Achy joints? It may be your diet

Jan 18, 2019

One in four adults experience regular joint pain, and for those over 65, more than 50 percent have had their physician make a diagnosis of arthritis.

Arthritis is the common vernacular for joint pain, a symptom found in hundreds of diseases.  But there are really two main groupings.

Traumatic arthritis results from a direct injury to the joint ligaments and cartilage. Healing of this injury then alters normal joint biomechanics leading to chronic discomfort.

Inflammatory arthritis is often just one aspect of a body-wide inflammatory process, rheumatoid arthritis and lupus, an autoimmune disease being two examples. Inflammation begins in the joint lining, or synovium, which then slowly destroys the joint cartilage.

Osteoarthritis, the “arthritis of aging,” has been assumed to be in the traumatic arthritis group, the result of years of  “wear and tear” on the joint cartilage. This presumption was supported by the observation that osteoarthritis was seven times more frequent in obese than in normal weight individuals. And was found more commonly in those who participated in soccer, competitive weight lifting, and elite level running, activities that increase joint stress.

However recent studies have identified low level synovial inflammation in what otherwise appeared to be classic osteoarthritis, suggesting a new possibility: Our Diet.

Studies of diseases as varied as cancer, diabetes and heart disease had previously identified higher than expected blood levels of C-reactive protein, a specific finding in low level, chronic inflammation.  Many researchers have speculated that this inflammation is one of the factors involved in the development of these diseases. And now we have the same finding in many patients with osteoarthritis.

It turns out that diet can affect the level of C-reactive protein, and adopting a diet low in animal products and high in fruits and vegetables can lower this blood marker of inflammation.  Which suggests another addition to treating this common ailment.

We already know that a regular exercise routine decreases joint symptoms. A study following 6,500 women for 12 years found that those who exercised regularly had far fewer complaints of joint pain than those who did not. Although it seems counter intuitive that a treatment for joint pain might be using them more, all the signs are pointing in that direction.

Adding a dedicated period of exercise into your daily routine is an easy first step. A non-impact sport such as cycling, swimming, or water aerobics is preferable, but if that is more than you have the time for, a brisk daily walk will do.

You might consider losing weight. Even of you don’t think of yourself as obese, any weight you lose will lessen the stress on your hips and knees.

And now you have a third option. It makes sense to consider adopting a more anti inflammatory diet.  This would include eliminating all sugar. Substituting fish, whole grains, and vegetables for the red meat main course several times a week. And using healthy oils such as olive oil, avocado oil, canola oil in your food prep. You can find additional ideas in one of the many articles or books on the  Mediterranean diet.


It is possible your joint aches are just the tip of the iceberg, a symptom warning of a body wide inflammatory process, in which case this lifestyle change will continue to deliver additional health benefits as the years roll by.

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