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Eating Well with Arthritis

Submitted by Jessica Pashko

Edited by Marcia Bristow MS RDN CSSD CD

Maintaining an active lifestyle into older adulthood promotes happiness, longevity and wellbeing. As attractive as this may sound, approximately 15% of  people suffer from a type of arthritis which presents challenges to making exercise part of daily life.1 Increasing age, overuse injuries, and decreased muscle mass greatly increase the risk of developing arthritis.2 While rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune inflammatory disease affecting the joints, osteoarthritis develops gradually from repetitive, high-impact movement.2 Due to the wide range of symptoms, there are several options for pain relief.

Common methods for arthritis management and prevention include use of a few supplements and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS.)  Some popular supplements are gluocsamine (builds cartilage,) chrondroitin (adds fluid to joints and builds cartilage,) and methylsulfonylmethane (anti-inflammatory on muscles.) Yet, these supplements can be costly and need to be taken consistently for best results. Supplements that contain fish oil, such as omega-3 capsules, may interact with other athritis management methods, including: NSAIDs, ginkgo, and Vitamins C and E, affecting the intended use.1 Daily use of NSAIDs over a long period of time, or taking more than 6 tablets in a 24 hour peiod, can cause stomach discomfort. Luckily, research suggests that whole foods with anti-inflammatory properties can lessen arthritis symptoms, prevent worsening and may be a safer, more cost effective alternative to using supplements.1,2,3

Foods are referred to as “anti-inflammatory” when they contain antioxidants, such as omega-3 fatty acids, oleic acid and Vitamins A, C & E, since they block inflammatory pathways.1,2,3 Studies have found that consumption of omega-3-rich foods decreases joint tenderness and duration of morning stiffness, and vitamins A, C & E combined reduce the severity of rheumatic symptoms.1 Furthermore, a survey found that people with arthritis believed that diet positively impacted symptoms: pain, joint swelling, and reduction of physical fitness.3 In addition to improving symptoms, whole foods can be less expensive and more flavorful!

While there is always room for more research, both supplementation and whole foods remain options for managing arthritis. Ultimately, it comes down to cost effectiveness and ease of use when deciding which approach is best for you. However, with supplementation comes the risk of exceeding safe level of intake, which is why it is best to eat food first, then supplement. Fatty fish, walnuts and eggs are omega-3-rich foods to add to your diet. Substituting olive oil for other fats is yet another strategy for increasing oleic acid, which will boost the antioxidant content of meals. Making your plate a “rainbow” with brightly colored fruits and vegetables can provide Vitamins A, C & E, plus fiber and minerals. Next time at the grocery store, add more foods to your basket instead of supplements.


  1. Rosenbaum, Cathy Creger, PharmD,M.B.A., R.Ph, O’Mathuna DP, PhD, Chavez, Mary,PharmD., F.A.A.C.P., Shields K, PharmD. Antioxidants and anti-inflammatory dietary supplements for osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Altern Ther Health Med. 2010;16(2):32-40.
  2. Szychlinska MA, Castrogiovanni P, Trovato FM, Nsir H, Zarrouk M, Lo Furno D, Di Rosa M, Imbesi R, Musumeci G. Physical activity and Mediterranean diet based on olive tree phenolic compounds from two different geographical areas have protective effects on early osteoarthritis, muscle atrophy and hepatic steatosis. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2018;56(229):1-17. doi:10.1007/s00394-018-1632-2.
  3. Grygielska J, Kłak A, Raciborski F, Mańczak M. Nutrition and quality of life referring to physical abilities – a comparative analysis of a questionnaire study of patients with rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis. J Rheumatol. 2017;5(55):222-229. doi:10.5114/reum.2017.71629.
  4. Felson D. Arthritis: What works. What doesn’t. Nutrition Action Healthletter. October 2017.

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