When we hear about arthritis, we often think of it as an age-related disease; so what does anti-inflammatory foods have to do with this?
The term for this inflammatory disorder actually covers over 100 different types of rheumatic ailments and conditions. Arthritis affects your joints and the tissue that surrounds them, as well as the connective tissue. The most common forms of arthritis are rheumatoid arthritis (RA), osteoarthritis (OA), fibromyalgia, and gout (1). While each of these conditions can cause varying degrees of pain in different areas, any type of arthritis can severely limit your life in many ways.
Luckily, the condition can be managed by eating anti-inflammatory foods.
Who Gets Arthritis?
While the largest percentage of people diagnosed with arthritis is people over 65 (almost 50 percent), just over 7 percent of the population between 18 and 44 also experiences this often debilitating disease (2). What’s more upsetting, however, is that almost 300,000 babies and children in the US alone also suffer from arthritis or a rheumatic condition—that’s 1 in 250 kids (3).
In general, 1 in 5 Americans (5 million) currently suffer from arthritis. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), however, that number will rise to over 78 million by 2040 (4).
Typically, arthritis pain results from an injury of some form to your joints, whether it is caused by an accident. It may also occur because of physiological issues and autoimmune conditions. In either case, damaged tissues release specific chemicals that alert nearby sensory nerves. Once signaled, the nerves send a message up your spinal cord to your brain, which processes the message and then sends a “danger” signal to your motor nerves causing them to take immediate action. A good example is if you touch a hot stove. Your automatic response is to pull your hand away before you cause more damage.
In either case, damaged tissues release specific chemicals that alert nearby sensory nerves. Once signaled, the nerves send a message up your spinal cord to your brain, which processes the message and then sends a “danger” signal to your motor nerves causing them to take immediate action. A good example is if you touch a hot stove. Your automatic response is to pull your hand away before you cause more damage.
Our bodies also spontaneously manage pain by releasing “painkilling chemicals,” known as endorphins. Your brain also sends “blocking signals” through your nerves to stop your body from receiving any further pain messages, essentially cutting off the sensation (5).
Currently, the conventional treatment for arthritis pain includes nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAID) such as ibuprofen, aspirin or when severe, even steroids such as prednisone. While these medications may help to relieve pain symptoms temporarily, they do not address the underlying cause of the disease. Plus, they are proving to be dangerous, especially if taken long-term (6).
NSAIDs are linked to ulcers and even strokes, hypertension, kidney disease and cataracts. In fact, research published in Lancet, clearly shows that your risk of heart attack increases by as much as a third after long-term use. Plus, the risk of heart failure actually doubles for chronic and heavier users of NSAIDs (7).
Treating Arthritis Naturally
What your doctor will not likely tell you, however, is that there are other, more natural ways to treat arthritis. One such way is simply through diet.
Inflammation is the main cause of arthritic pain. Luckily, there are a number of foods that can not only help to reduce inflammation once it occurs but to also prevent it. Certain foods can further help to block the pain signals and even better, heal existing damage to your joint tissues and cartilage. Just like some foods can help heal arthritis, others, like all processed foods and sugar, can contribute to the condition, causing more inflammation. Standards of the inflammatory diet include processed fats, caffeine, and alcohol.
Here are 30 of the best foods to eat for arthritis.
30 Anti-inflammatory Foods For Arthritis Pain
By learning how to eat healthy and avoid inflammation-causing foods, you can eventually relieve your arthritis pain and heal your body. You can even prevent inflammation and ultimately serious disease.
Here are a few standards of the low inflammation diet.
Ginger is one of the most recognized anti-inflammatory spices on the planet. This tangy spice contains potent compounds called gingerols that can help to prevent the production of chemicals and hormones that trigger pain. Studies show that ginger, whether eaten raw or cooked, can work as well as or even better than several common NSAIDs, including ibuprofen.
A 2012 study found that ginger extract can ease the muscle and joint pain, swelling and stiffness associated with arthritis within two months for 63 percent of the participants (8). Another 2009 study shows that taking 250 mg of ginger, four times daily, is as effective as taking mefenamic acid and/or ibuprofen, the conventional treatments for relieving menstrual pain (dysmenorrhea) (9).
