When it comes to arthritis and diet, I’ve done my fair share of myth busting.
Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy
In truth, no magic diet is going to make your arthritis — whether it’s osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis or another form — disappear. But as long as you’re realistic about your goals, paying attention to your diet can help ease your symptoms.
Here are a few examples.
Add the power of omega-3
When most people hear “omega-3,” they think of heart health. But these fatty acids have health benefits beyond the heart, including benefits for people with arthritis.
For example, past research has shown an anti-inflammatory effect from omega-3 fatty acids. And reducing inflammation can help you cut down on arthritis flare-ups.
If you want to add more omega-3s to your diet, good sources include wild salmon and other freshwater fish, flaxseed and olive oil. Speaking of olive oil, the high amount of omega-3s in the Mediterranean diet may be part of the reason experts tout it as a good option for people with arthritis.
On the other hand, you should limit your intake of omega-6 fatty acids. These fats are common in red meat and vegetable oils such as corn and sunflower oil. Unlike omega-3, omega-6 seems to actually boost inflammation rather than reduce it.
Get your dose of D
“No magic diet is going to make your arthritis disappear. But as long as you’re realistic about your goals, paying attention to your diet can help ease your symptoms.”
Scott Burg, DO
Department of Rheumatologic and Immunologic Disease
Vitamin D deficiencies are implicated in a number of diseases — including an increased risk of osteoporosis.
Anecdotally, many of my patients with osteoarthritis who take vitamin D supplements experience less pain. Small clinical studies and larger observational data on knee pain in osteoarthritis would seem to back up those anecdotes — with the warning that much larger trials are needed to confirm a connection.
In any case, vitamin D paired with calcium is important in bone and joint health. If you have arthritis, it’s worth asking your doctor for a level check. If your levels are low, you can add more vitamin D through fortified dairy products, eggs, fatty fish and a few other sources. But it’s not abundant in food sources, and we often recommend supplements. People generally benefit from 1,000 to 2,000 international units (IU) of vitamin D3 on a daily basis.
Increase your fresh fruits and vegetables
Much like omega-3s, cruciferous vegetables also have anti-inflammatory properties. If you want to take advantage of those properties, add fresh or frozen vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts to your daily diet.
Add cherries and berries such as blueberries and strawberries, too. These contain a compound called anthocyanins, also shown to fight inflammation.
On top of that, strawberries are also rich in vitamin C, along with foods such as bell peppers, citrus fruits and mangoes. Long-term vitamin C intake appears to have a protective effect against rheumatoid arthritis.
Move it — and lose it
A diet of lean protein such as fish plus plenty of fresh fruits and veggies may be as good for your waistline as for your arthritis. The good news: Weight loss also helps reduce your symptoms by reducing the stress on your joints.
A study just last year compared diet combined with exercise, diet alone, and exercise alone in lowering the stress on knees for those with obesity and osteoarthritis. Diet and exercise combined yielded the best results — so your best bet is to work with your doctor to develop a diet plan and an exercise routine that takes your condition and potential limitations into account. But among the other two groups, diet alone was more effective than exercise alone.
The message: Diet clearly matters. For arthritis, it’s not a cure-all, but every little bit helps.