Osteoarthritis is a condition that causes the joints to become painful and stiff. It is the most common type of arthritis in the UK and affects up to 10% of men and 18% of women aged over 60 worldwide according to the World Health Organisation.
Almost any joint can be affected but the most common problems are found in the joints that have been continually stressed throughout the years including the knees, hips, the small joints of the hand and lower spine region.
The condition damages cartilage, the tissue that acts as a cushion at the ends of bones within joints. This damage causes pain and mobility problems in the joint. The severity of this pain varies greatly from person to person but you can control your symptoms with self management techniques.
The Role of Diet and Exercise in Managing Osteoarthritis
Diet plays a huge role in the progression of osteoarthritis and maintaining a healthy weight is very important. An increase in weight puts additional strain on the joints leading to more pain, inflammation and swelling. While losing weight is often very difficult, the benefits you will reap make it worth the hard work.
Exercise is particularly beneficial for people with osteoarthritis. A good exercise regime helps to keep your joints moving and your muscles strong. Whether it is swimming, cycling or just simply walking, try to incorporate a manageable amount of physical activity into your routine.
Let us now take a look at the role of anti-inflammatory foods, fruits and vegetables which can be incorporated into your diet to help reduce your chances of developing osteoarthritis or to help alleviate your symptoms of the condition.
The Role of Vitamin D in Osteoarthritis
Vitamin D is essential for cartilage and bone health. Some studies show that vitamin D can help prevent the breakdown of cartilage and decrease the risk of joint space narrowing. Good food sources include oily fish, eggs, fortified milk, bread and breakfast cereals. However if you feel that your levels of this vitamin may be low, it may be beneficial to take a daily supplement, especially during the winter months.
The Role of Vitamin C
The antioxidant vitamin C is necessary for cartilage development. A lack of vitamin C can lead to weakened cartilage and increase osteoarthritis pain. Vitamin C can be found in citrus fruits such as oranges and grapefruit, tropical fruits such as papaya, guava and pineapple, kiwi fruit, strawberries and raspberries, cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and kale and tomatoes.
The Role of Beta-carotene
Beta-carotene is another powerful antioxidant that helps destroy free radicals before they can cause excessive damage to joints. Good sources are carrots, sweet potatoes, squash, cantaloupe melon, apricots, parsley, tomatoes and asparagus.
The Role of Omega-3 Fatty Acids
The omega-3 fatty acids found in fish can help stop inflammation before it damages the joints. Fish that are rich in omega-3s include salmon, tuna, sardines, herrings, anchovies, trout and mackerel. You should aim to eat one or preferably two portions of oily fish each week.
A word of caution – some fish with high levels of omega-3 fats are also high in mercury. This can damage the brain and nervous system if eaten in large quantities. Other valuable food sources of omega-3 fatty acids are walnuts, olive oil, prawns and flaxseeds.
The Role of Bioflavonoids
Bioflavonoids such as quercetin and anthocyanidins are both forms of antioxidants and can be obtained from onions, kale, leeks, cherry tomatoes, broccoli, blackcurrants, apricots, blueberries, cocoa powder, apples and green tea.
The Role of Spices
Spices such as turmeric and ginger have anti-inflammatory effects and may help by suppressing inflammatory body chemicals.
Foods to Avoid
Avoiding sugar not only helps you to cut calories and maintain a healthier weight, sugar can also trigger the release of cells which can increase inflammation. The sugars that are added to sweetened beverages such as fizzy drinks, juices and soda are the most likely to worsen the inflammatory effect.
Foods which have high levels of saturated fat such as red meats and pizza can also cause inflammation so should be limited, especially as they may also contribute to obesity and heart disease.
Salt can also cause cells to attract water leading to swelling of the joints. Processed food and fast foods are high in salt and should be limited.
Whilst oily fish containing omega 3 polyunsaturated fatty acids have inflammatory properties, bear in mind that omega 6 polyunsaturated fats found in sunflower, corn and grapeseed oils are somewhat pro-inflammatory and may make your symptoms worse. Therefore it is advisable to replace them with rapeseed or olive oils which are rich in mono-unsaturated fats.
Therefore when you make a plan to tackle your hip or knee pain associated with osteoarthritis, don’t overlook the power of food. Losing weight and eating a healthy diet has been shown to reduce pain and improve your mobility and physical function.
There is no specific diet that treats your problem but by making small changes you can reap some big health benefits. You’ll keep your weight under control, build strong cartilage and cut some inflammation.
If you would like to read more on osteoarthritis, click on the link for an overview of the condition.
For advice and information from the charity VersusArthritis, please click on the link.
If you are thinking about knee replacement surgery, you may like to read our recent article by following the link.
Finally, if you would like regular updates on over 50s health issues, please follow us on Facebook or sign up to our free newsletter, The Best of Friends.