A quick, easy, and highly effective way to take advantage of ginger’s anti-inflammatory benefits is in tea. Simply add 4 or 5 pieces of fresh ginger root to boiling water for 5 to 10 minutes, then enjoy. You can even chew on a peeled piece of raw ginger for quick pain relief.
2. Hot Peppers
If you have ever eaten hot peppers, you know how quickly they can affect your body. Hot peppers like cayenne peppers contain capsaicin, the active ingredient that triggers your body to release endorphins (“happy hormones”). These chemicals can not only make you feel good by elevating your mood, but they can also help to lessen or even relieve chronic pain.
Capsaicin can further reduce the amount of substance P in your body, the chemical that carries pain messages to your brain. By reducing this substance, it also reduces the pain messages so they can no longer reach your brain, which essentially relieves any pain sensation (10).
You can eat hot peppers cooked or raw. Just add a few to your meals or add a half teaspoon of ground cayenne pepper to a glass of water, tea, juice or even milk, and drink daily. You can also take capsaicin in capsule form or use it in a cream for external use, although you should find a cream that contains at least 0.075 percent capsaicin.
This sweet, yet tangy fruit contains a slew of anthocyanins, which are powerful antioxidants that also give cherries their rich, red color. Anthocyanins block inflammation and inhibit pain enzymes in the same way as NSAIDs. A 2004 study at Johns Hopkins University shows that tart cherries can significantly reduce pain sensitivity and are even as effective as many conventional anti-inflammatory drugs (11).
Other studies reveal that the powerful anthocyanins in cherries are as effective as two of the most common NSAIDs used for inflammation. Researchers at Oregon Health & Science University even state that tart cherry juice may be a safer way to treat muscle pain and inflammation than OTC pain relievers (12). According to their study, athletes who drink 10½ ounces of cherry juice twice a day for seven days prior to a race have less muscle pain compared to those who do not.
Garlic is a powerful anti-inflammatory that has been used for centuries to help ease a number of health conditions, including the pain and swelling of arthritis. Garlic contains antioxidants and a particularly potent sulphur-containing compound known as alliin. When raw garlic cloves are crushed, chopped, or chewed, they release alliinase, another powerful enzyme that converts the alliin into allicin, which is responsible for garlic’s characteristic odor, taste and powerful healing properties (13).
Studies show that allicin can help relieve the painful symptoms of arthritis. In fact, one study shows that taking 600-1200 mg of garlic extract that contains a minimum of 1-3 percent allicin, can effectively relieve arthritis pain when taken three times daily (14).
You can also simply add fresh garlic to your meals as much as possible. Eating just one clove of fresh garlic daily is enough to experience the multitude of health benefits it affords. Typically, fresh garlic contains 4 percent allicin. If using topically, look for a cream that contains 0.4- 0.6 percent allicin.
Beets are a vital source of betanin and vulgaxanthin, both phytonutrients known as betalains that have powerful antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and detoxification properties. Betaine is associated with lower levels of several inflammatory markers, including “C reactive protein, interleukin-6, and tumor necrosis factor alpha.” The anti-inflammatory compounds in beets not only offer important cardiovascular benefits, but they also provide significant anti-inflammatory benefits (15).
You can add beets to your diet by simply grating them ucooked and adding them to salads or as a garnish for soups. You can also marinate steamed beets in fresh lemon juice, extra virgin olive oil, and fresh herbs for a tasty side dish. You can also get your fill of beets by juicing them, which is delicious as well as highly nutritious.
6. Salmon (Wild-Caught)
Salmon contains eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). These omega-3 fatty acids are shown to help prevent or reduce inflammation and lessen the pain and swelling caused by arthritis. Studies show that people who eat fish high in omega-3s regularly, are less likely to develop RA. As well, for people who already have arthritis, omega-3s from fish can help to reduce joint swelling and pain (16). You should eat two servings a week (3.5-ounce portions) of fish to experience the many benefits of omega-3 fatty acids. You can also take natural fish oil supplements.
