Nutrition for arthritis

oily fish

Arthritis is characterised by chronic inflammation. Consuming foods with anti-inflammatory effects and avoiding those that aggravate symptoms may help sufferers to reduce joint pain, swelling and stiffness.

The Arthritis Foundation recommends following a Mediterranean-style diet involving plentiful fruit, vegetables, fish, beans and nuts, as well as limiting the consumption of processed foods and saturated fat (1). Rheumatoid arthritis patients have been shown to reduce inflammatory activity and increase physical function by adjusting to this diet (2).

The following foods have shown beneficial effects on arthritis symptoms:

+ Oily fish (salmon, tuna, herring, sardines, scallops and fish oil supplements) – These are rich in Omega-3 fatty acids that have been linked to reducing levels of inflammatory proteins. Randomised controlled trials (RCTs) indicate that dietary supplementation with n-3 fatty acids  (easily obtained through fish oil supplements) provides modest symptomatic benefit for rheumatoid arthritis patients* (3). NB: Some fish that are high on the purine scale like anchovies, sardines, mackerel and herring aren not advisable to gout sufferers.

+ Nuts (walnuts, pistachios and almonds) – Limit to a serving size of 10 nuts per day.

+ Red and purple fruit (cherries, strawberries, raspberries and blueberries) – These fruits contain anthocyanins which have an anti-inflammatory effect.

+ Citrus fruits (oranges, grapefruit and limes) – These fruits contain vitamin C, which may help to prevent inflammation and maintain healthy joints.

+ Green leafy vegetables (broccoli, spinach, lettuce and kale) – These vegetables contain vitamin K, which is linked to reducing inflammatory markers.

+ Extra virgin olive oil – The oleocanthal that it contains has been linked to reducing pain and inflammation.

+ Wholegrains (whole-wheat flour, brown rice and quinoa) as well as beans – These fibre-rich foods may lower the inflammatory marker C-reactive protein.

+ Spices (ginger, turmeric).

There is evidence to suggest that individuals suffering with arthritis might benefit from avoiding the following foods:

+ Nightshade vegetables (aubergine, tomato, paprika, pepper and potato) – The Cleveland Clinic  (5) states that these foods may promote inflammation and aggravate joint pain.

+ Gluten – Following a gluten-free diet has helped some patients to reduce inflammation and joint pain.

+ Vegan – Patients with moderate-to-severe rheumatoid arthritis have seen significant reductions in arthritis symptoms by following a vegan and low fat diet.

* Individuals should check with their doctor before taking any dietary supplements.

You can read more about the subject of arthritis and nutrition via these web links and articles:

  • Sköldstam, L., Hagfors, L. & Johansson, G. (2003). An experimental study of a Mediterranean diet intervention for patients with rheumatoid arthritis. Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases. 62, 208-214.
  • Lisa, K et al. (2005). Diet and Rheumatoid Arthritis: A Review of the Literature Seminars in Arthritis and Rheumatism. 35 (2), 77–94.
  • McDougall, J., Bruce, B., Spiller, G., Westerdahl, J. & McDougall, M. (2004). Effects of a Very Low-Fat, Vegan Diet in Subjects with Rheumatoid Arthritis. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. 8 (1), 71-75.