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The top 10 foods experts say can help manage osteoarthritis

4th June 2018

New foods are also appearing all the time, and not all of these have been thoroughly tested for beneficial properties, so it is also quite possible to find a food that may help you personally.

Whether you do or do not believe that specific foodstuffs can alleviate osteoarthritis, it certainly appears that a healthy balanced diet and the maintenance of a reasonable body weight can help those with arthritis. Arthritis is an inflammatory condition, so it makes sense to focus on those foods that can fight inflammation.

Harvard University advises which foods you should select or avoid to help reduce inflammation throughout the body. We’ll be looking at some of the ones that they advise you to eat. But for the record, foods that they list as causing inflammation and therefore to be avoided are:

•Omega-6 fatty acids from red meat and egg yolks

•Fried foods such as French fries

•Packaged biscuits, baked goods, crackers and other kinds of processed or sugary foods

•Fruit juice

Many people will be surprised to see fruit juice in this list, but it is basically a glass full of dissolved sugar. It may also have vitamins, but there are far healthier ways to get those vitamins than by drinking glasses of fruit juice.

So, in general, what we are trying to achieve is to reduce the inflammatory load on the body by avoiding these kinds of foods and eating more of those foodstuffs that we know bring down the inflammatory response.

1.Salmon, Tuna and Other Cold Water Fish

Arthritis Research UK reports that there is evidence for these fish being of benefit in rheumatoid arthritis, but the evidence base for osteoarthritis is not yet complete. However, it looks very hopeful if rheumatoid arthritis responds, since that is also an inflammatory condition.

The oils in these fish are full of omega-3 fatty acids. Unlike the omega-6 fatty acids in foods such as red meat, the omega-3 acids can help you to resist joint inflammation. They do this by significantly reducing the level of several elements that promote inflammation in your white blood cells. They also contribute to building prostaglandins, which both fight joint inflammation and help to balance your immune system.

One of the studies that produced disappointing results for osteoarthritis when subjects were given these fish had a control arm in which subjects were given olive oil. However, olive oil is also recommended as an anti-inflammatory food. In fact, it's one of the foods that Harvard University recommends eating. So it could be that the study in which oily fish didn't seem to make a great difference was not very well designed, since it was comparing oily fish with olive oil and it could be that both are beneficial.

In addition, fish liver oil is packed full of vitamin A, which is a powerful antioxidant, and vitamin D, which many of us lack and which is very important for healthy joints.

2.Ginger

Arthritis Research gives Ginger an effectiveness rating of 3/5. If you think that's not very high, a lot of widely prescribed drugs operate at about that level. Some animal and laboratory studies have found that extract of ginger can reduce the body's production of several chemicals that tend to increase joint inflammation.

Ginger contains salicylates as well. Salicylic acid stops the nerves in the body producing some prostaglandins, and this can help with discomfort and pain of the kind experienced with osteoarthritis.

As with many non-drug treatments, it's very difficult to get any advice on dosage. The dosage used in trials varied greatly. However, many of us eat ginger and would be aware if we were allergic to it. Arthritis Research recommends that if you are taking anticoagulants (blood-thinning medication), you should be careful about taking ginger as well because it might increase bleeding risk.

3.Green Tea

There are numerous medical reports on the health benefits of drinking green tea. It's important that the tea is freshly brewed to fully capture the antioxidants in it which provide the benefit. Many green teas are brewed in the same way as black tea - that is, a teabag or fresh leaves are infused in boiling water.

However, there is another type of green tea called "Matcha” which is produced by taking the green leaves and grinding them to a powder that is then used to make the tea. This is how green tea is made for the Japanese tea-drinking ceremony. It produces a far higher level of the antioxidants and is therefore considered by some to be the ultimate health drink.

The American National Institutes of Health (NIH) published a paper on “Current Nutraceuticals in the Management of Osteoarthritis” and considered whether green tea could help osteoarthritis. Their verdict was that there is sufficient data showing the anti-arthritic and anti-inflammatory potential of green tea to call for more real-life clinical studies evaluating how well it works in osteoarthritis.

4.Avocado and Soya Bean

The NIH also looked at these oily vegetables and came to the conclusion that they might well prove to be a treatment option for osteoarthritis because of many properties that will assist with the condition. These include anti-inflammatory effects and "chondroprotective" properties, which act to prevent the joint space getting narrower and causing pain. Clinically, they reported that these oily foods reduce stiffness and pain and improve joint function.

One of the significant benefits they observed was that these are natural agents that act slowly and that don't just impact on acute pain but actually prevent osteoarthritis symptoms progressing. The NIH is calling for further studies here to work out exactly how these foods are bringing about this effect.

5.Olive Oil

It's a natural anti-inflammatory, but it’s good to see the NIH backing this up with a study showing that exercise and olive oil together prevented cartilage degradation.

6.Green-Lipped Mussel

While there is a huge amount of research into rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis can seem like the poor relation, so it's heartening to report on a food which appears to be more effective for osteoarthritis sufferers than for rheumatoid arthritis sufferers.

Arthritis Research reports that green lipped mussels had an efficacy rating of 3/5 in osteoarthritis compared to an efficacy of only 1/5 in rheumatoid arthritis. The mussel is usually bought as a supplement, so it scrapes in as a food, since the supplement is really a concentrated form of the food.

7.Turmeric

Turmeric was last year's miracle anti-inflammatory discovery, and studies on animals have shown that it can reduce inflammation. Unfortunately, the Arthritis Research panel found that they could only give it a score of 2/5 for effectiveness in osteoarthritis, but that was partly because the trial evidence was very limited.

Turmeric is a member of the ginger family, and in southern Asia it is grown both for use in cooking and for medicinal purposes. Since it's a delicious curry ingredient, it seems a good idea to include it in your culinary repertoire if you have osteoarthritis.

8.MSM

MSM (Methylsulphonylmethan) is a chemical found in fresh raw foods such as fruits and vegetables. There is some evidence that it can have a mild effect in improving joint pain for people who have osteoarthritis. Arthritis Research give it an effectiveness score of 2/5.

9.Rosehip

This is another of those unusual substances that has been shown to be more effective in osteoarthritis than it is in rheumatoid arthritis. It received a score of 3/5 from Arthritis Research, and therefore, like turmeric, it's worth including in dishes for its anti-inflammatory effects. It's made from Rosa Canina, a wild rose that is found in Africa, Asia and Europe. When the flowers die down, the plant bears rosehips, and these are used to make the supplement. However, you can also buy rosehip tea, or make your own rosehip jelly.

Rosehip contains polyphenols and other substances which appear to improve joint pain and inflammation and even to prevent damage to joints. Some studies have found that rosehip can inhibit the production of particular enzymes that are known to break down cartilage.

10.Capsaicin

Capsaicin is made from chilli peppers, and Arthritis Research gives a stunning five out of five efficacy rating for osteoarthritis. Usually used as a cream, it's included here because Capsaicin is the main active component of chilli peppers, so in common with the other herbs and foods featured here, it would probably be a good thing to include more chilli in your cooking.

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