Foods for joint pain can be really helpful or really harmful. The food we put in our bodies has the tremendous ability to heal us or make us feel miserable. Keep in mind, that the food patterns to reduce joint pain only work if you do eat healthy foods on a consistent basis.
Be aware that some foods can even worsen arthritis.
Find out if your diet is making your arthritis flare up in this blog and what supplements may help in this post.
Table of Contents
What is Arthritis?
According to the Arthritis Foundation, about 54 million people in the United States suffer from some form of arthritis.
What exactly is arthritis? The prefix “arth” means joint and the “itis” suffix literally means inflammation, so we can get an understanding of the root of the issues with arthritis.
Whether it is osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, gouty arthritis, or other kinds, a general way of thinking about arthritis is joint inflammation.
Injuries and infections can bring on this painful situation in our lives. Stress, both physical and mental, also can bring on inflammation.
Arthritis can, in part, come from our genes, as in the case of autoimmunity, and most types of arthritis now are thought to have autoimmune components. But genes aren’t destiny, necessarily.
What we put in our bodies affects our autoimmunity genes. Lots of new research points to the fact that foods can flip our autoimmune gene switches, making our disease better or worse.
Kinds of Arthritis
There are many kinds of arthritis, but they share one common root: inflammation. Here are some common types of arthritis:
- Juvenile arthritis
- Psoriatic arthritis
- Degenerative joint disease
- Degenerative arthritis
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Gouty arthritis
- Acute arthritis
It is important to get a proper arthritis diagnosis from your doctor.
Regardless of the type of arthritis you have, what you put in your body can have profound effects on inflammation and arthritis pain. You probably won’t hear about what to do with your diet in the limited time that they have.
While drug treatments can be helpful for pain relief, it is important to remember that arthritis is not a deficiency of a new drug.
As you may know, the drug class NSAIDS was once thought to be a miracle for arthritis sufferers, that is, until it started causing a LOT of problems for people. The problems from these drugs include an increased risk of myocardial infarction and kidney failure.
While occasional use of ibuprofen and some of the NSAIDS still does appear safe for some, it is not the answer for many people who suffer long-term.
Can You Treat Arthritis with Functional Nutrition?
Getting to the root causes of inflammation is as important or more important than drugs to ease arthritis pain in a lot of cases.
The goal of functional nutrition is to identify your own personal triggers of inflammation in the body so that you can learn to manage these.
What is the Root Cause of Inflammation?
Inflammation comes from our genes, but a lot of factors within our control can cause inflammation too. These include:
- Reactive foods or food sensitivities
- Imbalanced bacteria in the gut
- Low nutrient diets
- Lack of antioxidant-rich foods
Arthritis, regardless of the type, is responding to things we put in our body, such as foods and toxins.
Our joints can respond to foods either in a helpful or harmful way.
When our joints are less inflamed from healthy foods, our whole bodies stand to benefit too! Our immune system works better, our heart health will improve, and so will our brain health.
We might as well get the most bang for our buck from the foods we eat.
18 Natural Foods and Supplements To Reduce Arthritis
Many foods affect our joint health. The foods I included on this list are ones that have more research backing that they may help with arthritis symptoms. Since these foods are all healthy, it is a good idea to enjoy them regularly if you suffer from joint pain.
Sulfur-rich foods have anti-inflammatory effects on the joints. Foods for joint pain on your list should always include some of these daily.
Three categories of sulfur-rich foods are cruciferous vegetables, allium vegetables, and certain protein foods.
Here are examples of those food categories:
1. Cruciferous Vegetables
Cruciferous vegetables are the cabbage family of vegetables and include:
- Mustard greens
- Collard greens
- Brussels sprouts
Tip: Try to eat some raw veggies like these daily to help dampen down joint inflammation.
2. Allium vegetables
Allium vegetables are the sulfur vegetables that are in the garlic family and include:
Tip: foods for joint pain should include allium vegetables daily.
