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We all know the benefits of eating a well-balanced diet, so it will come as no surprise to learn that a healthy lifestyle and nutritious diet are essential if you are suffering from the symptoms of osteoarthritis. By ensuring you exercise regularly, maintain a healthy weight and follow a well-balanced and nutritious food plan, you can help to reduce the symptoms of osteoarthritis that can be so painful and debilitating.
Should you lose weight?
By checking your body mass index (BMI), you can quickly and easily determine whether you are a healthy body weight or whether it might be beneficial to lose some weight. Using your height, weight and age, your body mass index figure is calculated. According to the NHS guidelines, anything between 18.5 and 24.9 is considered to be within the healthy range; however, BMI only takes a relatively small number of variables into account, so there are other factors to consider. BMI does not differentiate fat from muscle and does not consider body shape, frame or fat distribution differences, such as those related to factors such as gender or ethnicity. Nonetheless, BMI can be a good initial indicator as to whether you may need to consider losing weight to help your osteoarthritis symptoms.
Carrying excess weight could be making your osteoarthritis symptoms worse, as it can put extra strain on your joints and may contribute to cartilage breaking down. By losing weight, sufferers may be able to reduce the stress their joints are under and help to alleviate the symptoms of pain and discomfort.
In addition to easing the physical load on the joints, losing weight may be beneficial in other ways. Fat produces hormones and chemicals in the body that can increase inflammation and produce free radicals. Free radical damage can contribute to ageing and many chronic health conditions, including inflammatory diseases such as osteoarthritis, as molecules attack synovial membranes in the joints and reduce cartilage between the bones. Sticking to a healthy and nutritious diet can be beneficial all round.
What are the best foods to help osteoarthritis?
There are lots of nutritious foods that have a positive effect on the body and can be used as part of a nutrition plan to aid osteoarthritis symptoms. When looking at nutrition for osteoarthritis, there are several areas to focus on to make sure you have a nutritious and balanced diet:
Known to improve the development and maintenance of cartilage, vitamins C and D should be included in your diet to help with osteoarthritis symptoms. Vitamin C strengthens the cartilage in the joints, while vitamin D is essential for bone health and helps to stop the degeneration of the cartilage so that there is less irritation between the bones.
We all know that oranges are a good source of vitamin C; in addition, this vitamin can be found in lots of other fruits and vegetables. These include other citrus and tropical fruits, kiwis, raspberries, strawberries and cantaloupe melon, and vegetables such as broccoli, kale, cauliflower, capsicum peppers and tomatoes.
Breakfast is a good time of the day to stock up on your quota of vitamin D. Many breakfast foods are excellent sources of this vitamin, such as breakfast cereals, fortified milk, orange juice, eggs and yoghurt. Seafood and tofu are also good sources of the vitamin and, of course, our body makes vitamin D from being out in the sunlight, so plenty of exposure to natural daylight is always advisable.Vitamins C and D are known to improve cartilage development and maintenance. Vitamin C strengthens cartilage and reduces the symptoms associated with OA, while vitamin D helps prevent cartilage from breaking down, therefore protecting the space between bones from causing irritation.
Types of food containing vitamin C:
- Tropical and citrus fruits
- Strawberries and raspberries
- Cauliflower, broccoli and kale
- Capsicum peppers
Types of food rich in vitamin D:
- Breakfast cereals
- Fortified milk
- Orange juice
Omega-3 fatty acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are good fats and are an essential component in a nutrition plan for an osteoarthritis sufferer. They can suppress the chemicals that damage the cartilage, thereby reducing inflammation. Omega-3s are also important for the health of the heart and blood vessels. There are several kinds of omega-3 acids, with eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) particularly valuable for osteoarthritis. Omega-3s are naturally present in many types of oily fish, including sardines, mackerel, salmon and herring. Walnuts, linseed and flaxseed are also excellent sources of these powerful fatty acids. Certain types of white fish, such as sea bream, sea bass and halibut also contain omega-3s, although at lower levels than oily fish.
The recommended level of 300mg eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) per day can be easily achieved by eating just one herring or similar oily fish a week. For those who do not want to eat fish, it is possible to take omega-3 fish oil supplements.
Most people are aware that eating fresh fruits and vegetables is a must for a healthy lifestyle and have probably heard about the importance of good fats and essential fatty acids, but some people might be surprised to hear that some spices can have a powerful effect on the body and can be very useful in reducing the pain and discomfort of osteoarthritis.
It has been shown that a compound in the spice turmeric, called curcumin, may reduce inflammation in the body. Ginger has been used for centuries due to its anti-inflammatory properties, with scientific studies proving it to be effective. Cinnamon has also been shown to be anti-inflammatory and can help to reduce swelling; in turn, this can lessen pain and discomfort.
Antioxidants are substances that slow or prevent the oxidation process, which is the chemical reaction that produces free radicals and leads to cell damage and degeneration. Bioflavonoids and beta-carotene are antioxidants that can protect your body by eliminating free radicals before they can damage the cartilage in your joints. Carrots, sweet potatoes, tomatoes and many green vegetables such as spinach, broccoli, kale, Brussel sprouts and asparagus are great sources of beta-carotene. Bioflavonoids are found in cherry tomatoes, broccoli, leeks, onions, kale, blueberries and green tea.
