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Osteoarthritis, a crippling joint disease that affects more than 20.7 million people in the United States, occurs when inflammation damages joint lubrication and cartilage.

Although early symptoms may be mild or barely noticeable, the condition eventually progresses causing a great deal of pain. Osteoarthritis also leads to disability as the damaged joint is no longer able to move properly.

Fortunately, there are certain nutrients and foods that may help to halt the progression osteoarthritis before it becomes severe as well as helping to reduce the pain and inflammation associated with it.

Eat more

  • Cold water fish such as salmon, tuna, herring, mackerel and halibut.
  • Organically grown fruits and vegetables
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Whole grains
  • Ginger

Avoid highly refined products such as white rice, white bread and white pasta, excessive saturated fats and foods which contain trans fats.


What Is Osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis, one of the most common forms of arthritis in the United States, is the 8th leading cause of disability in the world. Over 20.7 million Americans are afflicted with the condition, and approximately 100,000 are unable to walk as a result.

In 1989 alone, around 30,000 hip replacement and 70,000 knee replacement surgeries were done to treat osteoarthritis. The pain and disability caused by osteoarthritis has a major impact on the lives of those suffering with this disease.

Being unable to move certain joints properly can make tasks of normal living very difficult. Osteoarthritis patients may be unable to walk up stairs, button their clothes, or even brush their hair, things that most people take for granted. Slowing the progression of this condition through simple dietary changes may help prevent these long-term consequences.


Osteoarthritis symptoms are initially very mild. In fact, researchers have found that only about 50% of people with early signs of osteoarthritis on X-ray have noticeable symptoms.

The symptoms may worsen over time as the condition progresses and the joint damage continues. Osteoarthritis tends to occur mainly in the hands, knees, elbows, hips, and spine.

Symptoms of osteoarthritis include:

  • Grinding sensation during joint movement
  • Pain with joint movement
  • Joint stiffness
  • Joint swelling
  • Deformity of the joint (usually occurs later in the condition)
  • Reduced mobility of the joint
  • A feeling of joint instability

Many osteoarthritis patients take pain-killers such as aspirin, acetaminophen, or ibuprofen. While these may be helpful for temporarily reducing pain, they have not been shown to prevent the progression of osteoarthritis, and may even cause the damage to progress more quickly. In addition, some of these medications can be rough on the digestive tract, leading to symptoms that range from mild stomach upset to ulceration and bleeding.

If you're taking pain-killers and start to experience severe stomach pain, vomiting, vomiting of blood, generalized weakness, a change in the color of your stools to very dark or black, or if you see blood in your stools, you should contact your doctor immediately as these may be signs of bleeding of the digestive tract, which can be a serious medical condition.

The Disease Process

What causes a normal, healthy joint to become swollen, painful and debilitated? The process may be a slow and gradual one that takes many years to have an impact.

A healthy joint, the part of the body that connects two bones, contains several main components. The first component includes the ends of the bones themselves. These bone endings are lined with a rubbery, cushiony material called cartilage, which prevents bones from grinding or smashing together. Since cartilage is flexible, it can withstand the pressure of joint movement and bounce right back into its original form without any damage.

The outside of the joint is wrapped in connective tissue. The connective tissue is strong enough to hold the joint together, but thin and light enough to allow the joint to move properly. Lining the inside of the joint is the synovial membrane, a thin layer of cells that produce fluid to keep the joint moist and lubricated, so it can glide and move easily.

The synovial fluid also provides the cartilage cells with oxygen and nutrients since the joint itself contains no blood vessels. (In all other parts of the body, nutrients and oxygen are delivered via the bloodstream.)

In a joint stricken with osteoarthritis, however, an inflammatory process is taking place. When inflammation occurs, the cells of the joint, including the synovial and cartilage cells, produce chemicals that lead to an increase in free radicals. These free radicals are dangerous substances that can attack and damage the cartilage and synovial membrane of the joint.

