Managing joint health based on nutrition requires a willingness to experiment as well as patience. Anti-inflammatory diet compounds occur at lower doses than in medications, so nutritional treatments act more slowly compared to medications.
For example, when a person in pain takes analgesics, pain disappears very quickly. But with nutrition and anti-inflammatory diets, results are not achieved as quickly as it might take two weeks that food has to build up to a therapeutic dose in the body.
In addition to patience, a nutritional approach requires a healthy dose of self-awareness. Medical research on the effects of certain foods on joint inflammation is limited and preliminary. (The American National Institutes of Health is funding further research into dietary supplements because the results are still showing).
Meanwhile, you can start with an elimination diet, keeping a diet journal to record how diferent type of foods, affects your body. The most important thing is to pay attention to what you eat and how you feel.
1. Omega-3 Fatty Acids – change the composition of fatty acids of cells, mitigating those inflammatory cytokines.
It can be found in:
- Coldwater fish especially salmon, mackerel and herring.
- Flaxseed oil.
- Free-range chicken eggs are rich in omega-3 fatty acids.
2. Sulfur – This natural mineral builds connective tissue, including cartilage, tendons and ligaments.
It can be found in:
- Eggs, poultry, fish and legumes. This protein-rich food is a good source of amino acids that contain sulfur.
- Garlic, onions and leeks. Garlic contains flavonoid quercetin, an antioxidant with anti-inflammatory properties.
- Vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower and sprouts. Experts recommend serving these sulfur-rich vegetables on daily base.
3. Calcium and Vitamin D – You need calcium for strong bones and teeth. Without enough calcium, you could be at risk of decreased bone density and eventually osteoporosis. Vitamin D is crucial to your body’s ability to absorb calcium.
It can be found in:
- Dairy products, including milk, yogurt and cheese (unless if you’re lactose-sensitive or allergic), are rich in calcium. Choose organic products to limit your exposure to antibiotics and hormones.
- Green leafy vegetables as well as turnips and mustard are rich in calcium.
- Egg yolks and fatty fish such as salmon and mackerel. Complement your calcium intake with these excellent sources of Vitamin D.
4. Anthocyanin –an antioxidant that produces red, blue and dark purple hues, anthocyanin has been shown to stop cytokine production.
It can be found in:
- Purple fruits such as plums and cherries. Keep in mind that cherries contain strong pigment, but in smaller quantities than cherries.
- Blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, cranberries and black currant.
5. Fiber – Consumption of fiber-rich foods is recommended to reduce carbohydrate absorption. Fiber helps control blood sugar levels, which keeps glucose and insulin under control, limiting inflammation.
It can be found in:
- Whole grains such as oats, brown rice and quinoa.
- Legumes, including black beans, peas and lentils, contain about eight times as much fiber as whole-grain bread.
- Artichokes, green peas, kale and spinach. As a general rule, the darker the color of vegetables, the higher the fiber content.
Anti-inflammatory diets have become popular recently. Recommended food is typical for Mediterranean diet and include consuming more fish, fresh fruits and vegetables and healthy fats; consuming moderate amounts of nuts; limited intake of red meat and moderate consumption of red wine is recommended. Like the Mediterranean diet, the principles of the anti-inflammatory diet are healthy and the approach is nutritionally healthy, according to the Mayo Clinic.
- Breakfast: oatmeal with soy milk, raisins, nuts, forest fruits
- Intermediate: Seasonal fruit of your choice
- Lunch: Turkey or tuna salad, lettuce and tomatoes with olive oil and integral pastry with seeds.
- Intermediate: Nuts and dried fruits
- Dinner: Salmon or tuna steak prepared in olive oil, integral rice with vegetables, seasonal salad
FOODS TO AVOID DURING ANTI-INFLAMMATORY DIET
1. Refined sugars – White sugar and high fructose corn syrup are found in a wide variety of foods and beverages. The digestive system breaks down processed sugars into basic sugars, including glucose; in response, the pancreas releases insulin. Glucose is considered an inflammatory agent, and research has shown that high levels start the cytokine release. Sugar is one of the most famous inflammatory foods and its overuse can lead to many serious health conditions. Restricting intake not only contributes to reducing joint pain, it can also prevent a sudden drop in energy and fatigue. Sugar is hidden in many foods, so make sure to check on the label for words such as fructose or sucrose. Examples of foods that are full of sugar:
- Fruit yoghurts
- Carbonated drinks
- Cakes and biscuits and other sweets
- Energy drinks
- Canned food
- Fruit juices
2. Simple Carbs – These carbohydrates are “simple” because they break down quickly into glucose. As with refined sugars, this glucose rush triggers the body’s inflammatory response. Although both fruits and dairy products (such as milk) fall into the category of “simple carbohydrates”, the most problematic is highly processed foods:
- White bread
- White rice
- Cakes and crackers
3. Unhealthy Fats – A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that consuming trans fat was associated with overall inflammation in women. Fried food using unhealthy fats like margarine and palm oil should be avoided. Saturated fats promote fatty tissue inflammation which can increase the risk of stroke and heart disease, as well as overall inflammation in the body. Studies have shown that saturated fat can weaken cartilage in joints, especially weight-bearing joints such as hips and knees, and lead to symptoms similar to osteoarthritis. Long-term use of animal fat and palm oil weakened the cartilage the most. Small amounts of saturated fat can be incorporated into a healthy diet, although they should not make more than 10% of your daily intake. Examples include:
- Meat products
4. Omega-6 Fatty Acids – Although omega-3 fatty acids are beneficial for joints, excess omega-6 fatty acids can have the opposite effect. The body needs a healthy balance, and excess omega-6s can cause pro-inflammatory chemicals formation. Omega-6 fatty acids can be found in oils such as vegetable and sunflower oils. Although they should not be completely avoided, it is important to be aware of the amount that is consumed and the effect they can have on the body. Examples include:
- Salad dressings and mayonnaise
- Dairy products and eggs
- Oils (sunflower, palm)
- Nuts and seeds
5. „Triggers“ – many people are sensitive to certain foods that cause inflammation in their bodies. An elimination diet can help you understand if a particular food trigger joint pain.
Most common to blame are:
- Gluten and casein (proteins found in wheat and dairy products)
- Additives like aspartame
Besides mentioned triggers, joint inflammation can also be caused by less expected causes, such as:
- Poor oral hygiene – allows plaque formation on the teeth that not only causes caries and gum disease, but also creates inflammatory chemicals such as prostaglandins and TNF-α. The good news: This problem can be solved by regular brushing and flossing and don’t forget to visit your dentist every six months.
- Weight gain – body fat releases chemicals correlated with inflammation and every pound is creating more presure for your joints.
- Stress – causes changes in the brain that can affect the immune system and increase inflammation.
- Lack of sleep – A 2013 study involving 5,003 adults, published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, found that every hour of lost sleep increased the level of C-reactive inflammatory marker protein (CRP) by 8% while IL-6 increased by 4.5%. If you have trouble sleeping, ask your doctor for advise.
- Air Pollution – Laboratory animals exposed to air pollutants release white blood cells that cause inflammation. People in polluted cities who have installed air purifiers in their homes have reduced their levels of chronic inflammation, according to a 2015 study in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.