These are sobering statistics, and help remind us of how many of us may eventually suffer from joint pain and degradation. Though we have a number of pain-relieving drugs, these are poor long-term solutions. Over a period of several years, some patients “get used” to them and no longer enjoy as much pain relief. Some pills can also increase risk of gastrointestinal bleeding.
Fortunately, a number of foods contain natural anti-inflammatory properties that can help alleviate the pain of arthritis. Here are seven with promising research behind them.
- Salmon: Several studies have shown that omega-3 fatty acids—also present in flaxseed, olive oil, walnuts, anchovies, and other foods—help tame inflammation and pain. A 2011 study out of the United Kingdom, for instance, found that omega-3s in fish oil could substantially and significantly reduce the signs and symptoms of osteoarthritis (OA). The healthy fatty acids also helped reduce the degradation of collagen in cartilage and the loss of molecules that create “shock-absorbing” properties. An earlier 2010 study found similar results for those with rheumatoid arthritis (RA)—patients with moderate to severe forms of the disease experienced improvements when taking fish oil. These included reduced swelling and tenderness.
- Broccoli: Any cruciferous veggies will do, but broccoli may be the star, here. In 2013, researchers published a study that showed a certain compound in broccoli, called “sulforaphane,” helped slow down the destruction of cartilage in joints associated with OA. Researchers believe the sulfur-based compound helps block enzymes that contribute to cartilage inflammation.
- Seafood: Take your pick—fish oil, herring, catfish, oysters, salmon, trout, halibut—they’re all great sources of vitamin D, which according to studies, may help you reduce your risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis. According to a 2012 study, a vitamin D deficiency (which some studies have suggested is rampant in the U.S.) has been linked to an increased risk of RA. They also found that low levels of the vitamin may also affect the severity of the disease. “Vitamin D supplementation may be needed both for the prevention of osteoporosis as well as for pain relief in patients with RA,” the researchers wrote. If you’re not a fan of seafood, try portobello mushrooms, soymilk, fish oil supplements, and sunshine.
- Ginger: Though best known for its calming effect on digestion, ginger is also a star when it comes to easing arthritis. It’s so effective, in fact, that a 2005 study concluded that ginger extract my one day work as a substitute for nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (like aspirin and ibuprofen), not only because it eases pain and inflammation, but because it has fewer side effects. An earlier 2001 study found similar results, with participants who took ginger extract twice daily experiencing a greater reduction in knee pain from OA than those who didn’t take it.
- Peppers: Try red peppers, bell peppers, pimento, paprika, and cayenne peppers. These are rich in a substance called “capsaicin” that is actually present in a number of pain-relieving creams because it’s so effective. A 1991 study, for instance, found that patients with OA and RA who applied a capsaicin cream to painful knees four times daily experienced significantly more pain relief than those who didn’t use the cream. In fact, RA patients reduced pain by a mean level of 57 percent, and OA patients by a mean level of 33 percent. According to Arthritis Today, a more recent 2010 study found that “joint pain decreased nearly 50 percent after three weeks’ use of a 0.05 percent capsaicin cream.”
- Turmeric: This spice, which is often included in curry dishes, has powerful anti-inflammatory properties. It was often used in traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine to treat arthritis. A 2012 study found that patients with active RA who took 500 mg of curcumin—the active component in the spice—experienced significant improvements in joint tenderness and swelling. An earlier 2010 clinical trial found that it provided long-term improvements in pain and function for patients with knee OA.
- Green tea: If you already enjoy this beverage, you may want to indulge a few more times a day. According to a 2007 study from the University of Michigan, green tea contains an anti-inflammatory compound called “epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG)” that helps inhibit the production of molecules that contribute to inflammation and joint damage in people with rheumatoid arthritis.
Do you know of other foods that help alleviate arthritis? Please share them with our readers.
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L. Knott, et al., “Regulation of osteoarthritis by omega-3 (n-3) polyunsaturated fatty acids in a naturally occurring model of disease,” Osteoarthritis and Cartilage, September 2011; 19(9):1150-1157, http://www.oarsijournal.com/article/S1063-4584(11)00164-6/abstract.
Bahadori B, et al., “Omega-3 fatty acids infusions as adjuvant therapy in rheumatoid arthritis,” JPEN J Parenter Enteral Nutr. March-April 2010; 34(2):151-5, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20375422.
Davidson RK, et al., “Sulforaphane represses matrix-degrading proteases and protects cartilage from destruction in vitro and in vivo,” Arthritis Rheum, December 2013; 65(12):3130-40, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23983046.
Ifigenia Kostoglou-Athanassiou, et al, “Vitamin D and rheumatoid arthritis,” Ther Adv Endocrinol Metab., December 2012; 3(6):181-187, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3539179/.
Grzanna R, et al., “Ginger—an herbal medicinal product with broad anti-inflammatory actions,” J Med Food, Summer 2005; 8(2):125-32, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16117603.
Altman RD, et al., “Effects of a ginger extract on knee pain in patients with osteoarthritis,” Arthritis Rheum, November 2001; 44(11):2531-8, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11710709.
Deal CL, et al., “Treatment of arthritis with topical capsaicin: a double-blind trial,” Clin Ther. May-June 1991; 13(3): 383-95, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1954640.
“Supplement Guide: Capsaicin,” Arthritis Today, http://www.arthritistoday.org/arthritis-treatment/natural-and-alternative-treatments/supplements-and-herbs/supplement-guide/capsaicin.php.
Chandran B, Goel A., “A randomized, pilot study to assess the efficacy and safety of curcumin in patients with active theumatoid arthritis,” Phytother Res., November 2012; 26(11):1719-25, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22407780.
“Supplement Guide: Turmeric,” Arthritis Today, http://www.arthritistoday.org/arthritis-treatment/natural-and-alternative-treatments/supplements-and-herbs/supplement-guide/turmeric.php.
“Osteoarthritis Patients May Benefit from Drinking Tart Cherry Juice,” MedicalNewsToday, June 1, 2012, http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/246114.php.
“Green tea compound may be a therapy for people with rheumatoid arthritis, University of Michigan study finds,” University of Michigan, April 30, 2007; http://www.med.umich.edu/opm/newspage/2007/greentea.htm.