While medication is sometimes a must for people with joint pain, doctors at Baylor College of Medicine say some may find additional relief in the kitchen. dr. Shalini Jha, assistant professor of medicine – immunology, allergy and rheumatology, says there are some dietary changes that have been shown to help reduce inflammation, but the right prescription may differ slightly for each person.
“Some studies show that a vegan, Mediterranean, or vegetarian diet helps relieve joint pain. Doctors can look at the markers for inflammation and whether joints are inflamed before and after dietary changes. There are good results showing that what you eating definitely plays a role in this process,” says Jha. “However, there is no one-size-fits-all diet for everyone.”
Jha says it depends on the type of joint pain and the cause. Some pain can be caused by mechanical problems, injury, or overuse. In those cases, what you eat probably won’t help. For people with an autoimmune disease like rheumatoid arthritis or lupus, what you eat matters.
“For autoimmune diseases, there is a direct link between diet and your body. What you eat affects the microbes in your gut, and the microbiome plays a huge role in the immune system, helping to calm or stimulate inflammation,” Jha said. “Although not all of these dietary changes may work for people with joint pain, is a good rule of thumb when it comes to changing your diet to deal with inflammation, focusing on general health.”
Jha recommends drinking plenty of vegetables, fruits, nuts and beans and drinking plenty of water. She also recommends focusing on foods that contain high amounts of antioxidants, omega-3 fatty acids, and vitamin C. These types of molecules have been shown to calm the oxidative stress your body goes through when inflammation is present.
As for foods that have been shown to trigger an inflammatory cascade throughout the body, Jha says they try to avoid or limit processed carbohydrates, sugar, saturated fat, dairy, and red meat.
“These are dietary changes that are also helpful for overall health, but remember to always talk to your doctor about treating joint pain. Some problems require medication or other therapies. Dieting alone may not solve the problem, and in fact, overuse of the joint, regardless of diet, can actually cause more long-term damage.Uncontrolled inflammation in the body can in some cases also cause damage to other organs,” Jha said.
When starting a new diet, Jha says you should pay attention to what you eat and how your body reacts. Some people find that certain healthy foods can trigger inflammation. Some patients have found that oranges or other acidic fruits and vegetables can trigger arthritis flare-ups.
“Some people try elimination diets, where you take certain foods out of your diet for a few days or weeks and slowly reintroduce them to see if that’s a trigger,” Jha said. “Some find gluten or even eggs to be a trigger, while others are unaffected.”
Jha reminds her patients that the goal is to reduce pain and inflammation, but also to focus on quality of life. Some people aren’t willing to give up certain foods all at once, so she suggests moderating it, adding plenty of fruits and vegetables to your current diet, and monitoring how your body responds to certain foods.
By Graciela Gutierrez