As time goes by, the cartilage starts to wear away, the synovial membrane dries out, and the synovial fluid disappears. With the cartilage gone, the ends of the bones start to grind together. This causes the ends of the bone to become thicker and harder.

Eventually, the ends of the bones start to grow cysts and sharp, bony spikes, called osteophytes, that may stick out into the joint space and severely hamper the movement of the joint. In the end, the joint is painful, unable to move properly, and deformed from the inflammation and bony osteophytes.


The exact cause of osteoarthritis is still considered to be unknown, though several theories exist as to what may happen to start the condition. Generalized osteoarthritis of the hands, knees, and spine seems to have a genetic component as it tends to run in families. However, genetics doesn't seem to play a role in other forms of osteoarthritis and certainly isn't the whole picture.

Osteoarthritis of the knees and hands seems to occur more commonly in people who are obese, though it is not clear why this is the case. Researchers think there may be certain hormones produced by fat cells that may lead to joint problems. It has been shown that obese people who lose weight, even as little as 10 pounds, can greatly reduce their risk of developing osteoarthritis and even reduce the pain of osteoarthritis.

Another possible cause of osteoarthritis is joint trauma. People who do a lot of high-intensity exercise or who do activities that frequently injure their joints, like professional or competitive athletes, tend to wind up with this condition after a while.

Researchers believe that repetitive stress and injury to the joint eventually leads to inflammation that causes damage. Moderate exercise is beneficial, especially for those trying to lose weight, and is therefore recommended. Exercise that damages or causes pain in the joints, however, is excessive and should be toned down.

Dietary Causes

A diet that is generally low in essential nutrients has been shown to contribute to the development or progression of osteoarthritis. Basically, this translates to a diet high in refined products like white rice, white bread, white pasta, and saturated and trans-fats, and low in nutrient-rich foods like vegetables, fruits, legumes, fish, whole grains, and lean meats.

Refined foods such as white rice and baked goods made from white flour have been stripped of the vast majority of their nutrients. Although small amounts of some nutrients, like certain B-vitamins, are added back in to prevent wide-spread deficiencies, this so-called "enrichment" is comparable to taking away a dollar and giving back two cents. Fatty foods like potato chips or french fries are not only high in calories, but low in essential nutrients.

Unfortunately, these refined and high-fat foods make up much of the 'Standard American Diet' (appropriately abbreviated as SAD). Replacing these refined, nutrient-poor foods with whole, healthy foods can help reduce risk of osteoarthritis.

In addition, research studies have shown that certain nutrients, such as vitamin D, vitamin C, beta-carotene, and niacin, may be able to reduce the progression of osteoarthritis. Consumption of foods rich in these nutrients may help delay or even prevent the disability that can occur from this condition.

Certain other nutrients, such as vitamin E, boron, niacinamide, and omega-3 fatty acids, may actually help reduce the pain and swelling that comes with osteoarthritis. As a result, patients may be able to decrease their use of pain-killers, which can have nasty side-effects, by consuming healthy foods rich in these nutrients.

Nutrient Needs

Foods That May Help Include:

Whole Foods

To nourish your joints, try a big bowl of steaming oatmeal sprinkled with cinnamon, add some raisins, diced apple, toasted pumpkin seeds, and chunks of banana. Wash it down with a tall glass of cold orange juice. This nutrient-dense fiber-rich breakfast can give you all the energy you need until lunchtime.

Instead of deli meat on white bread for lunch, treat your joints to a salad of mixed greens, diced carrot and tomato, a handful or two of nutty chickpeas, and some white meat chicken strips, topped off with an olive oil, balsamic vinaigrette dressing and a sprinkling of grated parmesan cheese. Add a peach or some melon or a cup of yogurt for a snack or two during the day.

Greasy fast food burgers and fries doused in sugar-laden ketchup for dinner? Not for your joints! They'll be pampered with fragrant brown rice, flaky baked salmon seasoned with a fresh garlic, rosemary sauce, and steamed sweet potato, or butternut squash, and snow peas. To start, a crisp spinach salad topped with walnuts and fresh romano cheese.

