by Dr. Leo Galland
Here’s a look at some alternative natural remedies for inflammatory arthritis. There are natural anti-inflammatory foods and herbs and spices that can help with arthritis, as well as supplements.
Arthritis—inflammation of the joints—is the most common cause of disability in the U.S., affecting 43 million people and limiting physical activity in almost 19 million every year. (1).
Arthritis medications are among the most highly prescribed drugs in the world. The most commonly used over the counter drugs for arthritis, called NSAIDs, examples of which include Advil, Motrin, Aleve and aspirin, also have serious side effects. For more on this, see my article Why Medication Can Be Dangerous to Your Health "According to the CDC, NSAID’s account for an estimated 7,600 deaths and 76,000 hospitalizations in the U.S. every year. (2)
Foods that help arthritis and supplements are under-utilized weapons in the battle against this painful inflammatory condition.
First, there are anti-inflammatory supplements like fish oil and borage oil that have been shown to allow reduction of NSAID use in patients with rheumatoid arthritis, one of the most crippling types of arthritis. Fish oil works even better in combination with extra-virgin olive oil to reduce inflammation, as I explain below.
Second, there are supplements like colostrum and glutamine (an amino acid) that have been shown in research studies to help decrease the risk of stomach damage in people taking NSAIDs. Detailed research on how these supplements may help protect against NSAID side effects can be found at Pill Advised, a free web application that I’ve created to bring important research findings to a wider audience.
Nutrition is another vital tool in fighting inflammatory arthritis. Unfortunately, there are a lot of myths about what to eat, and what to not eat, to help arthritis. I’ll try to dispel some of these and present the science.
On November 5, 2010 I presented a review of the scientific data on the relationship between diet and inflammation at Morristown Memorial Hospital’s Fourth Annual Symposium on Nutrition and Supplements in Clinical Practice.
Because I’ve found these natural anti-inflammatory principles extremely beneficial for my patients with arthritis, I’m providing a summary here. (Get free healthy updates in your inbox, sign up for our newsletter below.)
Natural Anti-Inflammatory Foods That Help Arthritis
1. Eat at least 8 servings of fruits and vegetables every day.
Choose those with bright or deep colors like cherries and berries and sweet potatoes that contain natural anti-inflammatory nutrition. Don’t believe the old saw that citrus fruits and “nightshade” vegetables like tomatoes and peppers cause arthritis. Oranges and tomatoes have been shown to have significant anti-inflammatory effects in some people. NOTE: Food allergies can trigger arthritis for some people, and if there is a food that makes your joints hurt or swell, you should avoid it, no matter how healthy it would be for someone who’s not sensitive to it. Most of the patients I’ve seen do better eating lots of vegetables and fruits. Tomatoes, incidentally, seem to have more of anti-inflammatory effect when they’re cooked or juiced, but most other vegetables and fruits are better if they’re fresh.
2. Choose your oils wisely.
Extra-virgin olive oil has natural anti-inflammatory benefits, whether raw or cooked. Recent research has identified the antioxidant called oleocanthal, which is only found in extra-virgin olive oil. Oleocanthal is a natural anti-inflammatory with potency strikingly similar to that of the drug ibuprofen in inhibiting an enzyme that causes pain and inflammation. Studies have shown that people with inflammatory arthritis experience a decrease in pain and stiffness of their joints when treated with fish oil. Even better pain management results have been observed when, in addition to fish oil, extra-virgin olive oil is part of the natural anti-inflammatory diet.
Flaxseed oil and flaxseed meal (ground flaxseed), also have significant anti-inflammatory effects, but should not be cooked, because cooking destroys some of the beneficial omega-3 fats. Other vegetable oils, like corn, safflower or sunflower oils, can increase inflammation and counteract the benefits of anti-inflammatory nutrients in your diet.
3. Eat fish 3 times a week.
Especially wild salmon, if it’s available and affordable, but don’t fry your fish; frying interferes with the benefits. You may want to consider supplementing your diet with the natural anti-inflammatory, fish oil. The amount of fish oil you need is not fixed; it varies from about a teaspoon (4000 milligrams) to a tablespoon (12,000 milligrams) each day, depending upon what else is in your diet. The more meat, poultry, egg yolk or dairy fat you eat, the greater your need for fish oil, because these foods contain arachidonic acid, a pro-inflammatory omega 6 fatty acid. The more you use vegetable oils other than extra virgin olive oil, the more fish oil you need.
4. Avoid sugar and foods with added sugar and refined carbohydrates
Reduce inflammation by cutting out white flour products, white rice and white potatoes. Several studies have shown that consuming foods of this type aggravates inflammation. Instead eat high fiber foods like whole grains and legumes. Studies have shown that high fiber diets are anti-inflammatory. Don’t worry about carrots. All the publicity given to the Glycemic Index of foods (the tendency for a food to raise blood sugar) has given carrots a bad rep. The carotenoids in carrots, anti-oxidants that create the orange color, and the fiber, make carrots an anti-inflammatory food. Carrots, like tomatoes, are also more nutritious cooked than raw.
5. Drink tea, black or green.
The notion that green tea is healthier than black tea has not been borne out by clinical trials in humans. Green tea may have anti-cancer effects, but black tea has a better track record in fighting inflammation. You need at least 3 cups a day, unless you’re a smoker, in which case no amount of tea will work for you.
6. Use anti-inflammatory spices in preparing your food.
My book The Fat Resistance Diet contains a natural anti-inflammatory program that features these foods that can help arthritis.
Now I’d like to hear from you…
Are you impacted by pain?
Do you take any medications or supplements for it?
Does what you eat, or not eat, make a difference?
Please let me know your thoughts by posting a comment below.
Leo Galland, MD
Important: Share the Health with your friends and family by forwarding this article to them, and sharing on Facebook.
The information here is based upon principles in my upcoming article being published in print in the scientific journal, Nutrition in Clinical Practice, (http://ncp.sagepub.com/ ) December issue, where a list of scientific references supporting the principles listed above can be found.
1) US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (http://www.cdc.gov/chronicdisease/resources/publications/aag/arthritis.htm)
2) Robyn Tamblyn, PhD; Laeora Berkson, MD, MHPE, FRCPC; W. Dale Jauphinee, MD, FRCPC; David Gayton, MD, PhD, FRCPC; Roland Grad, MD, MSc; Allen Huang, MD, FRCPC; Lisa Isaac, PhD; Peter McLeod, MD, FRCPC; and Linda Snell, MD, MHPE, FRCPC, "Unnecessary Prescribing of NSAIDs and the Management of NSAID-Related Gastropathy in Medical Practice," Annals of Internal Medicine (Washington, DC: American College of Physicians, 1997), September 15, 1997, 127:429-438.
Related Blog Entries:
- Why Medication Can Be Dangerous to Your Health
- Do You Have Leaky Gut Syndrome?
- Aspirin and Vitamin C