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Natural ways to support arthritis

18 Dec 2023 • 11 min read

Can changing what you eat ease symptoms of arthritis? Our nutritionist shares some top anti-inflammatory foods for those considering a diet for arthritis.

“Studies definitely show a mixed bag of evidence when it comes to the impact of nutrition on joint pain,” Emily adds. “It’s difficult to assess whether or not dietary changes really can provide a benefit for arthritis from this varied information.”

A diet for arthritis unfortunately can’t offer a cure. However, there’s an emerging bank of research to suggest that some of the symptoms of arthritis may be relieved by making changes to what you eat.

To understand how diet is connected to the pain in your joints, it’s important first to stand back and understand what arthritis is.

What is arthritis?

Arthritis is a broad term covering a range of conditions that cause stiffness, pain and swelling around your joints.

There are many types of arthritis and it can show up in various areas of your body – hands, knees, hips, even your toes. 

Arthritis affects people of all ages, including children and teenagers, but it’s particularly common in older people.

In fact, it’s thought that around 10 million people in the UK live with joint pain due to arthritis.1

What causes arthritis?

The causes of arthritis vary depending on the type of arthritis you suffer from, but there are some factors that increase your risk. 
  • As normal wear and tear of joints increases with age, so does your risk of arthritis 
  • Family history - you may be more likely to suffer with arthritis if your close family members have the condition 
  • Whilst men are more likely to get gout (a type of arthritis), women are more susceptible to rheumatoid arthritis 
  • Joint injuries - previous joint injury can increase your likelihood of developing arthritis in that area in the future 
  • Being overweight - obesity puts extra stress on joints, particularly your knees, hips and spine - people with obesity have a higher risk of developing arthritis

Can a diet for arthritis help control symptoms?

There are many different types of arthritis, and diet won’t impact on all of these in the same way or to the same extent.

“It’s difficult to say anything conclusive about diet and arthritis – while some research shows a significant reduction in symptoms of arthritis from adopting a dietary change, others suggest the impact is less noticeable,” says Holland & Barrett nutritionist, Emily Rollason.

“But it’s certainly true that there’s a growing number of studies that provide an interesting look into adopting certain diets for arthritis.”

However, given that obesity can increase your risk of getting arthritic joints, eating a balanced diet that supports a healthy body weight has obvious benefits when it comes to arthritis. Your weight can affect arthritis in two ways.3
“A diet that allows you to keep your weight within a healthy range could be helpful to your arthritis as well as your wellness as a whole.”

Although, there’s no one-size-fits all diet for arthritis, research has uncovered that some foods could be helpful in managing symptoms.4

“Also, try keeping a food diary. Recognising how food affects your condition is one way you can seek to minimise arthritis symptoms.” Emily suggests.

9 foods with anti-inflammatory properties

Here’s the lowdown on a few of our favourite inflammation-fighting food groups.
  1. Nuts and seeds 
  2. Fatty fish
  3. Fruits 
  4. Spices (e.g. ginger and turmeric)
  5. Cruciferous vegetables
  6. Green tea
  7. Certain oils (e.g. olive oil and flaxseed oil)
  8. Water 
  9. Whole grains

Foods to avoid if you have arthritis

Certain food groups are thought to have inflammatory properties. For example, refined carbohydrates (white bread, pastries etc), chips and other fried foods, fatty red meat, and high sugar food and drink.
Limiting these foods in your diet can have wide wellness benefits, including for some, improvements in joint health and the symptoms of arthritis.

“By limiting certain foods in your diet, some people experience improvements in their arthritis symptoms, but unfortunately there’s no definitive advice as experience will vary from person-to person,” says Emily.

“There’s also a lot of misinformation out there regarding diets for arthritis, which people should be wary of.

"For example, cutting out food groups for extended periods of time without knowing if they affect you personally – as some advice suggests – could mean your body runs short of important nutrients.”

5 foods commonly believed to aggravate inflammation

1. Omega-6 fatty acids

Taking in more omega-6 fatty acids than omega-3s is thought to increase your risk of inflammation.

But don’t rush into eliminating them from your diet entirely because foods containing omega-6 often also contain nutrients that offer important benefits.

For example, a particular omega-6 fatty acid known as arachidonic acid (mainly found in meats such as beef, pork and chicken, and also in eggs) has been shown to increase inflammation.

Despite this, these foods can be beneficial too, so reducing rather than removing, can be the most sensible option. 

Other Omega-6 fatty acids such as linoleic acid and gamma linoleic acid are commonly found in corn, sunflower, safflower, soybean and cottonseed oils. As a result, snack foods like biscuits, crackers and cakes are common sources. 

2. Cooking meat at high temperatures

Frying, roasting, searing or grilling meat at high temperatures can raise the amount of advanced glycation end products (AGEs) in the blood. AGEs are believed to increase inflammation in the body.

3. Trans fats

Again, these are common in snack foods. Trans fats are vegetable oils that have been processed to increase the shelf life of processed foods. These fats have been shown to increase inflammation.