Contrary to popular belief, healthy food is not about bran muffins and celery sticks. There are many different whole foods, from vegetables to meats and dairy products, available these days that can help you pack in the nutrients that feed your joints.

Whole foods contain the nutrients necessary for joint health: vitamins such as vitamin C, vitamin D, vitamin A, the B vitamins, vitamin K, and folic acid; minerals like calcium, magnesium, selenium, zinc, and iron; and other beneficial nutrients such as bioflavonoids and beta-carotene.

The best way to protect your joints is to eat a wide variety of nutritious foods. You have a much better chance of getting all the vitamins and minerals you need if your diet includes an assortment of different foods, than if you eat the same thing every day. If you're trying to lose weight, nothing works better than replacing the high fat, high sugar, high starch American diet with meals centered around fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, fish, and lean meats.


Remember that piece of succulent baked salmon? Evidence suggests that fish may be helpful in osteoarthritis. Fish, especially cold water fish like salmon, mackerel, halibut, herring, tuna, sardines, and cod, have high levels of omega-3 fatty acids. These omega-3 fats are used by the body to make substances that reduce inflammation.

Fish is also a wonderful and delicious source of essential protein, which is needed for the repair of damaged joints. Some fish also contain vitamin D, a critical nutrient for strong, healthy bones that can help prevent the progression of osteoarthritis. Eat fish often, as it may help ease the symptoms of osteoarthritis as well as improve your overall health.


Add some zest to your salad dressing with fresh ginger. Some people with osteoarthritis report that using ginger regularly helps reduce the pain and swelling in their joints. Ginger contains active components that stop the body from producing inflammatory substances that add to inflammation in the joints.

A versatile spice that adds an exotic bite to any meal, ginger can transform practically any dish from mundane to exceptional. Try mincing a sliver of fresh ginger for a topping on steamed vegetables, meats, fish, baked fruit, and fresh salads. While fresh ginger is the most flavorful, dried ginger may also be beneficial.

Nutrients in Food That May Help Include:

To Reduce the Risk or Progression of Osteoarthritis

Vitamin D

When osteoarthritis patients get plenty of vitamin D in their diets, their joint damage progresses more slowly. In contrast, people who don't get enough vitamin D, have more rapidly occurring joint damage, leading rapidly to disability. Vitamin D not only helps prevent the breakdown of cartilage, it's necessary for rebuilding healthy cartilage and maintaining strong bones. Shrimp and fortified milk are two very good sources of vitamin D.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant in the body. By neutralizing free radicals, vitamin C helps reduce inflammation and damage that occurs in osteoarthritis.

Vitamin C is also necessary for the production of healthy connective tissue and cartilage, and may even be able to help undo some of the damage that has already been done. The osteoarthritis of patients who get plenty of vitamin C in their diets seems to progress more slowly compared to people who have diets low in vitamin C.

Excellent food sources of vitamin C include broccoli, parsley, bell peppers, strawberries, cauliflower, lemons, mustard greens, Brussels sprouts, papaya, kale, cabbage, spinach, kiwifruit, cantaloupe, oranges, grapefruit, tomatoes, chard, collard greens, raspberries, peppermint leaves, asparagus, celery, fennel bulb, pineapple, and watermelon.


Beta-carotene is another powerful antioxidant. Like vitamin C, beta-carotene helps destroy free radicals before they can cause excessive damage to joints. A diet rich in beta-carotene also helps slow the progression of osteoarthritis.

Fortunately, beta-carotene is easy to spot because it gives fruits and vegetables, such as apricots,and carrots, their bright orange color.

Excellent food sources of beta-carotene include sweet potatoes, carrots, kale, winter squash, collard greens, chard, cantaloupe, mustard greens, romaine lettuce, spinach, parsley, cayenne pepper, peppermint leaves, Brussels sprouts, tomatoes, broccoli, asparagus, and apricots.


