One in five Americans have been diagnosed with arthritis, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
A form of rheumatic disease, arthritis is characterized by inflammation and loss of function in some parts of the body. Osteoarthritis damages cartilage, joints, and bones, and is the most common type of arthritis, affecting over 27 million Americans. Rheumatoid arthritis is another form of arthritis that attacks the synovial lining of joints, causing pain, stiffness, swelling, and loss of function.
Of course, if you suffer from arthritis, we don’t have to tell you how disabling the pain can be. The good news is that an increasingly large body of research has suggested that making dietary changes could help alleviate the chronic pain associated with this disease.
Foods play a significant part in a multitude of chronic conditions, and the pain that’s accompanied with those conditions. Inflammation has a fairly significant role in many different health issues, particularly those that end in “itis,” which means inflammation. While pain medications can help reduce suffering, they can also be addictive, often producing unwanted side effects, and, typically failing to eliminate the root cause of the pain.
But just as what you eat can contribute to your pain, certain foods have the ability to relieve pain that’s accompanied by inflammation, with the ability to block pain signals, fight inflammation, and even heal underlying disease.
By avoiding unhealthy foods that contribute to inflammation, like fast food, processed foods such as packaged baked goods, lunch meats, potato chips and so on, and adding these foods to your diet, odds are you’ll start enjoying relief soon.
A 2012 study out of Denmark, published in the journal Arthritis, compared ginger extract to the common drugs cortisone and ibuprofen for the treatment of osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. They found that when people suffering from the aches and pains of these conditions added ginger to their diet, it eased muscle and joint pain, swelling and stiffness for up to 63 percent of the study participants within two months. The researchers credited ginger’s potent compounds known as gingerols, which prevent the production of hormones that trigger pain.
The pain-relieving effects of ginger can be enjoyed whether it’s eaten raw or heated. In fact, studies have found that it works as well as, and even better, than ibuprofen. One of the easiest ways to take advantage of its incredible benefits is to enjoy it fresh as a tea. Just slice up four or five pieces of the fresh root and steep in boiling water for 5 to 10 minutes. If you don’t have access to hot water, you can even chew on a piece of raw ginger after peeling it for pain relief.
2. Hot Peppers
Hot peppers, like cayenne peppers, contain a substance known as capsaicin which has been found to trigger the release of endorphins. These “happy hormones,” as they’re often called, not only make you feel good, but they help to lessen many forms of chronic pain. Capsaicin releases a chemical known as “substance P,’ which is also released when the body sustains an injury. It signals the nervous system that you’ve been injured, causing an initial burning sensation followed by a lessening of pain in the area after time.
Add hot peppers to your meals more often, or you can add a half teaspoon of ground cayenne pepper to a glass of water – aim to drink a glass each day.
Cherries are not only juicy and delicious, they contain compounds known as anthocyanins – the substance responsible for their rich ruby color. These powerful antioxidants offer a double whammy when it comes to relieving pain. They block inflammation and inhibit pain enzymes similar to the way nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories and aspirin work.
In fact, one study found that those who ate a bowl of cherries in the morning were able to reduce a major marker of inflammation by 25 percent. Another study discovered runners who drank 12 ounces of tart cherry juice twice a day for seven days before a run, endured less muscle pain compared to those who did not.
Garlic may leave you with some slightly funky breath, but it not only adds flavor to meals, it offers powerful anti-inflammatory properties to help ease the pain and swelling of arthritis. It also contains potent antioxidant compounds that help strengthen the immune system, important for those suffering from any type of chronic condition.
To get the most benefits from garlic,, eat it raw rather than cooked. You can add some chopped or minced garlic to a salad, homemade salsa or other dips for a healthy, pain fighting kick.
Beets have an earthy flavor but they become sweet when cooked and are incredibly nutritious, loaded with folate and fiber. Betanin is what gives them their rich, red color, and this phytochemical known to boost immunity is also a potent anti-inflammatory that can help reduce inflammation and relieve the pain of arthritis.
If you don’t like beets even when they’re cooked, peel the skin off and then add them to a smoothie or a homemade juice, which helps to reduce that earthy taste.