The above foods can be found in a typical Mediterranean-style diet, so the Mediterranean way of eating makes an ideal osteoarthritis diet. A Mediterranean diet is beneficial for general health and wellbeing, good cardiovascular health, certain kinds of cancer, cognitive function, chronic diseases, joint health and osteoarthritis. The focus is on the high consumption of a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and legumes, fish and seafood, with poultry and eggs consumed in moderate amounts. Virgin olive oil is the main fat source in the Mediterranean-style diet. This means you can still eat delicious foods to help your osteoarthritis symptoms; for example, a typical dinner could be herb-crusted salmon accompanied by grilled asparagus. This type of meal is tasty and healthy - and a Mediterranean-style diet can include a small glass of red wine!
What foods should be avoided?
There should be an emphasis on putting foods into your diet that are beneficial to your body and limiting the foods that will have a negative impact, so there are some foods to avoid with osteoarthritis. Empty carbs, such as sugar, sugary snacks, refined carbohydrates, deep-fried foods, crisps and processed snacks, can cause inflammation in the body, so try to decrease the amount of these types of foods. Your meat intake should also be reduced, especially red meat, and saturated fats should be limited and replaced with good fats such as omega-3s and olive oil. Try to avoid full-fat dairy products where possible, choosing reduced-fat dairy products instead. Also, try to reduce your alcohol consumption.
It can be difficult to make changes to the way you eat, especially at first; however, the more you can reduce the proportion of inflammatory foods in your diet and replace them with nutritious, anti-inflammatory options, the more of a benefit you should start to notice.
Combining a nutritious diet with physical activity
In addition to a nutritious food plan, there are other things you can do to help your osteoarthritis symptoms. Following an osteoarthritis diet as outlined above is likely to increase your energy levels and general wellbeing, which means you may feel more able to increase your physical activity. Eating a nutritious diet rich in the best foods for osteoarthritis in conjunction with keeping as physically active as possible has been proven to significantly reduce osteoarthritis symptoms.
A mild to moderate programme of exercise can be a very effective treatment for osteoarthritis for people of all ages, fitness levels and severity of symptoms. Increasing physical activity does not need to mean a rigorous or painful exercise regime; instead, it is essential to work at your own pace, exercise gently, and take advice from your GP, specialist or physiotherapist. By combining exercises to strengthen your muscles and increase your general fitness, you should see an improvement in your osteoarthritis symptoms as your strength and fitness improve.
Flexibility exercises can be used to improve the range of motion of affected joints. There are many activities and sports recommended for people suffering from knee and/or hip osteoarthritis, including swimming, aqua-aerobics, yoga, tai chi, walking, hiking and biking. Conversely, it is advisable to refrain from activities that place the affected joints under pressure and stress, such as squash, tennis, basketball and downhill skiing.
These sports are recommended for sufferers of both knee and hip osteoarthritis:
- Water gymnastics
- Cross-country skiing
There are also special exercises for osteoarthritis sufferers that stabilise your knee and keep it flexible.
In order to protect your knee it is advisable to stay clear of the following sports due to the stress they place on the affected joints:
- Downhill skiing
You may find the following links to medical research and studies useful:
- Lopez HL.Nutritional interventions to prevent and treat osteoarthritis. Part I: focus on fatty acids and macronutrients. PM R. 4(5 Suppl):S145-54, 2012
- Goggs R, Vaughan-Thomas A, Clegg PD, Carter SD, Innes JF, Mobasheri A, Shakibaei, M, Schwab W, Bondy CA.: Nutraceutical therapies for degenerative joint diseases: a critical review. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2005;45(3):145-64.
- Hailu A, Knutsen SF, Fraser GE.: Associations between meat consumption and the prevalence of degenerative arthritis and soft tissue disorders in the adventist health study, California U.S.A. J Nutr Health Aging. 10(1):7-14; 2006
- Peregoy J, Wilder FV.: The effects of vitamin C supplementation on incident and progressive knee osteoarthritis: a longitudinal study. Public Health Nutr. 14(4):709-15, 2011
- Sanghi D, Mishra A, Sharma AC, Singh A, Natu SM, Agarwal S, Srivastava RN.: Does vitamin D improve osteoarthritis of the knee: a randomized controlled pilot trial. Clin Orthop Relat Res. 471(11):3556-62, 2013
- Neogi T, Booth SL, Zhang YQ, Jacques PF, Terkeltaub R, Aliabadi P, Felson DT.: Low vitamin K status is associated with osteoarthritis in the hand and knee. Arthritis Rheum. 54(4):1255-61, 2006
- Skiles, J. W., Gonnella, N. C., Jeng, A. Y.: The design, structure, and clinical update of small molecular weight matrix metalloproteinase inhibitors. Curr Med Chem. 11(22):2911 – 77, 2004