Niacin, also known as vitamin B-3, plays many roles in the body and is needed for healthy cells. Although researchers aren't quite sure why, a diet high in niacin may help protect people from ever developing osteoarthritis in the first place. Some studies show that niacin may cut osteoarthritis risk in half.

Excellent food sources of niacin include crimini mushrooms and tuna. Very good sources include salmon, chicken breast, asparagus, and halibut.

To Reduce the Pain of Osteoarthritis

Vitamin E

Vitamin E, like vitamin C and beta-carotene, is yet another antioxidant that helps eliminate damaging free radicals. Vitamin E is also very good at reducing inflammation, which contributes to the problems in osteoarthritis. Studies have shown that osteoarthritis sufferers with high intakes of vitamin E report a significant reduction in their pain. Many are even able to reduce the amount of pain-killers they need to take. Mustard greens, chard, turnip greens, and sunflower seeds are a few excellent sources of vitamin E.


In Australia, boron has been a very popular remedy for osteoarthritis for many years. It's especially useful in areas where the diet tends to be low in boron, which can occur if the soil contains low levels of boron, or if people are eating diets that are low in boron-rich foods.

Boron is needed in the body for the production of many substances, including hormones and vitamin D, both of which are very important for healthy bones and joints.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown in some studies to reduce the pain of osteoarthritis. When the diet contains plenty of these essential fats, the cells make less of the pro-inflammatory substances and more of the anti-inflammatory substances.

By reducing inflammation, omega-3 fats help prevent the damage to the cartilage and connective tissue that usually occurs in osteoarthritis.

Excellent food sources of omega-3 fatty acids include flax seeds, walnuts and salmon.


Some studies show that niacinamide can improve symptoms of osteoarthritis and may be able to reduce the amount of pain-killers needed. To date, researchers are not sure exactly how niacinamide, which has many different functions in the body, is able to help with osteoarthritis.

Nutrient Excesses

Substances to Avoid

Vitamin A and Retinoids

People who take very high doses of vitamin A for a very long time tend to wind up with joint pain and damage that looks a lot like osteoarthritis. These high doses could not be obtained from diet alone and are also much higher than doses that appear even in multivitamins.

This means that only people who are taking extra vitamin A as a supplement are at risk. Also, certain medications typically used for skin conditions are made from vitamin A-like chemicals called retinoids. Retinoids may also cause joint damage. If you are taking medications like these, you may want to talk to your doctor about the possibility of joint problems with long-term use.


Genetic hemochromatosis is a hereditary condition that occurs mostly in people of Caucasian descent. People with this condition absorb more iron than they need and then store it in their bodies. As much as 80% of people with this condition, also called iron-overload, develop osteoarthritic joint changes if they consume too much iron. If they continue to get too much iron, it can build up in their organs and cause severe organ damage.

Typically, the amount of iron found in a healthy, balanced diet is not enough to cause problems. However, iron supplements should be avoided by persons at risk for osteoarthritis, even iron-containing multivitamins, unless a doctor has specifically recommended iron supplementation.

Recommended Diet

What should you eat if you have osteoarthritis or are trying to avoid getting it? The best advice is to eat a varied diet high in necessary nutrients.

A diet filled with a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, beans and peas, nuts and seeds, whole grains, lean meats, and especially cold-water, wild-caught fish is sure to provide you with all the nutrients that are important in maintaining overall health and flexible, healthy joints.

This way of eating may help halt the progressive damage of osteoarthritis, as well as help you cut back on the amount of pain-killers you need by reducing pain and swelling.

Throwing a little bit of ginger into your cooking for some added zip may further reduce symptoms.

Stop giving your joints SAD (Standard American Diet) foods. Leave the refined white flour, fat-laden products on the shelf, and switch to foods rich in the nutrients your joints need. Flexibility in your diet will translate to flexibility in your joints.


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