2020). Health effects of a low-inflammatory diet in adults with arthritis: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Nutritional Science, 9, e37.
  6. Hatami, E., Aghajani, M., Pourmasoumi, M., Haeri, F., Boozari, B., Nezamoleslami, S., ... & Ghiasvand, R. (2022). The relationship between animal flesh foods consumption and rheumatoid arthritis: a case-control study. Nutrition Journal, 21(1), 1-7.
  7. Liu, T., Xu, C., Driban, J. B., McAlindon, T., Eaton, C. B., & Lu, B. (2022). Excessive alcohol consumption and the risk of knee osteoarthritis: a prospective study from the Osteoarthritis Initiative. Osteoarthritis and cartilage, 30(5), 697-701.
  8. Tedeschi, S. K., Frits, M., Cui, J., Zhang, Z. Z., Mahmoud, T., Iannaccone, C., Lin, T. C., Yoshida, K., Weinblatt, M. E., Shadick, N. A., & Solomon, D. H. (2017). Diet and Rheumatoid Arthritis Symptoms: Survey Results From a Rheumatoid Arthritis Registry. Arthritis care & research, 69(12), 1920–1925. https://doi.org/10.1002/acr.23225
  9. Smaira FI, Mazzolani BC, Peçanha T, Dos Santos KM, Rezende DAN, Araujo ME, Bonfiglioli K, Scagliusi FB, Benatti FB, de Sá Pinto AL, Lima FR, Pereira RMR, Roschel H, Gualano B, Pinto AJ. Ultra-processed food consumption associates with higher cardiovascular risk in rheumatoid arthritis. Clin Rheumatol. 2020 May;39(5):1423-1428. doi: 10.1007/s10067-019-04916-4. Epub 2020 Jan 4. PMID: 31902026.
  10. Goldberg, R. J., & Katz, J. (2007). A meta-analysis of the analgesic effects of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid supplementation for inflammatory joint pain. Pain, 129(1-2), 210-223.
  11. Ramadan, G., & El‐Menshawy, O. (2013). Protective effects of ginger‐turmeric rhizomes mixture on joint inflammation, atherogenesis, kidney dysfunction and other complications in a rat model of human rheumatoid arthritis. International journal of rheumatic diseases, 16(2), 219-229.
  12. Singh, R., Akhtar, N., & Haqqi, T. M. (2010). Green tea polyphenol epigallocatechi3-gallate: Inflammation and arthritis. Life sciences, 86(25-26), 907-918.

About the author

Sarah is a Doctor of Physical Therapy, graduating from the University of Wisconsin Madison in 2017.

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