by: Dr. Leo Galland. Arranged by Mandi Singleton
Here’s a look at some alternative natural remedies for inflammatory arthritis. There are natural anti-inflammatory foods and herbs & 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Natural Anti-Inflammatory Foods That Help Arthritis
1. Stop eating SUGAR, and eat at about 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. 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. Tomatoes 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, 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 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. 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.
Ginger and turmeric have excellent anti-inflammatory effects, although human clinical trials with these spices are much more limited than for the other principles listed.
If you have questions about more ways you can reduce inflammation, or about natural products that can help, call us at HOPE Wellness Institute. We would love to help!
Annals of Internal Medicine (Washington, DC: American College of Physicians, 1997), September 15, 1997, 127:429-438.