As it turns out, eating your broccoli really is good for you. Studies show that broccoli is full of antioxidants, as well as some pretty powerful anti-inflammatory agents. They not only work to lower oxidation stress in your cells, but to battle the effects of chronic inflammation it causes. This can ultimately help to ease the pain for people suffering from arthritis (17).
8. Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
Extra virgin olive oil contains a compound known as oleocanthal, which has powerful anti-inflammatory properties similar to ibuprofen (18). A study published in the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry shows that oleocanthal is particularly beneficial for RA and can significantly impact both the chronic inflammation and acute inflammatory processes (19).
You probably shouldn’t be surprised to see blueberries on this list. They are touted as one of the most powerful antioxidants available and most popular anti inflammatory fruits. But what you may not know is that these sweet, blueberries also contain a very potent anti-inflammatory compound known as quercetin. Quercetin is a powerful phytonutrient that helps fight excess inflammation, which helps to reduce the pain of arthritis (20).
Everyone knows that oranges are a key source of vitamin C, which is the number one remedy for colds and flu. But a study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology reveals that taking vitamin C is also responsible for a 30 percent lower risk of developing RA (21).
11. Bok Choy
Bok choy is filled with a number of vitamins, minerals, and potent antioxidants—more than 70 in fact, including hydroxycinnamic acid, known to effectively reduce inflammation. Bok choy is also a key source of omega-3s, also powerful anti-inflammatory agents. This leafy green is also full of vitamin K, another powerful agent for regulating your body’s inflammatory responses (22).
12. Green Tea
Green tea is a widely known antioxidant. It is also full of a polyphenol known as catechin, including epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG), which constitutes up to 63 percent of all of the catechins found in green tea (23). Studies show that EGCG is 25 to 100 times more potent than both vitamins C and E when it comes to antioxidant abilities (24). Just one cup of green tea can provide 60 to 125 mg of catechins, including EGCG, which helps to lower inflammation and slow the destruction of cartilage (25).
Grapefruits are full of vitamins like thiamine, riboflavin, vitamins C and E, niacin and pantothenic acid. Studies show that grapefruit can help to reduce the inflammation and pain in joints caused by arthritis. The high levels of vitamin C in grapefruit are also shown to be key in the formation of both collagen and proteoglycans, two major components of cartilage tissue that provide the cushion-like function and lubrication necessary for joint movement and proper function (26).
Studies show that a substance called C-reactive protein (CRP), which is produced by your liver, can increase inflammation in your body (27). Beans are not only an excellent source of fiber, but they also help to lower CRP, according to numerous studies. One 2012 study published in The Journal of Food Composition and Analysis looked at the nutrient content of 10 common beans. IT found that they are full of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds that can lower CRP (28).
Strawberries contain powerful antioxidants called anthocyanidins, which not only give fruit like cherries, raspberries and strawberries their natural reddish color, but help to reduce inflammation. A 2007 study published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition shows that people who eat more strawberries tend to have lower CRP levels (29).
Carrots are full of beta-carotene, which is converted into vitamin A in your liver. They also contain beta-cryptoxanthin, another powerful antioxidant in the carotenoid family. A 2003 study published in Phototherapy Research shows that people who eat more foods containing beta-cryptoxanthin are better protected against arthritis. In fact, the effects from eating carrots are “significant when compared to Aspirin, Ibuprofen, Naproxen and Celebrex.” (30)
Celery is most commonly associated with dieting because it is so high in fiber and low in calories, but this crunchy vegetable has some powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that can also help to lower inflammation, according to studies. Researchers showed that certain unique polysaccharides in celery, like apiuman, produce significant anti-inflammatory effects.
As well, scientists have identified at least 12 other types of antioxidants in celery that include dihydrostilbenoids like lunularin, as well as furanocoumarins like bergapten and psoralen. These antioxidants protect you against oxidative damage and inflammation to your cells, blood vessels, and organs (31).
