Osteoarthritis (also known as wear and tear arthritis) is the most common form of arthritis which occurs when the cartilage and synovial fluid between the joints wears down, affecting the mobility of the joint.
As the body starts to try and repair the damaged cartilage, the joints swell and thicken, and new bone material can grow abnormally, forming bony spurs.
Over time, if the condition becomes more severe, the cartilage wears away completely, causing the bones to rub together and the joints to move out of place.
Osteoarthritis (OA) can affect any joint but is most frequently found in the knees, hips and small joints of the hands, lower back and neck. Although it can happen at any age, it tends to start in your 50s most commonly.
Symptoms and Causes of Osteoarthritis
The severity of OA varies from person to person and joint to joint, and is more common in women. Typical symptoms include swelling of the joints, with pain, aching, stiffness, tenderness and problems moving the joint.
Often, the joints feel stiffer on waking, or after rest, then loosen up with movement. Muscle weakness can also develop around the joint. You may experience instability, grating or clicking sounds while moving the affected joints, or your joints might suddenly give out (e.g. hips and knees).
The disease gradually grows worse over time as the cartilage, synovial fluid and bones start to deteriorate.
Causes include ageing, joint injury or overuse, a family history of OA and excess weight which puts pressure on the joints.
Weak muscles around a joint can also increase the risk, as can poor posture. Your occupation may also make you more susceptible, as if you do a very physical job, you use your body much more actively, and certain joints like the knees or in the spine can get overburdened (cleaner, construction, farming).
Not everyone develops OA, and it doesn’t have to be a normal part of ageing. In fact, by living a healthy life and making a few pertinent lifestyle and dietary choices, you can help to prevent your risk of developing it altogether and reduce the severity of your symptoms if you have it.
Getting to the Root Cause
Before launching into the list of things you can do to improve or help prevent osteoarthritis, it’s important to point out that we are all unique and what works for one person may not work for another, so you need to find what works best for you.
All the suggestions here are very general, and if you have OA, improvements will vary depending on the severity of your symptoms.
After trying these changes for six to eight weeks, if you don’t notice any positive changes, aside from discussing any problems with your GP, it may be beneficial to seek the help of a naturopath, functional medicine practitioner or nutritional therapist.
You may need to address the underlying cause of your symptoms before you can experience any real, lasting improvement, and they can help with that.
For example, you may have poor gut health which has led to leaky gut, a condition which can cause inflammation throughout your body, including the joints.
It’s more common than you think, and without fixing it, your problem could become worse. You could also have food intolerances which are contributing to your symptoms.
So, here are 10 food and lifestyle choices to help prevent or improve osteoarthritis…
1) Spring Clean Your Diet
Certain foods can encourage and exacerbate OA. By eliminating or significantly reducing them, you could majorly decrease your risk of developing it or notice a marked difference in any symptoms.
Making your meals at home gives you more control over the ingredients you use. Avoid inflammatory foods such as sugar (including sweeteners and added sugars of any kind). Get used to reading ingredients labels and familiarise yourself with the many different names for sugar.
If you don’t recognise any ingredients, they’re not real food. Sauces, condiments and salad dressings often have sugars lurking inside too.
Swap refined carbohydrates (white bread, white pasta, white rice) for complex carbs (brown bread, pasta, rice). Other foods to steer clear of are processed, or junk food of any kind (including processed meats such as hot dogs, sausages, burgers), fried foods, baked goods (particularly bought) and fizzy drinks.
Avoid hydrogenated vegetable oils, including margarine and any other spreads made using partially hydrogenated oils and shortening.
Reduce your red meat intake and only eat organic free-range, grass-fed options. You can have the odd treat but become more aware and mindful of what you are eating.
Once you get into the rhythm of it, you’ll be surprised at how much easier it becomes and how much less you crave foods that are bad for you. If you want chips for a treat, have them – just make them yourself. Baked potato wedges with the skin on lightly coated in a little avocado oil are delicious.