4. Sugar

A diet high in sugar not only adds to the risk of obesity but also inflammation. As a result, limiting desserts, sweet snacks, fizzy drinks and fruit juices can be beneficial.

5. Mono-Sodium Glutamate (MSG)

This flavour-enhancing chemical is used in ingredients like soy sauce and some feel this may trigger inflammation.

Summary: Can an anti-inflammatory diet for arthritis relieve chronic joint pain?

Eating a balanced diet, rich in anti-inflammatory foods can offer benefits to those who want to keep arthritis symptoms under control.

This includes maintaining a healthy body weight and reducing inflammation.

However, there’s not a one-size-fits-all anti-inflammatory diet that can guarantee you relief from arthritis.

Neither is there a sure-fire arthritis diet plan you can follow. The evidence simply doesn’t exist and what works for one person might not affect another person in the same way.

The best diet is the one that works for you.

So, trial and error (under the guidance of a healthcare professional) could be the best way to identify which foods help or worsen your symptoms of arthritis.

Natural remedies for arthritis

  • Managing your weight

Reaching a healthy weight is vital for not just your overall health, but especially if you live with a form of arthritis. 

Losing a few pounds will ease some of the daily pressure your body puts on the joints, especially the knees, hips and feet.

If you’re interested in losing weight, be sure to not try a crash diet as this can worsen some types of arthritis. Try the Mediterranean diet that’s full of healthy fats, oily fish and fresh fruit and vegetables. 

  • Exercises for arthritis

Exercising can help you to maintain a healthy weight as well as maintain the flexibility of your joints.

Low impact exercises like gentle walks or swimming do not increase the strain on your joints like a run would. You could also try tai chi, yoga or Pilates depending on your ability.

Stretching daily can also be beneficial to improve flexibility and range of movement.

Consult your doctor before trying anything that may put excessive pressure on the joints. They may also refer you to physical therapists to create a personalised exercise plan. 

  • Lotions for arthritis

Creams and lotions can be applied onto the skin at the affected joint to help ease certain arthritis symptoms.

Lotions that contain non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen, are the most popular options and can be found in most supermarkets.

Looking for a natural, drug-free option? Devils claw has been used to help with the pain associated with osteoarthritis, in particular joint pain and inflammation.9 Recent trials suggest that devil’s claw is effective in the reduction of osteoarthritis-related symptoms.10

The herbal remedy is available in lotions, as well as supplements.

  • Hot and cold therapy

Heat therapy can help to relax and soothe muscles and help ease stiffness.11

Try applying a warm, not hot, heating pad or hot water bottle wrapped in a towel to the joint for around 15 to 20 minutes. You could also try a warm bath. Cold therapy is used to reduce swelling and inflammation.12

Try applying an ice pack wrapped in a towel to the affected joint for short bursts of time, no longer than 10 minutes. You could also try an ice bath or a cooling spray. 

  • Fish oil supplements for arthritis

You’ve probably already heard that fish oils containing omega-3 are good for your joints, brain and heart health.

That's due to omega-3 is made up of two compounds called DHA and EPA which have been linked to reducing cell inflammation.

As arthritis causes inflammation, upping your intake of fish oil supplements packed with omega fatty acids could help thanks to their natural anti-inflammatory effects.

Studies have also shown that fatty acids could help to reduce joint pain and stiffness.

Oily fish such as salmon, mackerel and trout are great sources of omega-3. If you don’t eat fish, omega-3 is also found in nuts, seeds and vegetable oils or supplements like Algal oil or Ahi Flower. 

  • Glucosamine for arthritis

Glucosamine has been used to treat osteoarthritis in the past thanks to its ability to repair and rebuild cartilage.13

You may also find that glucosamine and chondroitin are combined in supplements.

Studies have shown that when taken in combination, it could help with osteoarthritis knee pain.14 

  • Turmeric for arthritis

You may have already seen in forums people asking, ‘is turmeric good for arthritis?’ and it may be that you have some hiding in the back of your spice rack.

However, turmeric contains active ingredient curcumin that has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties with may help to reduce pain.

Curcumin’s effect on reducing inflammation means it can also help protect your joints from wear and tear.

According to a 2016 study in the Journal of Medicinal Food, it eased symptoms like stiffness and helped with joint movement.15

You can continue to add turmeric to your meals or chose to take it in a supplement form instead.

Black pepper is sometimes added to turmeric supplements, as many experts believe that black pepper aids the absorption of the active ingredient curcumin.

  • MSM for arthritis

Methlysulfonylmethane (or MSM) is a natural compound that contains the mineral sulphur and is believed to have anti-inflammatory activities. MSM supplements are often taken to ease arthritis and other joint or muscle aches and pains. 

  • Apple cider vinegar for arthritis

Apple cider vinegar is believed to be anti-inflammatory, so this could be helpful for those who live with arthritis. Try adding a spoonful to your next glass of water.
emily-rollason

Emily Rollason

Author

Senior Nutritionist

Joined Holland & Barrett: May 2015

Diploma in Nutritional Therapy

Emily has a long history of working with customers to guide them on what products are best suited to help them whilst offering practical support to aid with customers achieving their goals.

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