Part of the reason the Mediterranean diet is so healthy is because it is rich in allium vegetables. Get creative by eating them raw, sauteed, slow-cooked, and on top of salads.
Include allium vegetables every day to reduce symptoms of inflammation.
3. Protein Foods
Most people don’t realize that protein foods that contain sulfur are very important to keep joint structures healthy. These sulfur foods include:
Tip: Choose grass-fed meats, organic eggs, organic chicken, and wild-caught fish to have the best quality protein for your joints.
4. Tart Cherry Juice
Gouty arthritis is a form of inflammation in the joint caused by increased uric acid levels. Gout is common in people with diabetes, and kidney disease, and is also more common in men than women. Uric acid crystals form in the joints and become very painful.
Some research suggests that 100% tart cherry juice helps reduce gout symptoms. Here is the research we have so far:
- One study found that tart cherry juice helps to reduce uric acid levels in people with gout.
- Cherries are rich in antioxidants that may help cut joint inflammation.
- As an added perk, tart cherries may reduce the risk of bone loss, but clinical studies are needed to confirm this.
5. Turmeric (Curcumin)
Turmeric is a spice that has a lot of research to support its role in joint health benefits. This spice can reduce inflammation by dampening down inflammatory compounds like NF-kB and IL6 in the body as well as COX2.
Perhaps the most researched natural substance for the treatment of arthritis today is the active component of turmeric called curcumin.
In a compilation of 8 clinical trials, turmeric was potent at reducing pain and equivalent to the use of pain medications.
Tips: Turmeric should be one of your top foods for joint pain as a natural anti-inflammatory. For added absorption, make sure to eat turmeric with black pepper or supplement with bioperine. Add turmeric to smoothies, stir-fry dishes, soups, and more. It absorbs better when you are eating it with a healthy fat too, such as extra virgin olive oil.
People who are sensitive or allergic to turmeric should avoid using it.
6. Foods for Joint Pain Should Include Fish and Omega 3 Foods
Eating fish has so many benefits that it seems obvious to list it as food for joint pain. Fish oil is anti-inflammatory, and research has explored its vast health benefits for the joints.
When you eat fish regularly, your joints benefit because there are crucial vitamins, minerals, and healthy fats for your joints. Good choices of fish include:
- Wild-caught sardines
- Wild salmon
Plant sources of omega-3s are also great for joints too.
Plant omega-3 sources include flaxseeds, hemp seeds, walnuts, and water lentils. These plant fatty acids help reduce joint inflammation too.
If you are looking for an omega-3 supplement, learn more at my Cod Liver Oil vs Fish Oil post.
7. Fermented foods and probiotic foods
Our gut health is important for most aspects of our health, so it may not be a surprise that fermented foods and probiotic foods may benefit our joints too.
In a nutshell, fermented foods can help calm down an overactive immune system, which causes inflammation.
Several clinical studies show that probiotic supplements reduce joint pain, promote healthy bones, and reduce inflammation.
- Lactobacillus casei Shirota (LcS) strain of probiotic reduced pain and inflammation in 537 people with knee osteoarthritis in a double-blind placebo-controlled trial.
- Probiotics reduce pain and inflammation in children with juvenile arthritis.
Tip: the best way to get probiotics into the diet is through fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, fermented pickles, coconut yogurt, and kombucha. You should also try to get prebiotic fibers from seeds like chia, mushrooms, and more. I personally find medicinal mushrooms very beneficial for my joints.
The use of Boswellia for joint pain is gaining popularity because research is mounting about its health benefits for joints and inflammation.
- Boswellia is a resin from the Boswellia serrata tree.
- Frankincense is also a powerful anti-inflammatory component of the same tree.
Patients with osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis enjoyed large reductions in joint swelling and pain with the use of Boswellia supplements in a clinical study.
They also felt improvement in joint flexibility and walking after receiving Boswellia supplements.
When receiving boswellia, patients had improvements in blood inflammation markers, and morning stiffness, and required less pain reliever medicines like non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) medication.
