You may already be taking prescription or over-the-counter medications to relieve morning stiffness, inflammation, and pain in your joints. However, many studies show that certain foods, spices, and supplements can be helpful in addition to medication.
The Cleveland Clinic is a not for profit academic medical center. Advertising on our website supports our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. politics
Functional Medicine Nutritionist, Ariana Fiorita, RDN, LD, IFNCP, talks about what healthy foods can help relieve your joint pain:
The Mediterranean Diet
Many studies have found that the Mediterranean diet has various health benefits, some of which seem to overlap with those associated with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).
A Mediterranean diet consists of high levels of low glycemic fruits, vegetables and legumes. a high content of unsaturated fats, especially olive oil, supplemented by a modest amount of alcohol, mainly in the form of wine; a moderate to high proportion of wild fish; and low levels of dairy and red meat.
A 2015 Michigan study showed correlations between a whole-food, plant-based diet and significantly improved self-rated functional status and a reduction in pain in adult patients with osteoarthritis. A plant-based whole food diet consisted of fruits, vegetables, legumes, and grains and is free of refined foods, which follows the Mediterranean approach.
The beneficial effects of fish oils are attributed to their omega-3 fatty acid content. Studies of fish oil consumption show that it has anti-inflammatory effects and is especially helpful for joint pain.
Natural sources of fish oil are cold-water fish such as wild salmon, trout, and sardine. Vegan and vegetarian sources included flax seeds, chia seeds, and organic soybeans.
A 2008 Australian study is one of many that showed that fish oil relieved joint pain, increased cardiovascular health, and decreased the need for NSAIDs.
“Just one serving of cold water fish twice a week is enough,” says Fiorita. “Try a high quality daily fish oil supplement in addition to consuming natural food sources.”
“In addition to other vegetables, try to eat half a cup of cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, or kale each day,” she says. “These are all nutritional powerhouses that are packed with antioxidants, vitamins, and fiber.”
In 2005, a team of researchers in Maryland looked at the effects of sulforaphane, an antioxidant found in cruciferous vegetables, and found that it blocks an enzyme that causes joint pain and inflammation. In addition to helping arthritis sufferers, it can be helpful for athletes who put a lot of pressure on their joints.
Spices and herbs
Turmeric and ginger are spices that are known for their anti-inflammatory effects. Turmeric is widely used in Indian cuisine and is also used in traditional Asian medicine for its anti-inflammatory properties.
A 2006 study from Arizona showed promising research linking turmeric to the prevention of rheumatoid arthritis and osteoporosis.
Add turmeric and ginger to smoothies, eggs, or sauces for an anti-inflammatory punch.
Green tea is one of the most widely consumed beverages in the world, and its effects on health have been the subject of much research.
A 2008 study in Maryland showed that green tea produced changes in arthritis-related immune responses.
Long-term use of NSAIDs can have adverse effects and lead to discomfort. The polyphenolic compounds found in green tea have anti-inflammatory properties and have been shown to be an effective addition to nutritional therapy.
Choose organic green tea to reduce exposure to pesticides.
Food to avoid
Avoid certain foods when trying to relieve joint pain.
“Sugar and refined grains, including white rice, pasta, and white bread, are the worst food polluters when it comes to reducing or relieving joint inflammation,” she says.
Try to limit the sugar you add daily to six teaspoons for women and nine teaspoons for men. When using sugar, choose natural sources like honey, maple syrup, and coconut sugar.
“Choose grass or game over traditional sources because of their healthier fat profile,” says Fiorita. “Another big no-no is trans fat, or partially hydrogenated oil, for many health reasons.”
Also avoid omega-6 fatty acids. The American diet is generally higher in omega-6 fatty acids due to the high consumption of processed foods. The additional consumption of omega-6 fatty acids can promote inflammation. Sources are corn oil, safflower oil, sunflower oil, peanut oil, grapeseed oil, and vegetable oil. Check the ingredient lists for condiments like mayonnaise and salad dressing.
If you feel like you’ve cleaned up your diet and are still experiencing foodborne joint pain, reach out to a registered dietitian who is able to assess food sensitivities for a personalized approach.