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Foods for Arthritis
Arthritis is a frustrating condition that calls for a complex treatment plan, and while medication is usually an important part, what you choose to eat can make a big difference, too.
You might be surprised at the array of natural ingredients that can help soothe pain, relieve inflammation, and even slow the progression of rheumatic diseases like rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis.
It can take some trial and error to find the most effective diet for you, but start by adding these arthritis-friendly foods to your management plan for happier, healthier joints.
1. Fatty Fish
Omega 3 fatty acids have long been known to build and protect your tissues, but they are also responsible for keeping joint inflammation in check. Fatty fish have the highest concentrations of omega 3s, particularly salmon, mackerel, sardines and anchovies.
But increasing omega 3 fats is only half the battle: in contrast to omega 3s, omega 6 fatty acids cause an inflammatory response, and since the North American diet is positively riddled with them (mainly in corn-based products, meat, and processed foods), you’ll need to renovate your daily menu. Try substituting fish for meat, choosing a small handful of walnuts for your snack, and cooking with coconut or olive oil instead of canola or sunflower oil.
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2. Olive Oil
Olive oil has an impressive secret – it can work as well as popular NSAIDs like ibuprofen for arthritis pain. The power lies in a naturally-occurring compound called oleocanthal, which prevents the production of two notable inflammatory enzymes called COX-1 and COX-2.
Studies show that lower levels of these enzymes points to lower levels of pain and inflammation, especially in RA patients. However, not all olive oils are created equal; be sure to use the extra virgin variety from Tuscany (or a region that uses the same kind of olives), which has more of the healthy compounds that your body needs to reduce the pain and swelling.
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It’s no wonder that yogurt’s taking the health food world by storm, considering all the improvements that come with a daily bowl. The big helping of beneficial bacteria (also known as probiotics) not only regulate your digestive system, they also reduce inflammation and strengthen your immune system.
What this means for RA sufferers is fewer flare-ups, but every arthritis patient can also enjoy milder symptoms: studies show that yogurt can help to cure arthritis finger pain and stiffness. Stick to the unsweetened variety, and try to work yogurt into different dishes rather than reserving it for breakfast. It can be as rich – and far healthier – as cream, sour cream, and cheese.
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4. Cherries and Berries
Strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, currants – all these sweet bites are loaded with antioxidants called anthocyanidins, compounds responsible for the coloring their skins and flesh shades of red and purple. Research has shown that anthocyanidins can help lower the level of CRP (a key marker of inflammation), and in practice, reduce joint ache and swelling.
Organic berries are the best choices, since conventional berry growing involves a high amount of frightening pesticides. Blueberries and cherries are particularly helpful: their deep colors betray a huge concentration of anthocyanidins – more than any other natural ingredient, in fact.
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Ginger has been used for centuries as a remedy for stomach aches and other digestive discomforts, but it also has a lot to offer those with chronic pain and inflammation. The pungent root has anti-inflammatory properties and lots of antioxidants, plus some analgesic ability – that is, it can fight inflammation, protect your joints and tissues from further inflammation, and even reduce the amount of pain you feel. In fact, one arthritis study found that ginger reduced pain and stiffness an average of 40% over the placebo. You can either take ginger capsules, or grate fresh ginger into your salads, stir-fries, soups or even smoothies.
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One of the healthiest greens anyone can add to their plate, broccoli combats arthritis in a couple of ways. A major study has shown that broccoli, along with its cruciferous cousins, can protect the joints against the development of arthritis.
As for treating arthritis after diagnosis, the compound sulforaphane has been shown to slow progression of joint damage in OA. With a big helping of vitamin K, vitamin C and calcium to top it off, broccoli is really a superfood for good joint and bone health.
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All citrus fruits pack a good assortment of healthy vitamins, but tangerines have two important compounds – beta-cryptoxanthin and vitamin C – that combine to protect against arthritis and fight off the symptoms. Research has shown that vitamin can help to keep joints affected by osteoarthritis healthy, while beta-cryptoxanthin (similar to beta-carotene) is converted into vitamin A and that will protect against arthritis inflammation.
Try to work in other good sources of beta-cryptoxanthin, like sweet bell peppers, squash, papayas and pumpkins, to top up your natural defenses against arthritis pain and swelling.
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8. Green Tea
All sorts of teas – black, white, green or oolong – have polyphenols that support the immune system and can ward off certain diseases, like arthritis. But green tea may have an extra advantage: researchers have found that it contains a substance known as EGCG, which can actually slow or stop arthritis progression by blocking certain pro-inflammatory cells from damaging your cartilage.
Sipping on this natural elixir is especially helpful for RA patients who take medications that suppress their immune system, considering tea’s immune-boosting properties. What it all boils down to is that a few cups of green tea in your daily diet could bring some significant improvements in your arthritis, and your general health.
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Like other whole grains, oats can lower your level of C-reactive protein (CRP) – a sign of inflammation in the body. This is particularly evident for RA sufferers, who generally experience a spike in CRP when their arthritis is in flare, and lower CRP measurements normally come when treatment takes effect.
Oats and grains are also loaded with selenium, an antioxidant that could help fight off inflammation. One advantage to choosing oats over other whole grains like wheat and barley is that they don’t contain the protein gluten, which is known to bother some GI tracts, though their soluble fiber content is just as high.
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10. Onions and Garlic
Foods from the allium family (think onions, leeks and garlic) are pretty powerful tools in your quest for comfortable joints. Not only do they improve respiratory health, but studies have shown that certain compounds in these veggies can directly impact arthritis symptoms and progression: diallyl disulphine (found in garlic) may reduce cartilage-damaging enzymes in the body, and quercetin (a flavonoid found in onions) is known to inhibit inflammation-causing proteins, hormones and histamines in both OA and RA patients. With few calories, no fat, and a bundle of proactive compounds, everyone should work more garlic and onions into their diet.
What you don’t eat can be just as important as what you do eat to manage your arthritis. Saturated fats and trans fats are at the top of that list – they feed inflammation, and lead to weight gain, which will put more stress on the joints. Refined grains also lead to more inflammation, encouraging the production of cytokines, and making arthritis symptoms worse. Get in the habit of adding flavor with fresh herbs, a variety of spices, and a colorful array of veggies instead of fat and salt.