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Six Diet Tips to Help Manage Osteoarthritis

12th November 2020

By Rachel Redman, in-house registered dietitian, Positive Science People

If you live with Osteoarthritis (OA), you may wonder what you can do - safely and naturally - to help improve your quality of life. We pulled together six evidence-based dietary (and lifestyle) measures you can follow safely, alongside your standard medical treatment, that can really make a difference.

1. Reduce the pressure

If you’re overweight, you have probably heard that losing weight will help improve your symptoms. But do you know why?

Every pound of weight lost will result in two-three pounds less pressure on your knees (1). So, if you take 6,000 steps a day, just one pound of weight loss will reduce the pressure on your knees by over 6.5 million pounds a year!

Research also shows there is a dose-response relationship between weight loss and the level of improvement in pain, function, joint inflammation and degree of cartilage degradation (2). Losing just 5% of your current body weight offers great benefits; aiming for 10% plus is likely to offer the best relief, if you’re overweight.

2. Preserve your muscle

Weight loss, yes. But not at all costs. If you lose weight, it’s important to preserve muscle mass, as muscles help support joints. The best way to do this is to incorporate light exercise into your everyday activities, and to make sure you eat plenty of lean protein. Swimming, cycling and walking all provide symptom relief (3-4).

In fact, research shows people with knee arthritis who walk an average of 6,000 steps per day are less likely to have problems standing, walking or climbing stairs two years later (5). Not to mention the benefits to your heart and mental health!

3. Go Mediterranean!

Beyond doubt, the Mediterranean diet reduces our risk of developing major diseases, such as heart disease, cancer, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s (6). A recent evidence review concluded that sticking to a Mediterranean diet could reduce prevalence, and improve quality of life, in people living with OA, thanks to its anti-inflammatory effects (7).

If you wish to adopt a Mediterranean diet to improve your health, here is a list of typical foods to enjoy:

  • Plenty of fruits, vegetables, pulses, nuts, seeds, wholegrain cereals, fish and seafood
  • A moderate dose of dairy products, fresh meat/poultry and eggs
  • A healthy dose of olive oil (as your main source of fats)
  • Believe it or not - a touch of red wine (in moderation of course) (7)

4. Choose fats wisely

In a recent study of people with knee OA, researchers found a high intake of fats, especially saturated fats, was associated with a significant increase in knee OA progression. In contrast, higher intakes of monounsaturated fats (such as extra-virgin olive oil) and polyunsaturated fats (such as those found in oily fish) were associated with reduced disease progression (8).

These benefits are thought to derive from these fats’ anti-inflammatory properties, although more research is needed to confirm this.

5. Don’t forget micronutrients

Maintaining your nutritional status is particularly important in chronic conditions such as osteoarthritis, where many micronutrients are co-factors that support the underlying inflammatory response.

Low vitamin D status has been associated with knee OA progression and cartilage loss, while vitamin K deficiency has been linked to an increased incidence of knee OA and cartilage lesions (9).

Low magnesium intake, which was found in 68% of men and 44% of women with knee OA, was also associated with worsening pain and knee function in a recent study (10).

A balanced and varied diet, plus a vitamin D supplement, should ensure you don’t become deficient. But if you struggle to get all the nutrients you need from your diet, you may add a good quality supplement as a helping hand.

6. Watch this space

Curcumin and Boswellia Serrata have attracted attention in osteoarthritis over recent years for their potential to reduce key inflammatory pathways associated with worsening symptoms and disease progression11. Although further research is needed, several systematic reviews have concluded that these dietary supplements can help relieve pain and symptoms of OA, and could be a valuable addition to OA treatment regimens (11-13)

As clinicians and people with OA seek safe and effective treatment alternatives, these naturally-occurring phytochemicals certainly show promise.


  1. D'Lima DD, et al. Proc Inst Mech Eng H. 2012;226(2):95-102
  2. Messier SP, et al. Care Res. 2018;70(11):1569-1575.
  3. Shorter E, et al. Curr Rheumatol Rep. 2019;21(8):40.
  4. Building a walking workout. Arthritis Foundation. https://www.arthritis.org/health-wellness/healthy-... (accessed October 2020)
  5. White DK et al. Arthritis Care and Research, 2014;66(9): 1328-1336
  6. NHS. Benefits of Mediterranean Diet, 2008. https://www.nhs.uk/news/food-and-diet/benefits-of-... (accessed October 2020)
  7. Morales-Ivorra I. et al. Nutrients 2018;10, 1030
  8. Lu B. et al. Arthritis Care Res (Hoboken). 2017;69(3):368-375.
  9. Rayman MP. BMC Musculoskelet Disord. 2015;16(Suppl 1):S7.
  10. Schmagel A. et al. Osteoarthritis and cartilage. 2018;26(5): 651-658
  11. Bannuru RR. et al. Semin Arthritis Rheum. 2018;48(3):416-429.
  12. Liu X, et al. Br J Sports Med. 2018;52(3):167-175.
  13. Daily JW, et al. J Med Food. 2016;19(8):717-29.

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