Further substantiating the role of Boswellia is research in other inflammatory conditions such as colitis and asthma.
Tip: Health benefits from Boswellia are seen when it is used consistently as a supplement. Find Boswellia as a 65% standardized extract if possible.
You may not think of nettles as one of the foods for joint health, but you should. Nettles may seem like a surprising item on the list, but it has been used by holistic practitioners for a long time for many health benefits. Nettles may be one of your next favorite foods that help arthritis.
When nettles are dried, they no longer sting; they can provide numerous health benefits and are surprisingly nutritious. They are one of my favorite natural antihistamine remedies among many other benefits.
Nettles may reduce inflammation as well. Early research shows that nettle leaf extract inhibits inflammation at the gene level (reduces NF-kB) in rheumatoid arthritis patients.
Anti-inflammatory actions of nettle leaf, rosehip, and willow bark
The combination of nettle leaf with rosehip and willow bark has suppressed inflammation (IL-1β and COX-2) in cartilage in cell culture.
Nettles also decreased a potent driver of inflammation in cell culture called NF kB.
Glucosamine is one of the most widely used arthritis supplements, and this is with good reason.
A recent trial found that a combination of glucosamine, chondroitin, and MSM reduced symptoms of knee osteoarthritis compared to placebo. Both glucosamine and MSM have sulfur in them.
Glucosamine use in pets is also very helpful, and let’s face it, pets don’t get placebo effects. This means that glucosamine really does support the joint structures.
N-acetyl glucosamine, or NAG, is a preferred form of glucosamine for joint pain because it increases the production of hyaluronic acid in the joint more than other forms of glucosamine.
Tips: N-A-G gets high ratings for pain relief. As a bonus, N-A-G may people with colitis symptoms and reduce sun damage in the skin too. Found only in the shells of shellfish, you will only find glucosamine in supplements, not in food forms. Do not use glucosamine of any kind if you are allergic to shellfish.
Ginger is an enhancing herb that may enhance your joint relief. Here are some examples:
- By enhancing nutrient absorption, ginger may increase the effectiveness of pain relief medicines.
- Ginger extract improved the function of other pain relievers such as ibuprofen in animals.
- Reduces inflammation in the joint fluid (synovial fluid).
Ginger is in the same family of plants as turmeric, so it makes sense that it is good food for joint pain.
Tip: Add ginger to green tea, with honey and lemon, and use it in crockpot dishes, soups, stews, and smoothies for a natural nutritional boost.
12. Darkly-Pigmented Vegetables and Fruits
You may be familiar with the phrase “eat the rainbow” and this is why: eating a variety of colorful whole foods reduces inflammation in the body.
A whole-food diet reduces the symptoms of arthritis, including a reduction in pain.
A large part of a whole food diet consists of darkly-pigmented vegetables. This would be instead of white and processed foods.
Foods you should include are:
- Purple cabbage
- Red beets
- Green leafy vegetables
- Sweet potatoes
- Spices and herbs
Tip: Foods for joint pain should include colorful vegetables and fruits. The more variety in color and variety per day, the better. Make sure to fill your plate with lots of healthy unprocessed, colorful foods for joint health.
13. Foods for Joint Pain: Collagen
Healthy joints have an ample amount of collagen in them. Some people seek out collagen injections for joint pain, but these are quite costly and often need repeated injections.
The best dietary sources of collagen are fish with skin, such as sardines and salmon, gelatin, and bone broths.
Does collagen work if given through the diet or in supplements?
The most robust research regarding the benefits of collagen is in the world of joint health.
For example, a review study of 68 studies concluded that collagen helps reduce joint pain.
Reducing joint pain by using collagen makes sense because it not only decreases inflammation, it provides the building blocks for joint tissues such as hydroxyproline.
Using several types of collagen is best for joint health and research suggests using Types I, II, and X collagen to promote joint healing.
