The food we put in our body has the tremendous ability to heal us or make us feel miserable. Our joints are no exception to this. Foods can be used to reduce joint pain if you eat them on a consistent basis. Some foods can even worsen arthritis. Find out if your diet is making your arthritis flare up in this blog.
Joint Inflammation: My Personal Story
You think you are invincible when you are young; we all do. I was no exception to this. Carefree, energetic, no aches and pains! Until one day, it happens and you will never see things exactly the same way.
You have to start taking measures to feel better.
In my case, I have a relatively minor example, but it makes me empathize more with those who hurt.
What seemed like a simple cut on my finger became an inflamed mess. Aching joint or arthritis, if you will.
Long after the cut went away, my finger ached as if I had just cut it. The ache had settled into my joint. I feel for your issues and aim to provide you with some step-by-step changes in your life that can help.
Despite eating “healthy”, this ache was still there for me until I did some things to change it. Read on to learn some of the things I personally incorporate to dampen down arthritis.
What is Arthritis?
What exactly is arthritis? The prefix “arth” means joint and the “itis” suffix literally means inflammation, so we can get an understanding of the root of the issues with arthritis.
Whether it is osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, gouty arthritis or other kinds, a general way of thinking about arthritis is joint inflammation.
Injuries and infections can bring on this painful situation in our lives. Stress, both physical and mental, also can bring on inflammation.
Arthritis can, in part, come from our genes, as in the case of autoimmunity, and most types of arthritis now are thought to have autoimmune components. But genes aren’t destiny, necessarily.
What we put in our bodies affect our autoimmunity genes. Lots of new research points to the fact that foods can flip our autoimmune gene switches, making our disease better or worse.
Here are some of the kinds of arthritis 
- Juvenile arthritis
- Psoriatic arthritis
- Degenerative joint disease
- Degenerative arthritis
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Gouty arthritis
- Acute arthritis
It is important to get a proper arthritis diagnosis from your doctor .
Yet, regardless of the type of arthritis you have, what you put in your body can have profound effects on the inflammation and pain. You probably won’t hear about what to do with your diet in the limited time that they have. I’m here to help.
While drug treatments can be helpful for pain relief, it is important to remember: arthritis is not a deficiency of a new drug.
As you may know, the drug class NSAIDS was once thought to be a miracle for arthritis sufferers, that is, until it started causing a LOT of problems for people, including contributing to myocardial infarction and kidney failure .
While occasional use of ibuprofen and some of the NSAIDS still does appear safe for some, it is not the answer for many people who suffer long-term.
Can You Treat Arthritis with Functional Nutrition?
Getting to the root causes of inflammation is as important or more important than drugs in a lot of cases. The goal of functional nutrition is to identifiy your own personal triggers of inflammation in the body so that you can learn to manage these.
What is at the root cause of inflammation for many people?
- Reactive foods or food sensitivities
- Imbalanced bacteria in the gut
- Low nutrient diets
- Lack of antioxidant-rich foods
Why? Arthritis, regardless of the type, is responding to things we put in our body, such as foods and toxins. It can respond either in a helpful or harmful way.
15 Natural Foods and Supplements To Reduce Arthritis
Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme
When Simon and Garfunkel sang of parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme, were they actually talking about ways to reduce arthritis? Let’s take a look in a sage way.
Parsley is known to be anti-inflammatory and also may safely help remove toxins from the body . It also appears to protect our DNA from damage. This is an advantage in inflammatory conditions like arthritis .
Sage dampens down the pro-inflammatory response, at least in cell studies . Sage also helps activate nuclear hormone receptors (PPAR gamma) which helps dampen inflammation. Check out this sage blog for more information about sage.
Rosemary extract in a blend reduced inflammation markers in people with rheumatoid arthritis and also osteoarthritis after 4 weeks of supplementation .
Thyme essential oil was able to reduce inflammation by reducing swelling and immune cell migration in an animal model .
Here is a link to that song for those of you not familiar!
5) Turmeric (Curcumin)
Perhaps the most researched natural substance for treatment of arthritis today is the active component of turmeric called curcumin. In a compilation of 8 clinical trials, turmeric was potent at reducing pain and equivalent to the use of pain medications .
Boswellia is a resin from the Boswellia serrata tree. Frankincense is also a powerful anti-inflammatory component of the same tree.
Patients with osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis had large reductions in joint swelling and pain with use of Boswellia, as well as improvement in joint flexibility and walking after receiving Boswellia supplements.
They also had improvements in blood inflammation markers, morning stiffness, and required less NSAID medication .
Further substantiating the role of Boswellia is research in other inflammatory conditions such as colitis and asthma.
Nettles may seem like a surprising item on the list, but it has been used by holistic practitioners for a long time for many health benefits. When nettles are dried, they no longer sting; they can provide numerous health benefits and are surprisingly nutritious.
Nettles may reduce inflammation as well. Early research shows that nettle leaf extract inhibits inflammation at the gene level (reduces NF-kB) in rheumatoid arthritis patients .
Anti-inflammatory actions of nettle leaf, rosehip, and willow bark
The combination of nettle leaf with rosehip and willow bark has suppressed inflammation (IL-1β and COX-2) in cartilage in cell culture.
Nettles also decreased a potent driver of inflammation in cell culture called NF kB .
8) Cat’s Claw
One of the most popular herbal treatments, cat’s claw is likely effective at reducing pain and swelling in both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Even WebMD reports its effectiveness .
