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Foods That Fight Osteoarthritis & Inflammation

Foods That Fight Osteoarthritis & Inflammation

Osteoarthritis is the most frequent cause of physical disability among older adults in the world, affecting more than 20 million Americans. It is estimated that 20% of us will be affected in the coming decades and it is becoming more and more widespread among younger people. Can anti-inflammatory foods help with this disease?

Osteoarthritis is characterized by loss of cartilage in the joint. We used to think it was just mechanical wear and tear, but is “now generally accepted to be an active joint disease with a prominent inflammatory component.” This is supported by the fact that, for example, there is significantly higher production of inflammatory prostaglandins from tissue samples obtained from the knees of people suffering from the disease.

If the loss of cartilage is caused by inflammation, an anti-inflammatory diet may indeed help. A recent review concluded that using optimal nutrition and exercise as the “first-line” intervention in the management of chronic osteoarthritis could well constitute the best medical practice.

What does “optimal nutrition” look like? The China study “showed the serious health consequences of high consumption of pro-inflammatory foods (meat, dairy, fat, and junk) and low consumption of anti-inflammatory plant foods (whole grains, vegetables and fruits, and beans, split peas, chickpeas and lentils).” The unnatural Western diet “contributes to low-grade systemic inflammation, and oxidative tissue stress and irritation, placing the immune system in an overactive state, a common denominator of conditions such as arthritis.”

There are phytonutrients in plants that appear to help decrease the degradation of the joint cartilage, inflammatory activity, cell death and oxidative damage. This is based largely on in vitro studies, suggesting protective benefits of soy, pomegranates, citrus, grapes, green tea, and the curry powder spice turmeric. But my patients are people, not petri dishes. What role might the yellow pigment curcumin in turmeric play in the treatment of osteoarthritis?

Obesity doesn’t just put more stress on our joints. The fatty tissue inside our joints—like in the kneecap itself—is a source of pro inflammatory chemicals that have been shown to increase cartilage degradation. Curcumin may not only help prevent the release of inflammatory chemicals, but may also slow the formation of the fat pad in the first place. But this has all been in test tubes. There have been two clinical studies published to date.

The latest study took 50 patients suffering from mild-to-moderate knee osteoarthritis and gave them either the best available medical treatment, which included control with anti-inflammatory drugs and pain-killers, or the best available treatment along with some proprietary curcumin supplement. They looked at a number of different outcome measures, including the Karnofsky scale which goes up to 100 (normal, no evidence of disease), down to zero, at which you’re dead. The group with the added curcumin did significantly better, and were able to double their walking distance (see the results in the above video). The curcumin group was also able to significantly decrease their drug use, side-effects, swelling hospitalizations, and other treatments.

But it doesn’t have to be some fancy proprietary formula. In the other study, “The efficacy of turmeric extracts in patients with knee osteoarthritis,” about a hundred sufferers were randomized to ibuprofen or concentrated turmeric extracts for six weeks, and the curcumin group did as good or better than the ibuprofen group. Even though ibuprofen is over-the-counter, it can cause ulceration bleeding and perforation of the stomach and intestines (that is, it can eat right through your stomach wall). In fact, that happened to someone in the study. Whereas the side-effects of curcumin include potentially protecting against a long list of diseases.

I’d also add nuts (Fighting Inflammation in a Nut Shell) and mushrooms (Boosting Immunity While Reducing Inflammation) to the list of anti-inflammatory plant foods.

In health,
Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live year-in-review presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death and More Than an Apple a Day.

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Read more: Health, Arthritis, Diet & Nutrition, Eating for Health, General Health, Healthy Aging, Men's Health, Natural Remedies, Osteoporosis, Videos, Women's Health, , , , ,

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Dr. Michael Greger

A founding member of the American College of Lifestyle Medicine, Michael Greger, M.D., is a physician, author, and internationally recognized speaker on nutrition, food safety, and public health issues. Currently Dr. Greger serves as the Director of Public Health and Animal Agriculture at The Humane Society of the United States. Hundreds of his nutrition videos are freely available at


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8:04AM PST on Feb 21, 2015

thanks for sharing

3:37PM PST on Nov 6, 2014

PLEASE Anyone who is experiencing sore joints, arthritis or other pain/stiffness please look up MSM Powder. It is sulphur, extremely cheap because it lasts you nearly forever. One little scoop per 300 lbs so you need like 1/4th of a teaspoon in your coffee or tea or on food. It is tasteless and orderless. Looks like Sugar.
I have taken it 4 days this week (just started) and it is a miracle powder im not even kidding. Ive had so many eating disorders and treated my body so bad, haven't had milk since I was probably 5 years old...My bones would be SO sore without this! I literally feel my joints 'lubricated'
Please look into it you have nothing to loose, and best part is we can give it to our PETS too!

6:43AM PDT on Aug 30, 2014


1:40PM PDT on Aug 6, 2014

This is a little bit off-topic but.....I couldn't live my life as I do without wearing my

z-Coil shoes! They make my foot/ankle/back pains much more bearable. THIS IS NOT SPAM! This is me being helpful.

11:00PM PDT on Aug 4, 2014


3:55PM PDT on Jul 30, 2014

Thank you. I will continue taking curcumin.

7:21PM PDT on Jul 28, 2014


5:45AM PDT on Jul 28, 2014


2:27AM PDT on Jul 28, 2014

thanks for the article ... I have OA in hands, feet, hips etc but am managing ok. Will take note of the information and comments :-)

6:04PM PDT on Jul 27, 2014


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