Tip: Foods for joint pain should include collagen of some kind. If you try a collagen supplement, make sure to mix it into a flavorful smoothie or spiced soup because the flavor can be an acquired taste, i.e. some people think it tastes bitter.
As an added bonus, people swear that collagen powders help their skin aging and eczema, and with regular use, knee pains diminish.
14. Vitamin D
Arthritis disease activity is related to low levels of vitamin D in the blood (25-hydroxyvitamin D).
Low levels of vitamin D can cause inflammation and ramp up the risk of insulin resistance, autoimmune diseases, and heart disease as well. It also dampens proper immune response. For these reasons, it is best to be vigilant about testing and treating your vitamin D levels.
Further, vitamin D supplements are able to reduce rheumatoid arthritis recurrence according to some research.
A recent study found that larger dosing of vitamin D supplements was quite effective at reducing rheumatoid arthritis disease activity.
In addition to this study, countless other studies now show that vitamin D at sufficient doses likely reduces inflammation. The best plan is to check your vitamin D levels routinely and achieve an ideal level of vitamin D of around 50 ng/ml or so.
Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme
When Simon and Garfunkel sang of parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme, were they actually talking about ways to reduce arthritis?
Let’s take a look in a sage way.
Parsley is sometimes an afterthought in today’s cuisine, but for joint health, it takes center stage.
This is because parsley is rich in vitamin C, vitamin A, folate, and antioxidants like lutein and zeaxanthin.
Parsley should be one of your foods for joint pain because it is known to be anti-inflammatory and may even safely help remove toxins from the body. It also appears to protect our DNA from damage in research.
No wonder eating parsley gives us an advantage in inflammatory conditions like arthritis.
Tip: use parsley liberally in salads, and soups, and top meats and fish with it. Store parsley in your refrigerator at all times so you can always grab some for your meals.
An herb that deserves attention as a food for joint pain is sage, also known as Salvia officinalis. Here is the research we have about sage and inflammation so far:
- Sage is able to dampen down inflammatory response, at least in cell studies.
- Sage also helps activate nuclear hormone receptors (PPAR gamma) which helps dampen inflammation. Check out this sage blog for more information.
Tip: use dried sage or fresh sage in teas, meat or chicken dishes, and soups and stews. You also may gain a benefit because sage helps balance hormones and supports brain health.
Commonly used in Mediterranean cooking, rosemary is an herb that has potent antioxidant effects that may help protect the joints. Here is the research we have regarding rosemary and joint health:
- Rosemary extract reduced inflammation markers in people with rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis after 4 weeks of supplementation.
- Pain-relieving properties and heart-protective effects of rosemary are shown in early research.
Tip: add fresh or dried rosemary to teas, soups, stews, salads, and more.
Thyme has long been used to treat inflammatory conditions and even is a remedy for cough. This potent herb also can reduce inflammation as well as help fight infections. Here is some of the research we have about thyme for joint health:
- Thyme essential oil was able to reduce inflammation by reducing swelling and immune cell migration in an animal model.
- Reduces NFkB and inflammatory cytokines like IL1 and IL8.
Tip: use thyme in teas, soups, stews, and all savory dishes. Blend lots of spices and herbs together and use them frequently for maximum benefit. You can also add a drop of thyme oil as long as it is certified pure.
Foods That Cause Inflammation in Joints
Our bodies can respond to foods like they are foreign substances if you are sensitive to them.
Consider this: your immune system recruits your DNA to send out an inflammatory cascade when eating trigger foods.
Sensitivities to foods are important to identify for arthritis patients, and they can vary from person to person.
Common food sensitivities are:
- Nightshade vegetables
Some, but not all, people may have pain from eating nightshade vegetables. These include:
Nightshade vegetables are usually my last resort for the trial of elimination. However, nightshade allergies can be truly problematic for joints in some people. I recommend eliminating other common triggers first, such as gluten, dairy, and sugar.
Limit arachidonic acid
Some arthritis foods to avoid or limit include foods rich in arachidonic acid.