2) Eat Anti-Inflammatory Foods Daily
The following foods can help to address and relieve inflammation in the body: organic cold-pressed olive oil (great drizzled onto salads and steamed vegetables), organic raw virgin coconut oil, nuts including almonds and walnuts, beetroot, broccoli, pineapple, blueberries, celery, spices such as turmeric and ginger, onions, leeks, garlic, chives, spring onions, shallots, rosemary, spinach, kale, cabbage, bok choy, spring greens, strawberries, cherries, oranges, chia and linseeds, avocados. Also, drink green tea.
If you want to bump up your vegetable intake, you could try Green Vibrance, an alkalising, nutrient-dense green powder supplement. It’s brimming with antioxidant herbs, vitamins, minerals and 25 billion probiotics from 12 strains.
These all help to reduce inflammation throughout your body, while providing comprehensive nutritional support.
3) Stay Hydrated
You simply cannot function without water and need it for every physiological process in your body.
Water is essential for joint lubrication. It transports vital nutrients and oxygen to all the cells in your body, including the ones in your joints.
Water also allows you to absorb and assimilate vitamins, minerals and other essential nutrients more effectively and flushes out toxins, reducing inflammation.
When you feel thirsty, it’s an early warning sign that dehydration has already started. Even mild dehydration causes cognitive decline, slower reflexes, headaches, tiredness, dizziness and weakness.
Read this article for tips on how to stay hydrated. The right amount varies from person to person, but aim for at least two litres per day.
While UK tap water is safe to drink and its standards are among the highest in the world, it can still carry impurities including chlorine, trihalomethanes (THMs), medication residues, hormones, fluoride and heavy metals including lead.
Our alkaline water products are highly beneficial for your body and health. They help to detoxify, alkalise and mineralise the water you drink, and down-regulate inflammation.
4) Eat Plenty of Omega-3
Healthy omega-3 fats from fish oils help to reduce inflammation in the body, improving joint, muscle and back pain, protecting ligaments and tendons.
It can regulate inflammation and the immune response, aiding recovery from injury.
Aim to eat oily fish up to three times a week (sardines, mackerel, anchovies, salmon, herring). While more research is needed, a 2015 review of test tube and culture dish laboratory studies showed that eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) reduces inflammation and increases joint lubrication.
You can consume other foods, rich in healthy fats which are very good for you, your overall health and inflammation. But they are much lower in EPA and DHA – one of the highest vegetarian food sources being walnuts.
Other healthy fat foods to include are linseeds, chia seeds, nuts, spinach and other dark green leafy vegetables.
If it’s a struggle to eat three portions of oily fish per week, consider taking a fish oil supplement. When making your selection, it’s essential to ensure it is a certified brand, with transparency of provenance and testing.
Supplements must be clean and free from harmful pollutants (heavy metals, PCBs, etc.) and have high potency. WHC UnoCardio 1000 provides this and much more. It has been named as the world’s number one fish oil by independent US laboratory Labdoor.
If you are vegetarian or vegan, try an algae supplement which, for EPA and DHA is the next best thing to fish oils.
5) Increase Brightly Coloured Fruits and Vegetables
Getting the right amount of vitamins and minerals is vital for each and every one of us, helping to prevent illness and chronic disease, including arthritis. If you have OA, getting all these nutrients is more crucial than ever.
You need to feed your cells, get nutrients to where they are required (like your joints) and encourage your body to function at its best. A daily rainbow of vegetables and fruit will provide lots of fibre, which, according to some research, can help to prevent osteoarthritis and prevent knee pain from worsening.
It also significantly contributes to your vitamin, mineral and antioxidant intake including vitally needed vitamins C, E, beta carotene, zinc, selenium and plenty of flavonoids.
All this helps to boost your immune system, improve digestion and calm inflammation. Always try to get a good mixture of colours on your plate with every meal.
6) Have a Cup of Bone Broth Every Day
Eating bone broth can help to heal the gut, calm inflammation, boost immunity and improve joint health.
It is packed full of nutrients, including gelatin and collagen that can help to ease pain and strengthen the joints.
There are plenty of good recipes online and cooking it on a low simmer in the slow cooker over 24 or more hours is best.