18. Brussel Sprouts
While Brussel sprouts are not always a favorite at the dinner table, these potent cruciferous vegetables are filled with sulforaphane, a substance known to help slow the cartilage damage in your joints caused by osteoarthritis. According to a 2013 study, this powerful substance can block any inflammation and protect against cartilage destruction (32).
Turmeric is probably one of the most widely known and studied substances for fighting inflammation. The active ingredient in turmeric is curcumin, which is responsible for a laundry list of health benefits, including powerful anti-inflammatory properties. A 2012 study published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences even claims that curcumin may be beneficial for managing chronic inflammatory-related joint disease (33).
You don’t need to take a lot of this spice to experience its many health benefits. According to experts, just 50 milligrams of turmeric over a period of several months (equivalent to approximately 1/50th of a teaspoon) can do the trick (34).
Pineapple contains a potent digestive enzyme called bromelain, which studies show has immune-modulating abilities. Bromelain helps by regulating your immune response, which, if left unchecked, is responsible for creating excessive inflammation. This can help ease pain. Pineapple is also a significant source of vitamin C, a known antioxidant that can help prevent and reduce inflammation (35). You can eat fresh pineapple or take a bromelain supplement of 500 mg to 2,000 mg, three times daily between meals.
Bananas are a wonderful food to eat on the go, especially if you are looking for a quick energy boost. They are high in potassium, as well as many other vitamins and minerals your body needs like folate, vitamin B6, and vitamin C. Bananas are also full of other potent antioxidants like dopamine and catechins that are linked to countless health benefits, including a reduced risk of heart disease and degenerative diseases like arthritis (36, 37).
Mangoes are high in a number of antioxidants like vitamins E and C. They are also filled with beta-carotene, which is known to help prevent arthritis. Several studies also show that mangos contain powerful polyphenols that may even limit inflammatory responses in both cancerous and non-cancerous breast cells (38).
These tasty fruits are also shown to inhibit intestinal inflammation in animal studies (39). When in season, just add fresh mango to salads or eat on its own. You can also drink fresh mango juice in a highly nutritious, anti-inflammatory smoothie or on its own.
23. Sweet Potatoes
Like all orange and brightly colored foods, sweet potatoes are full of beta-carotene, a powerful antioxidant linked to lowering inflammation. In fact, in some cases, a single serving of sweet potatoes can provide up to 90 percent of the recommended daily intake of vitamin A. They are also packed with fiber, as well as a number of other beneficial vitamins and minerals (40).
Just cut sweet potatoes into 1/2-inch slices and steam for 7 minutes to bring out their amazing flavor and bounty of nutrition. For a little zest, add a dash of cinnamon, nutmeg, and/or cloves.
Walnuts contain the most omega-3s of any other nuts. Like many of the other foods in this list, walnuts are shown in studies to help lower CRP, a marker for inflammation that is associated with an increased risk of arthritis and cardiovascular disease (41). Walnuts are more anti-inflammatory than other nuts because they contain substantial amounts of α-linolenic acid (ALA), a plant omega-3 fatty acid that is one of the more anti-inflammatory fatty acids (42, 43).
Walnuts are also a significant source of ellagic acid, which is known to have potent anti-inflammatory properties in studies (44, 45). Eat a handful of walnuts daily to stave off hunger pangs, or add them to your dishes for a nutritional, anti-inflammatory meal.
An apple a day really does keep the doctor away. According to studies, apples are a significant source of iron and vitamins. They are rich in phytochemicals, including the flavonoids quercetin, catechin, phloridzin and chlorogenic acid (46). Apples help fight inflammation in several ways. First, apples have the ability to help form hemoglobin in your blood, which improves its oxygen carrying capacity. This, in turn, helps lower inflammation, including in your joints.
Secondly, the high polyphenol content in apples helps to reduce pain and inflammation (47). In fact, a recent study has even shown that apple polyphenols may have a protective effect on exercise-induced muscle damage (48). A 2014 study published in the Journal of Nutrition shows that eating apples can reduce the cellular markers of inflammation and regulate gut bacteria (49).
