Can Dietary Changes Help My Arthritis?

Mar 07, 2024
Can Dietary Changes Help My Arthritis?
Whether you have osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, gout, or some other rheumatic condition, you know how painful and limiting joint inflammation and swelling can be. Find out how the right dietary choices can help your condition.

Arthritis is an umbrella medical term for over 100 different conditions that inflict varying degrees of inflammation, swelling, damage, and motion-restricting pain and stiffness in one or more of your joints. The most common forms of arthritis are:

  • Osteoarthritis (OA), or wear-and-tear degenerative joint disease
  • Rheumatoid arthritis (RA), a joint-attacking autoimmune disease
  • Gout, which is caused by abnormal uric acid buildup in the body

Lupus and fibromyalgia are other rheumatic conditions that cause joint inflammation, swelling, stiffness, and discomfort. No matter what’s behind your arthritis pain, Dr. Okezie N. Okezie and our team at Interventional Sports and Pain Management Associates can help. 

While each form of arthritis calls for its own distinct treatment plan and pain management approach, one beneficial lifestyle adjustment — joint-friendly dietary changes — applies in every case. Here’s what you should (and shouldn’t) eat to help your arthritis. 

Arthritis inflammation is a key driver of joint pain 

About 53 million people in the United States — or one in five adults — has some form of doctor-diagnosed arthritis. What’s more, more than two in five people (44%) with chronic joint inflammation and swelling have physical limitations due to their arthritis. 

Many factors can contribute to arthritis-related joint pain, ranging from age-related degenerative changes and traumatic injury damage to excess body weight, poor posture, and inactivity. In every case, however, inflammation plays a major role.

How systemic inflammation affects arthritic joints

The joint inflammation associated with arthritis pain and stiffness doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Even if arthritis-related inflammation is concentrated in the joints, it’s readily aggravated by chronic, low-grade systemic inflammation. 

Many common chronic diseases, including diabetes, heart disease, gastrointestinal (GI) disorders, and depression, are associated with ongoing low-grade systemic inflammation. 

Even in the absence of chronic illness, however, certain lifestyle factors can promote and perpetuate an internal inflammatory environment. These include:

  • High stress levels
  • Lack of exercise 
  • Poor sleep quality
  • An unhealthy diet  

Just as increased systemic inflammation makes arthritis symptoms feel worse, a reduction in low-grade inflammation alleviates joint swelling, pain, and stiffness. To effectively “turn down” the inflammation dial, you may need to control chronic illness, manage stress levels, improve your sleep, get more exercise, eat a healthier diet, or all the above.     

Food can turn the “inflammation dial” up or down

One of the most straightforward ways to affect systemic inflammation — and in turn, joint inflammation — is through your dietary choices: The right choices can ease your arthritis symptoms, while the wrong ones can make it feel worse. Let’s take a closer look: 

Anti-inflammatory foods to alleviate arthritis pain 

You probably already know the kind of healthy eating pattern that helps dial down, or calm, inflammation in the body: One based on unprocessed or minimally processed whole foods. 

These are the simple, natural foods that you can easily combine to make wholesome, healthy meals. They deliver all the vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and dietary fiber you need through complex carbohydrates, lean proteins, and heart-healthy fats. 

While there’s no single “anti-inflammatory diet,” you can’t go wrong by: 

  • Emphasizing fiber-rich, plant-based foods (vegetables, fruits, whole grains)
  • Choosing lean protein sources (legumes, tofu, poultry, eggs, white fish)
  • Sticking with unsaturated fats (olive oil, nuts and seeds, avocado, salmon)

Certain foods are arthritis-easing superstars because they have powerful anti-inflammatory nutrients. These include berries, which contain potent polyphenols (plant chemicals), and foods that provide inflammation-cooling omega-3 fatty acids

Omega-3s are found in fatty fish (i.e., salmon, mackerel, tuna), some nuts and seeds (i.e., walnuts, flaxseeds), and certain leafy green vegetables (i.e., spinach, kale). 

Pro-inflammatory foods that make arthritis worse

On the other end of the spectrum, a diet that’s rich in ultra-processed, highly refined food products has strong pro-inflammatory effects that readily promote and intensify systemic inflammation and joint pain. 

When it comes to managing arthritis symptoms, limiting your intake of inflammatory foods is just as important as eating an anti-inflammatory diet. You can get started by minimizing your consumption of:

  • Sweets and sugary beverages
  • Highly refined grain products 
  • Ultra-processed snack foods
  • Deep-fried foods and fast food 
  • Processed meats and cheeses 

It’s helpful to avoid anything made from a lengthy laundry list of ingredients — especially if sugar, salt, or processed oils top the list, or if it contains ingredients that you’ve never heard of and can’t pronounce.  

It’s also generally helpful to mindfully reduce your consumption of saturated fats, added sugars, and sodium, all of which are pro-inflammatory, especially in higher quantities.  

Reducing inflammation can improve your arthritis 

Are you ready to turn the dial down on arthritis inflammation and pain? We can help. Call your nearest Interventional Sports and Pain Management Associates office in Humble or Baytown, Texas, today, or click online to schedule a visit with Dr. Okezie anytime.