The Link Between Diet and Osteoarthritis

May 28, 2019

Orthopaedic surgeon Steven E. Tooze, MD, says people are living longer but many are overweight or obese and often have health conditions such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease and osteoarthritis. One way to modify the effects of these conditions is with your diet. When it comes to your diet and osteoarthritis in particular, Dr. Tooze says you should eat more:

  • Foods rich in vitamin C such as citrus fruits (e.g., oranges), red bell peppers, organic strawberries, cabbage, kale, and broccoli. Vitamin C is especially important because it plays a role in collagen and connective tissue maintenance.
  • Foods rich in vitamin K such as dark leafy greens (e.g., spinach and kale). Vitamin K is vital to the health of your cartilage and bones.
  • Foods that reduce inflammation, including antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables such as apples, onions, shallots, and organic strawberries.
  • Essential fatty acids, which can be found in olive oil, fatty fish, and Canola oil. Interestingly, 3 ½ tablespoons of olive oil has been shown to provide the same anti-inflammatory effects as 200 mg of ibuprofen. You could mix it with vinegar to create a salad dressing, dip bread in it, or, as Dr. Tooze’s wife does, mix it into a breakfast drink. Examples of fatty fish include trout, salmon, mackerel, herring, and sardines, and you should eat two to three ounces per week. If you don’t like fish, you could take a fish oil supplement instead.

“Simply put, if you follow a Mediterranean-like diet, you will incorporate all of these recommendations, because a Mediterranean diet includes locally grown fruits and veggies, healthy fats from nuts and olive oil, whole grains, fatty fish, yogurt, and red wine in moderation,” said Dr. Tooze. “You will also gain the benefits of a better quality of life because this type of diet will help lower cholesterol; limit the pro-inflammatories, which means less arthritic pain; help prevent or manage diabetes/metabolic syndrome; and in theory, reduce risk of dementia.”

“It will also help with weight loss, which is one of the best treatments for those who have osteoarthritis in the weight-bearing joints of the knees and hips. Research states that for those joints specifically, each pound you lose feels like you lost four pounds when walking or seven pounds when climbing stairs. Furthermore, new research has found that people who have higher amounts of body fat are at increased risk of osteoarthritis even in the non-weight bearing joints such as those in the hands. Body fat tissue produces substances called adipokines, which constantly bombard your body with chronic inflammatory elements. Weight loss through dietary changes and exercise will slow down the production of the immune proteins that lead to chronic levels of these inflammatory cytokines,” explained Dr. Tooze.

In terms of what you should avoid when considering your diet and osteoarthritis, Dr. Tooze says you shouldn’t cook meat at high temperatures. “This applies to all cooking methods including grilling, frying, broiling, and microwaving. Doing this creates what are known as advanced glycation endproducts, or AGEs, which impair function of your bone and cartilage cells,” he explained.

Lastly, because processed foods contain health-damaging ingredients such as preservatives and other chemicals, high levels of sugar and/or sodium, pesticides, and hormones, Dr. Tooze said you need to avoid eating American cheese, processed meats, margarine, soda and diet soda, sugar-free candies, bread and crackers containing potassium bromate, microwave popcorn, conventionally raised chicken, and conventionally grown produce.

Visit our Community Health Blog to learn more about the connection between diet and other conditions including heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

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