You can eat apples raw or cooked, juiced, whole or pureed. Anyway, you want to eat them, they will improve your health.
26. Bone Broth
Homemade chicken soup is one of the healthiest things you can eat when you are sick. The reason is because it is typically made from simmering a chicken carcass for several hours to create a nice, rich broth. Broth made from animal bones contains numerous minerals in an easily digestible and absorbable form—calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, silicon, sulfur, and others.
The bones contain chondroitin sulfates, and glucosamine, all the same compounds touted in supplements for inflammation, arthritis, and joint pain (50). All of the nutrients, as well as the collagen and the amino acids proline and glycine, work together to heal inflammation. You can easily make bone broth and use it as the base for any soups, sauces or other dishes you eat every day.
27. Coconut Oil
The benefits of coconut oil are enormous. Apart from turmeric, coconut oil is probably one of the healthiest foods you can eat. It treats an astounding number of ailments and can act as a carrier oil for any number of spices, increasing its effectiveness. When coupled with turmeric, for example, the anti-inflammatory effects are substantially compounded (51).
On its own, coconut oil is a powerful anti-inflammatory agent. One Indian study shows the high levels of antioxidants in virgin coconut oil can significantly reduce inflammation and heal arthritis more effectively than many of the most common conventional drugs used to treat arthritis (52).
And because coconut oil is shown to fight oxidative stress and free radicals, two key components of arthritis, coconut oil is the perfect natural remedy for inflammation caused by arthritis.
To include coconut oil in your diet, simply switch out all other oils, especially any oils you currently use to fry foods. You can also take a tablespoon of coconut oil daily by mixing it with warm milk and turmeric, a mixture known as Golden Milk. This is an unbeatable anti-inflammatory remedy that will also help you sleep.
28. Leafy Greens
Countless studies show the benefits of eating plenty of leafy green vegetables like spinach, kale, and chard. These vegetables are extremely rich in antioxidants that not only protect your cells from oxidative stress, but they can help restore cellular health.
They are also full of anti-inflammatory flavonoids that can protect your entire body from deadly inflammation. These greens contain numerous vitamins like vitamins A, C, and K, which studies show can also protect your brain and all of your vital organs and systems from oxidative stress and inflammation caused by free radical damage (53).
You can add leafy greens to any meal. Eat them raw in salads or add them to eggs, as a pizza topping, or as a stuffing in meat dishes. If you find it hard to get enough greens into your diet, try juicing them. Add them to juiced fruits for a delicious and nutritious anti-inflammatory smoothie.
29. Chia Seeds
These tiny little seeds are jam-packed with beneficial fatty acids. Chia seeds are even referred to as one of the super foods. They provide both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in perfect proportions (54). Apart from the essential fatty acids, alpha-linolenic and linoleic acid, chia seeds are rich in antioxidants. Plus, they are full of powerful anti-inflammatory agents and vitamins A, B, E, and D. They also contain a bounty of minerals, including sulphur, iron, iodine, magnesium, manganese, niacin and thiamine.
Chia seeds become “mucilaginous” (gluey) when mixed with water so make sure to eat them right away after mixing in liquid. They will absorb up to 10 times their weight in water, so they are also perfect to mix with any baked goods to keep them nice and moist. You can also mix chia seeds or use a ground chia flour in things like your favorite muffin recipe. You can even sprinkle a handful of chia seeds on your yogurt or salad.
Tomatoes are one of those foods that you can easily incorporate into your diet. They are extremely versatile as well as delicious and they come in a variety of types, colors, and sizes. When it comes to health, tomatoes are just as valuable. They are widely shown in countless studies to be potent antioxidants, including a bounty of lycopene, which new studies have linked to bone health and osteoporosis (56).
Although raw tomatoes are perfectly nutritious, cooking tomatoes actually increases their lycopene content, according to studies, so make sauces, soups or simply sauté your tomatoes for extra nutrition and anti-inflammatory benefits (57).
There you have it! Eat one or more of the ingredients above daily and that stubborn joint pain will be gone in no time! If you only have to pick one, go for the turmeric! It’ll have the biggest impact by far!