Ginger is an enhancing herb. It enhances nutrient absorption and may enhance the effectiveness of pain relief. Take this example. Ginger extract improved the function of Ibuprofen, Indomethacin and pain score in an animal model. Ginger reduces inflammatory pathways in the joint (synovial) fluid .
Ginger is in the same family of plants as turmeric.
Collagen may have some effectiveness against arthritic pain but data is still preliminary .
11) Lavender and pain
Lavender essential oil may help with the pain of osteoarthritis . One of my favorite plants, lavender has vast health benefits. Read my blog here about the 13 scientifically proven benefits of lavender for more information.
Diffusing eucalyptus oil after knee surgery reduced pain . Eucalyptus contains cineole, which has pain-relieving properties and anti-inflammatory effects.
Glucosamine is one of the most widely used arthritis supplements, and this is with good reason. Despite lack of giant clinical trials , there are decades of people reporting its effectiveness.
A recent trial found that a combination of glucosamine, chondroitin, and MSM reduced symptoms of arthritis compared to placebo .
Glucosamine use in pets is very helpful, and let’s face it, pets don’t get placebo effects.
I personally like when trials use multiple substances. Think about it. Joints are complex, so why should we isolate one substance out and hope for a good outcome?
Both glucosamine and MSM have sulfur in them. That is a hint about the next topic.
14) Sulfur-containing foods 
Sulfur-rich foods have anti-inflammatory effects. They include:
Broccoli: see my Broccoli blog for more information about its healing powers
Choose sustainably grown, naturally fed to have the best effects
15) Darkly-pigmented vegetables and fruits
A whole food, plant-based diet reduces the symptoms of arthritis, including reduction in pain. A large part of a plant-based diet consists of darkly-pigmented vegetables. This would be instead of white and processed foods .
16) Fish and omega 3’s and fats
Fish oil is anti-inflammatory, and it has already been explored in depth for its vast health benefits to the joints.
Plant sources of omega 3s are also great too. Take this blog about alpha-linolenic acid for example.
A diet low in arachidonic acid (a type of fat from factory-farmed animals, dairy, corn, and soy), improves inflammation in patients with rheumatoid arthritis
This low arachidonic acid diet may also enhance the beneficial effect of fish oil supplementation.
17) Vitamin D
Disease activity is related to low levels of vitamin D in the blood (25-hydroxyvitamin D). Low levels of vitamin D contribute to lots of inflammatory processes, including increased insulin resistance, and dysfunction of the arterial wall.
Further, vitamin D supplements reduced rheumatoid arthritis recurrence .
A recent study showed that larger dosing of vitamin D supplements was quite effective at reducing rheumatoid arthritis disease activity .
Countless studies now show that vitamin D at sufficient doses likely reduces inflammation.
Foods to Consider Giving Up
Our bodies can respond to foods like they are foreign substances, and the scope of this discussion is huge.
But consider this: your immune system recruits your DNA to send out an inflammatory cascade when eating many things.
For example, some, but not all, patients may have pain from eating nightshade vegetables. These include:
These vegetables are usually my last resort for trial of elimination. First, consider the following foods for elimination.
Here are a few important foods to consider for elimination.
Sugar’s Dark Side
Of those, sugar is a great example of an inflammatory substance. I have heard this inflammation from sugar fondly referred to as the sticky bun cascade. Sugar revs up the granddaddy of all inflammation called NFkB.
Sugary drinks increase the risk of getting rheumatoid arthritis as well .
Blueberries and spinach improve rheumatoid arthritis symptoms while sugary desserts and drinks worsen symptoms .
Gluten and Inflammation
In the case of gluten, cutting back isn’t really the answer, but full elimination trial may be. Elimination for at least 3 weeks. Why?
You can’t be half pregnant. And you can’t be half gluten sensitive or intolerant. You can’t give it up partially and hope for a good result. Why? Antibodies can linger in the body for weeks. For more information about this big topic, readThe Experienced Guide To Gluten.
How Might Gluten Affect Your Joints?
Gluten stimulates the production of inflammatory compounds in the blood in people with inflammatory diseases like arthritis .
Gluten increases levels of a protein in the intestines called zonulin, which can increase intestinal permeability.
Translation: gluten may increase the number and type of substances, that should not be there, in the blood stream.
Fire Fried Foods and Processed Foods
It’s time to give up on processed, battered and fried foods. Not only do fried foods lead to weight gain, frying foods leads to formation of Advanced Glycation End products (AGEs) — The AGEs cause inflammation and harm inside the body.
Processed foods are typically stripped of any beneficial components. Processed foods can include bagels, breads, crackers, pancakes, cookies, chips, and even seemingly healthy foods like breakfast bars, shakes, cereals and more.
If you have arthritis, you may want to incorporate more of the 17 items listed above. Use a functional nutrition approach by identifying which benefit you the most or contact me for personalized advice.
You can also contact me to get high quality supplements.
Adding supplements and key essential oils may help you manage your arthritic pain.
Processed foods, including sugar, stimulate inflammatory cascades in the body. Try your best to keep these foods at a minimum in your diet. If it comes in shiny, sealed bag, you are best to leave it on the shelf.
As with anything, you should check with your doctor to make sure all of your care is coordinated.
The information on this website has not been evaluated by the Food & Drug Administration or any other medical body and is shared for educational purposes only. Consult your doctor or healthcare provider before making changes to your supplement regimen or lifestyle.
Heidi Moretti, MS, RD is The Healthy RD. A registered dietitian for 20 years, has a passion for functional nutrition and natural medicine. Has researched supplements and plants as medicine throughout her career. Loves helping people gain function and vitality by tackling the root causes of illness.