6. Wild-caught salmon
Multiple studies have shown that omega-3 fatty acids may help prevent or reduce inflammation, and lessen arthritis symptoms like pain and swelling. Wild-caught salmon is one of the best sources of omega-3. When you eat a high ratio of omega-6 fats (found in snack foods, corn, meat and sunflower oil among others) to omega-3 fats, COX-2 enzymes that cause joint inflammation are more active, according to research from the Center for Genetics, Nutrition and Health.
Broccoli is a great addition to the diet of anyone who wants to improve their health, but it’s really a must for arthritis suffers as it contains a high level of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds that work to lower oxidation stress, bottle chronic inflammation and ultimately, ease pain.
8. Extra-virgin olive oil
Extra virgin olive oil is loaded with heart-healthy fats, as well as oleocanthal, which has properties similar to non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory drugs. In fact, researchers found that oleocanthal prevents the production of pro-inflammatory COX-1 and COX-2 enzymes – the same way ibuprofen works.
A study published in the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry researched the benefits of oleocanthal specifically for rheumatoid arthritis and discovered that it had a significant impact on both chronic inflammation and acute inflammatory processes.
Blueberries contain a particularly potent anti-inflammatory compound known as quercetin, a phytonutrient that helps to fight excess inflammation, therefore, reducing the pain of arthritis. Foods with a high level of quercetin like blueberries, can help manage many different types of inflammatory conditions in addition to arthritis, like chronic fatigue, allergies and even heart disease.
Oranges, as just about everyone knows, are especially rich in vitamin C, and a study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology found that intake of this vitamin was linked to a 30 percent lower risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis.
11. Bok Choy
Bok choy, or Chinese cabbage, is filled with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants – in fact, more than 70 antioxidant substances have been found in this versatile veggie, including hydroxycinnamic acid, which are known to battle against free radicals and reduce inflammation. It ranks as one of Whole Foods top vitamin K-rich foods, which has been shown to help regulate the body’s inflammatory responses.
12. Green tea
Green tea is loaded with polyphenols, antioxidants known to help lower inflammation and slow the destruction of cartilage destruction. Research has also revealed that green tea has a substance called epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG) which has the ability to block the production of molecules that cause joint damage in people with rheumatoid arthritis.
Grapefruits, like oranges, are filled with vitamin C, which, as noted, has been shown it studies to help prevent inflammatory arthritis and help those with osteoarthritis maintain healthy joints.
If you have rheumatoid arthritis, beans are a must-eat, if you don’t consume them already. They’re packed with fiber, which helps to lower C-reactive protein (CRP), a substance produced by the liver that increases in the presence of inflammation in the body. An elevated CRP level is considered to be a non-specific “marker” for disease. They’re also an excellent, and cheap, source of protein and are rich in iron, zinc, folic acid, potassium and magnesium.
Strawberries are loaded with anthocyanidins, powerful antioxidants that are responsible for the fruit’s reddish hue, as well as the color of foods like cherries, raspberries, grapes and eggplant. Research, including a Harvard School of Public Health study, has found that those who consume more strawberries tend to have lower CRP levels. While that particular study was focused on heart health, experts believe it has implications for arthritis sufferers too as anthocyanidins may help reduce inflammation.
Carrots contain beta-cryptoxanthin, a powerful antioxidant in the carotenoid family. Similar to beta-carotene, which is also found in carrots, this antioxidant is converted to vitamin A in the body, and may even help prevent arthritis.
In 2004, researchers from the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom discovered that those who ate more foods containing beta-cryptoxanthin were better protected against arthritis.
Celery is great to munch on when you want something healthy to keep your hands and mouth busy to prevent giving into cravings for treats, and it also offers outstanding antioxidant and anti-inflammatory abilities to help lower inflammation and battle bacterial infections too.
18. Brussel sprouts
Brussel sprouts and other cruciferous vegetables are filled with a substance known as sulforaphane, which helps to slow cartilage damage in joints due to osteoarthritis, according to a 2013 study out of the United Kingdom. Brussel sprouts make a great addition to a stir-fry or a salad.
Turmeric is one of the best-researched substances for fighting inflammation, thanks to a compound it contains known as curcumin. Of course, turmeric is not a food, but a spice. Still, you can use it liberally in all types of dishes, particularly curries, to help manage the pain of arthritis. A review published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences reported that “curcumin could be beneficial in the management of chronic inflammatory-related joint disease,” though the study authors cautioned that there is a lack of data in regard to safety and side effects. At the same time, keep in mind that it’s been used for centuries in India for helping to battle all types of inflammatory conditions, including arthritis.
