Can anti-inflammatory foods help arthritis?

A number of studies show that certain foods might help reduce inflammation associated with arthritis or other chronic conditions.

Two older women preparing food.
Photo: Pexels/Cottonbro.

Inflammation is a localized physical condition in which the body becomes reddened, swollen, hot and often painful, especially when reacting to an injury or infection. When dealing with an acute condition such as a bad cut or broken bone, inflammation can actually help to improve blood flow to the affected area and provide immediate care and protection to the injured area. However, inflammation also plays a role in many long-term health conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus or cardiovascular disease. These are considered chronic conditions which can last several months or even years.

Can a person’s diet affect inflammation and relieve arthritic conditions? According to the Arthritis Foundation, some studies have looked at the direct impact of foods and specific diets, such as the Mediterranean diet. The Mediterranean diet includes the following foods that may have a positive effect on curbing the inflammatory symptoms of arthritis:

  • Fruits and vegetables, including nightshade vegetables (eggplant, red bell peppers, tomatoes, etc.).
  • Healthy fats such as extra virgin olive oil.
  • Coldwater fish (salmon, tuna, sardines, etc.).
  • Nuts and seeds (walnuts, pine nuts, pistachios, etc.), in small portions.
  • Foods high in fiber like whole grains and dry beans.

The Oregon Health and Science University School of Medicine conducted studies on the positive effects of tart cherry juice on inflammation. This research showed that athletes who consumed Montmorency cherry juice prior to a relay race reported less pain than those who received a placebo. Montmorency (sour pie) cherries have high levels of an anti-inflammatory substance that is found in the fruit peel and it contains the same enzyme found in over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs (e.g., ibuprofen).

Other findings report that eating less processed and sugary foods and increasing the amounts of whole grains with high fiber can help lower inflammation. It’s important to note that by eating a healthier diet a person is more likely to lose weight which in turn helps reduce pressure on the joints.

Some doctors, however, warn that even healthy foods can trigger arthritis symptoms in certain people with arthritis. Michigan State University Extension recommends that you consult with your doctor before significantly changing your diet to address any inflammatory health issues.

MSU Extension offers self-management classes that address nutrition for chronic pain and other chronic conditions, such as Chronic Disease PATH and Chronic Pain PATH. These series are free and are offered in-person and online.

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