London: The idea that you can combat some of the worst symptoms of arthritis joint pain with simple dietary tweaks is great, but there has been little or no evidence to back it up. Going online for information is confusing, with hundreds of websites promising to help us ‘eat to beat arthritis’ amounting to little more than fake health news. Now, though, emerging scientific research is shedding light on the relationship between what we eat and how it really can affect our joint health, both now and in the future.
From anti-inflammatory fruits and vegetables to immune-boosting bacteria, there is a range of changes you can make to your diet that could help reduce pain and protect your joints. We spoke to leading medical experts to sort facts from fiction and reveal which foods you should be tucking into.
Why being a healthy weight is key to cutting out the pain:
The most common type of arthritis is osteoarthritis, which affects more than ten million Britons. It is caused by the wearing away of the cartilage covering the ends of the bones. Silky, tough cartilage helps joints move smoothly. But as it thins, the bone underneath tries to repair itself, and can over-grow, causing deformity and leading to internal damage, inflammation and pain, and immobility.
The evidence that weight loss improves osteoarthritis symptoms is clear. Walking transmits forces equivalent to one and half times your body weight onto each knee, with each step. Climb the stairs and the pressure is two to three times your body weight on each knee. Research shows that if overweight patient loses ten percent of their body weight they can cut their joint pain by half.
And being overweight doesn’t just place more pressure on the joints. In 2016, researchers at the University of Oslo discovered that being overweight increases the body’s immune response and fuels the swelling of the tissues in the joints.
This is because body fat is a large organ in its own right that produces a range of hormones and other substances. The more overweight you are, the more inflammatory proteins called cytokines and adipokines you have, which can increase pain levels.
Catherine Collins, an NHS dietician in Surrey, says: ‘I’ve had patients with bad joint pain in their hands who have lost weight and noticed their pain diminish. This clearly shows the benefit isn’t just about reducing the load on joints.’
Magic of the med diet:
The much-talked-about Mediterranean diet is rich in fruit, vegetables, wholegrain cereals, legumes, and nuts, and supplemented with small amounts of fish, lean meat, and olive oil. It’s naturally high in health-giving compounds like antioxidants, omega-3, and monounsaturated fats, which help the heart, and unrefined carbohydrates, to aid digestion.
Philip Calder, Professor of Nutritional Immunology at the University of Southampton, and an expert in dietary approaches to arthritis explains: ‘Essentially, the diet is full of anti-inflammatory compounds and limits the foods that promote inflammation in the body.
Say yes to yogurt:
A new area of research points to the importance of gut health when managing arthritis, particularly in those with rheumatoid arthritis. A University of Rochester study in the US found that mice put on a junk food diet, and who had high levels of ‘bad’ bacteria in their digestive system, developed osteoarthritis.
Mice that ate prebiotic foods – those that encourage healthy gut bacteria growth – did not develop the problem. Prebiotic foods include onions, garlic, asparagus, leeks, and Jerusalem artichokes.
Get your oats:
Believe it or not, a bowl of porridge a day could help diminish the pain of osteoarthritis. ‘Patients with osteoarthritis are more likely to have raised cholesterol levels and there is some evidence that lowering those levels can reduce pain,’ explains Prof Rayman. ‘Of course, this will have a positive knock-on effect on heart health, too.’
Why do fish fight pain:
Oily fish can help ease joint pain because it’s rich in omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids. ‘Fish oils have been shown to have an anti-inflammatory effect on the body and to reduce pain, particularly in those with rheumatoid arthritis,’ says Prof Calder.
It’s generally recommended that you should aim to eat one or two portions a week. Oily fish include mackerel, salmon, and tuna (although not tinned tuna). If you don’t like fish – or suffer from gout, a form of arthritis where uric acid builds up in the joints, and need to limit your intake – you can supplement your diet with fish oil capsules.
One to two capsules should supply the recommended daily 450mg of EPA and DHA. ‘This is the amount used in one trial that reduced pain and improved function in patients with knee osteoarthritis, and boosted their heart health,’ adds Prof Rayman. source dailymail