Nutrition & Supplements

Inflammation is one of the body's natural reactions to disease or injury. For those with arthritis, inflammation is the key component associated with joint damage—and the one factor that if reduced can considerably help relieve joint pain caused by the condition. Over the years, numerous studies have looked at dietary modification as a way to reduce inflammation due to the role adipose tissue, or fat cells, may play in metabolic conditions—including regulation of inflammatory responses.

When talking about reducing inflammation through diet, many refer to an “anti-inflammatory diet,” which fights joint inflammation and reduces weight through a plant-based diet abundant in fruits and vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds, and fattier fish. One type of anti-inflammatory diet is the traditional Mediterranean diet, which refers to the dietary patterns typical in the early 1960s of some Mediterranean regions. These dietary patterns were singled out because adult life expectancy was the highest and rates of coronary heart disease were among the lowest in the world at the time. While both the Mediterranean diet and a general anti-inflammatory diet consist of similar food groups, including olive oil as the primary source of fat, there are differences that some may want to consider to boost the anti-inflammatory effect. Additional dietary elements that have been shown to reduce some aspects of inflammation include omega-3 fatty acids from fatty fish including salmon, sardines and anchovies along with antioxidants from vitamin C, selenium, carotenes and bioflavonoids.

An additional standout for fighting the pain of inflammation is extra-virgin olive oil, which has the “good” monounsaturated fat. It contains antioxidants called polyphenols, which reduce inflammation. A study published in the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry (Dec. 2013) showed that physical activity combined with an extra-virgin olive oil supplemented diet is beneficial in preventing osteoarthritis disease and preserving the articular cartilage, or cartilage found on many joint surfaces, and the entire joint.

To help bolster the anti-inflammatory affect of diet, supplements may be helpful. There are an estimated 29,000 herbal products and substances sold throughout North America, and many of them assert to have the ability to ease aching joints. Among these is ginger, which contains dozens of inflammation fighting phytonutrients called gingerols. Studies have found that ginger, like NSAIDs, inhibits the enzymes cyclooxygenase-1 and cyclooxygenase-2 (COX 1 and COX 2)—a known cause of joint inflammation.

Flaxseeds, also called linseeds, are a rich source of micronutrients, including the essential fatty acid alpha-linolenic acid known as ALA— or omega-3. The claim is that this fiber crop eases symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and lupus by lubricating joints and lessening stiffness, yet research is conflicting.

Another standout for its analgesic effect is devil’s claw (harpagophytum probumbens). A systematic review published in Spine (Jan. 2007) suggests that devil’s claw may be effective in treating low back pain, but data for this herbal is also conflicting as to its true impact on providing relief.

Although herbal supplements may seem like a safe way to boost good health, the reality is that since the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994, dietary supplements are not required to undergo pre-market testing for safety and efficacy. Always check with your doctor or healthcare provider before making changes to your diet or adding supplements as a way to fight arthritis-causing inflammation.

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