Pineapple is helpful for arthritis sufferers for a couple of reasons. First, it contains a digestive enzyme known as bromelain. After being used for decades as part of an anti-inflammatory foods protocol, bromelain has been scientifically found to have immune-modulating abilities, which means that it helps regulate the immune response that often creates excess, unnecessary inflammation. Secondly, pineapple contains a high level of vitamin C, which, again, helps to prevent inflammatory arthritis and help those with osteoarthritis maintain healthy joints.
Bananas are fabulous food to take on the go, offering lots of nutrition as well as helping to fuel the body’s energy needs. If you’re trying to tackle that arthritis pain, however, they’re a lot more than fabulous – they’re a superfood. They may be famous for their high level of potassium, but they also contain plenty of other vitamins and minerals that the body can’t be without for long. That includes folate, vitamin B6 and vitamin C, all of which help to fight against arthritis pain, keeping symptoms to a minimum.
While mangos usually can’t be found all year round, but when they’re in season, be sure to pick a few up, as they can work wonders in supporting the body’s many systems, and ensuring that you don’t suffer from as much arthritis pain. That’s due to the high number of antioxidants they contain, like vitamin E and vitamin C. Their orange color is a giveaway that they’re also filled with beta carotene, which can help prevent arthritis from getting worse. You can eat ripe mangos as they are, toss them into a stir-fry to add a sweet flavor, or make a fruit salad.
23. Sweet potatoes
Sweet potatoes are also orange, so you guessed it, they also contain beta carotene that important antioxidant that can help keep your arthritis from worsening. They’re also packed with other antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and fiber. To squeeze more of them into your diet, try substituting sweet potatoes for white potatoes whenever you can.
Walnuts have the highest amount of omega-3s of any other nut, and studies have demonstrated that they lower CRP, that marker of inflammation associated with a higher risk of arthritis as well as cardiovascular disease. Eating them regularly can not only help reduce the pain of arthritis, it helps to relax blood vessels, lessening stress on the heart and reducing blood pressure. Bring some with you to work to snack on when hunger pangs hit, or combine them with other nutritious foods to make a meal.
Apples are an outstanding source of iron and a variety of vitamins. The fruit’s iron content helps in the formation of hemoglobin in the blood to improve its oxygen carrying capacity, which in turn helps to lower inflammation in the joints due to arthritis. Consume them on their own, as a juice or in a salad, but whatever you do, be sure to eat them regularly to maximize arthritis pain relief.
Lentils are an excellent food that should be consumed regularly by anyone suffering from arthritis. They not only help to relieve pain, they help you feel fuller longer to reduce the chances of overeating, but they also aid in stabilizing blood sugar levels. Try to purchase them raw and cook them as you’ll use them for maximum benefits.
Provided you don’t have a shellfish allergy, shrimp and other types of shellfish are great for managing arthritis symptoms. They contain helpful omega-3 fatty acids as well as selenium, which is especially notable for battling arthritis pain. Shrimp also packs a punch when it comes to protein, and provides vitamins and minerals like B12, niacin, zinc and iron as well.
This versatile food can be eaten on its own, dipped into sauces or used in all sorts of recipes.
Spinach offers multiple benefits to arthritis sufferers, thanks to its numerous flavonoid compounds which offer anti-inflammatory properties. It also contains lots of healthy fiber, calcium and vitamin K, which has been shown to help regulate the body’s inflammatory responses.
Raw baby spinach makes a great base for a nutritious salad, but you can add spinach leaves to scrambled eggs or even as a topping for a pizza.
Almonds are one of the top nuts when it comes to fiber, and they also contain healthy fats, a combination that’s known to help support weight loss. A handful makes the ideal snack when hunger hits and you’re unable to enjoy a full meal. Research has found that its monounsaturated fats may help lower some markers of inflammation, including CRP, and almonds are also rich in vitamin E.
In addition to an in-between meal snack, you can add them to a variety of dishes for an extra crunch.
Tomatoes are juicy, delicious, versatile, and, especially effective when it comes to relieving arthritis pain, thanks to its lycopene content, which has been found to reduce pain associated with inflammation. While tomatoes are healthy raw, arthritis sufferers should enjoy them cooked, as cooking releases the lycopene.