Arachidonic acid is found in :
- Factory farmed animals
- Factory dairy
A diet low in arachidonic acid improves inflammation in patients with rheumatoid arthritis.
This low arachidonic acid diet may also enhance the beneficial effect of fish oil supplementation.
Sugar’s Dark Side
Of those, sugar is a great example of an inflammatory substance. Inflammation from sugar is fondly referred to as the sticky bun cascade. Sugar revs up the granddaddy of all inflammation called NFkB.
Sugary drinks increase the risk of getting rheumatoid arthritis as well.
Blueberries and spinach improve rheumatoid arthritis symptoms while sugary desserts and drinks worsen symptoms.
Tip: choose fruit and sweet spices like Ceylon cinnamon instead of processed sugars and sweets.
Gluten and Inflammation
Foods that can inflame arthritis include gluten. Gluten is found in wheat, barley, rye, and some oats.
In the case of gluten, cutting back isn’t really the answer, but a full elimination trial may be. Elimination of gluten should be tried for at least 3 weeks for joint pain relief.
You can’t give it up partially and hope for a good result. This is because gluten antibodies can linger in the body for weeks.
While whole grains have some health benefits, you can easily get the same nutrients in foods like sweet potatoes, spices, herbs, and fish.
How Might Gluten Affect Your Joints?
Gluten stimulates the production of inflammatory compounds in the blood in people with inflammatory diseases like arthritis.
Gluten also increases levels of a protein in the intestines called zonulin, which can increase intestinal permeability.
Translation: gluten may increase the number and type of substances that cause inflammation. A trial of a gluten-free diet for several weeks may help your joint pain.
Fire Fried Foods and Processed Foods
It’s time to give up on processed, battered, and fried foods. Not only do fried foods lead to weight gain, but frying foods also leads to the formation of Advanced Glycation End-products (AGEs) — The AGEs cause inflammatory properties and harm inside the body.
Processed foods are typically stripped of any beneficial components. Processed foods can include bagels, bread, crackers, pancakes, cookies, chips, and even seemingly healthy foods like breakfast bars, shakes, cereals, and more.
Bottom line: fried foods and highly processed foods are foods that cause joint pain.
Joint Inflammation: My Personal Story
You think you are invincible when you are young; we all do. I was no exception to this. Carefree, energetic, no aches and pains! Until one day, it happens and you will never see things exactly the same way.
You have to start taking measures to feel better.
In my case, I have a relatively minor example, but it makes me empathize more with those who are hurt.
What seemed like a simple cut on my finger became an inflamed mess. Aching joint or arthritis, if you will.
Long after the cut went away, my finger ached as if I had just cut it. The ache had settled into my joint. I feel for your issues and aim to provide you with some step-by-step changes in your life that can help.
Despite eating “healthy”, this ache was still there for me until I did some things to change it like the tips I gave above.
If you have arthritis, you should incorporate more of the 18 foods for joint pain listed above. Use a functional nutrition approach by identifying which foods benefit you the most or contact me for personalized advice.
Adding supplements like N-A-G, collagen, and vitamin D3 may help you manage your arthritic pain.
Processed foods, including sugar, stimulate inflammatory cascades in the body and are foods not to eat with arthritis. Try your best to keep these foods at a minimum in your diet.
If it comes in a shiny, sealed bag, you are best to leave it on the shelf.
As with anything, you should check with your doctor to make sure all of your care is coordinated.
Heidi Moretti, MS, RD is The Healthy RD. A registered dietitian for 23 years as well as a book author of the new book Gut Fix and The Whole Body Guide to Gut Health, Heidi has a passion for functional nutrition and natural medicine. She has researched supplements and natural medicine throughout her career. One of her biggest loves is helping people gain function and vitality by tackling the root causes of illness.
The information on this website has not been evaluated by the Food & Drug Administration or any other medical body and is shared for educational purposes only. Consult your doctor or healthcare provider before making changes to your supplement regimen or lifestyle.