The Best Foods for Rheumatoid and Osteoarthritis ReliefPublished on Thursday, August 31, 2023 by
Dietary Strategies for Managing Arthritis: Navigating Inflammation and Symptom Relief
Arthritis, characterized by pain, swelling, and or tenderness of the joints, stems largely from inflammation.
According to CDC statistics, 1 in 4 American adults live with some form of doctor-diagnosed arthritis.
The two most common types of arthritis are:
Osteoarthritis [OA] - Ultimately caused by a breakdown of joint cartilage, OA generally affects the hands, feet, hips, knees, and spine.
Rheumatoid Arthritis [RA] – Considered an autoimmune disease, RA causes irritation in the lining of the joints and most often shows up in the hands, wrist, and feet.
While these are clinically distinct conditions, there is some overlap in the foods and supplements that might help reduce their severity.
In today’s article, I will go through the best available evidence to provide meaningful and actionable dietary guidance to people with arthritis.
Let’s get to the good stuff!
From The Food Side
While more evidence supports the potential of dietary changes to reduce symptoms in RA than OA, the totality of evidence for both conditions leans towards supporting an “anti-inflammatory” eating style.
In 2021, a systematic review and meta-analysis out of the Nutrients Journal identified that anti-inflammatory diets were most likely to offer food-driven pain reduction in RA sufferers.
For OA, a 2020 prospective cohort study conducted over four years demonstrated that individuals with the most anti-inflammatory diets had the lowest risk of developing osteoarthritis.
The anti-inflammatory capacity of specific foods and nutrients is measured by something called the DII – Dietary Inflammatory Index.
Let’s take a look at some of the items that are considered most anti-inflammatory by this metric.
Green & Other Teas
As well as black tea and teas with a high flavonoid content like oolong, rooibos, and chamomile.
Found in the largest supply in sweet potatoes and carrots, beta-carotene is a Vitamin A precursor with significant anti-inflammatory potential.
Garlic, Onion & Other Herbs
If you don’t enjoy them in whole form, powdered forms can also have a meaningful role to play.
As can other prominent herbs and spices like sage, rosemary, fenugreek, rosemary, and parsley.
Magnesium & Fiber-Rich Foods
Magnesium and fiber are two anti-inflammatory nutrients that are under-consumed by most people.
The most common foods high in both are nuts and seeds (all types), whole grains like quinoa and brown rice, leafy greens like spinach and kale, and legumes like lentils, chickpeas, etc.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3s are the quintessential anti-inflammatory food component, but they aren’t all built equal.
When it comes to optimizing health, the long-chain omega-3s EPA/DHA found exclusively in fatty fish like salmon, trout, sardines, and mackerel have a distinct advantage over other sources.
I explain more about why this is and what you can do about it in a previous post for Foodguides.com
The plant-based omega-3, ALA, is found in walnuts, flax, chia, and soy-based foods like tofu, tempeh, and edamame – the latter mentioned group of soy foods also being sources of highly anti-inflammatory isoflavone compounds.
*Additional Thoughts On Osteoarthritis
In 2018 the Rheumatology Journal published a review paper on the role of diet in improving OA. While admitting the state of the evidence was not the best, they offered several suggestions which would actually be addressed by consuming more of the foods I’ve discussed in the previous discussion.
These suggestions included:
- Increasing Omega-3 [DHA/EPA] intake from fish and supplements
- Lowering Blood Level Cholesterol
- Eating Sufficient Vitamin K
The Supplement Side
There is one very potent dietary component that I haven’t yet touched on but scores higher than any other on the DII index.
And it just so happens that good evidence exists to support the use of turmeric, specifically as a curcumin supplement, for both RA and OA sufferers.
Recent systematic review and meta-analysis data, while not definitive, trends towards supporting the use of curcumin to modestly reduce inflammation and clinical symptoms in both RA and OA.
Ginger, another highly anti-inflammatory dietary component per the DII, has also generated some interest specifically for symptom relief in OA.
Even in those not inclined towards supplement use, incorporating ginger and turmeric as kitchen spices will make a modest contribution to the net anti-inflammatory capacity of any diet.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2023, June 22). National statistics. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/arthritis/data_statistics/national-statistics.html
- Schönenberger, K. A., Schüpfer, A. C., Gloy, V. L., Hasler, P., Stanga, Z., Kaegi-Braun, N., & Reber, E. (2021). Effect of Anti-Inflammatory Diets on Pain in Rheumatoid Arthritis: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Nutrients, 13(12), 4221. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu13124221
- Liu, Q., Hebert, J. R., Shivappa, N., Guo, J., Tao, K., Zeng, C., Lei, G., Lin, J. & Zhang, Y. (2020). Inflammatory potential of diet and risk of incident knee osteoarthritis: A prospective cohort study. Arthritis Research & Therapy, 22(1), 209. https://doi.org/10.1186/s13075-020-02302-z
- Shivappa, N., Steck, S. E., Hurley, T. G., Hussey, J. R., & Hébert, J. R. (2014). Designing and developing a literature-derived, population-based dietary inflammatory index. Public health nutrition, 17(8), 1689–1696. https://doi.org/10.1017/S1368980013002115
- Thomas, S., Browne, H., Mobasheri, A., & Rayman, M. P. (2018). What is the evidence for a role for diet and nutrition in osteoarthritis?. Rheumatology (Oxford, England), 57(suppl_4), iv61–iv74. https://doi.org/10.1093/rheumatology/key011
- Zeng, L., Yu, G., Hao, W., Yang, K., & Chen, H. (2021). The efficacy and safety of Curcuma longa extract and curcumin supplements on osteoarthritis: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Bioscience reports, 41(6), BSR20210817. https://doi.org/10.1042/BSR20210817
- Kou, H., Huang, L., Jin, M., He, Q., Zhang, R., & Ma, J. (2023). Effect of curcumin on rheumatoid arthritis: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Frontiers in immunology, 14, 1121655. https://doi.org/10.3389/fimmu.2023.1121655
- Mathieu, S., Soubrier, M., Peirs, C., Monfoulet, L. E., Boirie, Y., & Tournadre, A. (2022). A Meta-Analysis of the Impact of Nutritional Supplementation on Osteoarthritis Symptoms. Nutrients, 14(8), 1607. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu14081607
Andy De SantisMPH, RD