Written by: Dr. Deborah Pellegrini
“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” -Hippocrates
This statement continues to hold true for most of the common inflammatory diseases today. The healing properties of food have been reported by cultures worldwide throughout history. Over the past 20-30 years we have seen extensive clinical research that shows the health benefits of a proper anti-inflammatory diet on preventing and reversing disease.
If you have arthritis, you learn to expect pain every day. You adjust your daily activity based on your pain or expected pain. What if changes in your diet could make a difference in your daily pain? Would you be willing to try some dietary changes if it could decrease your pain? A study at Michigan State University in Grand Rapids, Michigan looked at whether a whole-foods plant-based diet would improve pain and joint function in individuals with osteoarthritis. For six weeks, they divided people into a group who ate its usual animal-foods-based diet and a second group who ate a whole-foods, plant-based-diet free of dairy, eggs, and animal foods. The second group’s diet allowed unlimited amounts of vegetables, legumes, grains, and fruit, and small amounts of nuts and seeds. The results showed that the plant-based diet group had significantly less pain than the group eating animal foods. This study showed that dietary changes can positively impact chronic pain conditions.
First of all, what should you avoid eating or drinking to reduce further harm to your joints and bones? Try to avoid anything “artificial.” Avoid highly processed foods and artificial colors, flavors or sweeteners as these can create an inflammatory response in your body. If a food has a long list of ingredients that you have a hard time pronouncing, it is probably highly processed. In general, the fewer the ingredients, the healthier the food. Also, avoid genetically modified food. This food was developed to cause the death of insects that try to eat it by causing their stomach to rupture. There is evidence that when humans eat these foods, they can cause intestinal injury that can contribute to “leaky gut syndrome.” This allows some toxins from the intestine that would normally not enter the bloodstream to enter and cause diffuse inflammation. Another important product to avoid is soda with phosphoric acid (often in colas). Phosphoric acid binds to calcium, zinc and magnesium. Instead of those minerals reaching your bones and tissues, they are excreted in your urine leaving you depleted and over time causing loss of bone mineral density.
Now, what should you include in your diet? Primarily whole food plant-based diets have been shown to be the best for overall health. Here is a list of some foods that are particularly good for arthritis.
- Berries (tart cherries, goji berries, black currants, bilberries, blackberries, blueberries, etc. One study found that tart cherry juice decreased pain and stiffness from arthritis.)
- Beet greens (They are full of phytonutrients, vitamins and minerals that reduce inflammation.)
- Spinach (loaded with vitamin E, anti-inflammatory compounds, omega-3 fatty acids and B vitamins)
- Omega-3 (found in fish and flaxseed oil; this has potent anti-inflammatory properties and has been found to be helpful in treating inflammatory and autoimmune diseases)
- Ginger (one study showed that it blocks inflammatory cytokines in the body. Another study showed that it relieved pain from osteoarthritis by 63%.)
- Garlic (In a study of 1,082 twins, it was found that those who ate the most garlic had the least symptoms from osteoarthritis.)
- Cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, kale, Brussels sprouts, etc. They contain antioxidants that help fight inflammation.)
- Turmeric and curcumin, a key component in turmeric (known to decrease inflammatory signals throughout the body)
- Fennel (This has been used in medicine to decrease inflammation in the joints and tissues since ancient Rome and Greece.)
There are many books to help guide you in the right direction. Some of my favorites are listed below. Much of the information above can be found in these books in much greater detail. The authors also have their own websites that contain helpful information.
- “Healing Arthritis” by Susan Blum, M.D.
- “How Not to Die” by Michael Greger, M.D.
- “Fast Food, Good Food” by Andrew Weil, M.D.
- “The Gut Repair Cookbook” by Josh Axe, DNM, DC, CNS
- “Food: What the Heck Should I Eat?” by Mark Hyman, MD
I wish you the best of luck with your healthy and anti-inflammatory dietary adventures!