Always use organic, grass-fed bones. You can batch cook and freeze daily portions. There are also some organic ready-made bone broths on the market.
7) Prioritise Vitamin D
A vital nutrient, among its extensive list of health benefits, vitamin D helps regulate immunity and inflammation and promote bone and muscle strength.
If deficient, it plays a role in joint cartilage degeneration. Deficiency may increase your risk for osteoarthritis, and also increase the level of pain and lack of mobility in people with osteoarthritis.
If you suffer from OA, be aware that some chronic pain medications can cause deficient vitamin D.
Public Health England recommends that children from the age of 1 year and adults need 10 micrograms of vitamin D a day. This includes pregnant and breastfeeding women and people at risk of vitamin D deficiency.
If your vitamin D levels are normal, then you should be fine to take a maintenance dose of 1,000 or 3,000IU per day, especially during autumn and winter.
If you’re worried your vitamin D levels are low, get them tested by your GP. If you choose to go higher in potency, it’s advisable to get your levels checked beforehand as too much vitamin D can be harmful.
8) Maintain a Healthy Weight
It’s well documented that a healthy weight is essential to help avoid osteoarthritis and as part of an OA treatment plan to alleviate unnecessary pressure on the joints.
By eating a healthy, wholefood diet, rich in fibre, you will feel fuller for longer and naturally eat less often. Fibre also helps to keep your bowel movements on track, decreasing your chances of constipation which can contribute to weight gain, poor gut health and toxicity – all causes of increased inflammation.
If you are struggling with your weight, seek the advice of a registered naturopath, nutritional therapist or functional medicine practitioner.
9) Regular Exercise
Exercise is essential for joint health, and if you suffer from OA, it can help to manage pain and improve mobility.
Find the right balance for you in terms of exercise, mixing up your strengthening and aerobic training. The Arthritis Foundation recommends walking and aquatic activities for most people with osteoarthritis. They also suggest a range of motion, flexibility, strengthening, and aerobic/endurance exercise.
Working on your core strength is also essential as prolonged poor posture and arthritis risk are linked.
Become more aware and connected with your body. How do you carry yourself through life? Where do you hold tension? How do you sit, stand and sleep? How often do you get up and move around? How long do you stay in a seated position? Can you improve on any of these?
A strong core helps to improve your balance and stability and strengthen muscles, making you less prone to injury.
It also makes it easier to achieve simpler, everyday tasks, activities and movements we can often take for granted until we suddenly find them difficult. Plus it helps to ease back pain.
Working your core isn’t just about focusing on your abdomen. It’s about engaging and strengthening all the muscles around your trunk and pelvis, including your back.
Aside from self-awareness and monitoring how you move your body, a few minutes of core exercises every day is hugely beneficial for your posture.
10) Wear Appropriate Footwear
Insoles and the right shoes can be an effective part of the management of knee, hip and foot OA, helping to relieve both pressure and pain.
Ask your GP to refer you to a physiotherapist for help and advice!
Dietary and lifestyle changes can make a substantial difference when it comes to managing the symptoms of OA or avoiding it altogether. If the amount of suggestions listed here is overwhelming, pick one to three things to start with and take it from there.
Should you try several of the tips on this list with no improvement, consider seeking the help of a registered nutritional therapist, naturopath or functional medicine practitioner.
They can investigate any underlying causes that could be making your symptoms worse. Some people also find homeopathy helpful, and I have successfully prescribed it for many patients with joint pain.
**If you have any chronic health conditions that require medication, please speak to your doctor before changing your diet or taking supplements.
By Rebecca Rychlik-Cunning, a Nutritional Therapist and Homeopath. Follow Rebecca on Instagram, Facebook and Medium, @rebeccabitesback.
Water for Health Ltd began trading in 2007 with the goal of positively affecting the lives of many. We still retain that mission because we believe that proper hydration and nutrition can make a massive difference to people’s health and quality of life. Click here to find out more.
Exercise is essential for joint health, and if you suffer from osteoarthritis, it can help to manage pain and improve mobility.