Many different conditions can lead to painful joints, including osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Pain, stiffness, redness, and swelling caused by inflammation of a joint interfere with both physical and mental health and bring a diminishing quality of life as these symptoms lead to significant and irreparable damage to the affected areas often resulting in loss of function.

Normally, inflammation is a defense mechanism in the body that helps prevent the growth of abnormal cells, stimulates healing of damaged tissues, and directs cells to fight viral and bacterial infections. But research indicates that persistent inflammation is the source of many diseases, including arthritis. Chronic inflammation requires the body to activate certain mediators to protect cells. However, when present for long periods of time, they can destroy healthy tissue and activate disease.

Obesity, stress, and genetics raise the levels of inflammatory compounds. Individuals with arthritis can manage joint pain and swelling with several natural therapies. One scientifically proven method to treat joint diseases naturally is to add anti-inflammatory foods to our diet.

According to the Arthritis Society, research suggests that the kinds of food eaten may help manage arthritic symptoms. The key to reducing inflammation through diet includes eliminating foods with too much sugar, preservatives, and additives, and consuming more whole foods, such as fruits and vegetables, seeds, nuts, and oily fish.

In addition, spices like turmeric and cayenne pepper possess anti-inflammatory properties. Capsaicin, found in pepper, is a compound that reduces a pro-inflammatory protein that is found at the site of swollen tissues and abnormal cells. Reducing this protein can decrease pain, swelling, and even joint and tissue damage. Multiple studies indicate that curcumin found in turmeric can also reduce joint pain and swelling.

Consider adding the following foods into the diet to decrease inflammation:

White and green tea: White and green teas are full of polyphenols, which are chemicals found in foods and spices that fight off inflammation and reduce oxidative stress, relieving symptoms of arthritis.

Olive oil: Using extra-virgin olive oil in cooking and in dressings and sauces adds omega-3 fatty acids, which are known to lessen inflammation. Olive oil also encompasses a natural, powerful antioxidant that acts like ibuprofen, easing inflamed joints and lessening stiffness.

Whole grains: Grains such as brown rice, oats and quinoa can reduce inflammatory compounds that spark flare-ups. Whole grains contain levels of fiber, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals beneficial for those with arthritis.

Fruits and veggies: Brightly colored vegetables like bell peppers, carrots, and dark, leafy greens, such as arugula, romaine, spinach, and kale include powerful nutrients. Cruciferous veggies such as cauliflower, broccoli and Brussels sprouts are good additions to the diet as their antioxidants help reduce joint damage caused by inflammation.

Fruits such as blueberries are touted for their anti-inflammatory properties. These tiny fruits are packed with compounds that researchers say reduce inflammation and encourage tissue healing.

Citrus fruits, such as grapefruit and oranges contain high quantities of antioxidants like vitamin C to help soothe burning joints. For a tasty snack, try a clementine or add grapefruit to salads.

Another excellent fruit is pineapple, which has bromelain, recognized as an anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving agent in both rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritic patients. Bromelain appears to possibly decrease joint swelling and improve joint mobility. Clinical studies found that bromelain’s anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties make it an effective treatment for the pain, swelling, and joint stiffness associated with osteoarthritis.

Additionally, legumes like lentils and beans are full of protein, vitamins and minerals and are a great source of fiber, which lowers the levels of C-reactive protein, a substance that is a sign of inflammation in our body.

Nuts and seeds: Almonds, pecans and walnuts are rich in healthy fats and possess antioxidants that fight inflammation. Research shows that consuming nuts daily reduces levels of the C-reactive protein. Also, flax, pumpkin, sesame, and sunflower seeds are rich in healthy fats and are healthy choices.

Seafood and omega-3s: Salmon, mackerel, sardines, and tuna include healthy omega-3 fatty acids that lessen aches by lubricating the joints. These fats not only prevent the formation of inflammatory compounds but also help destroy them. Fish is high in vitamin D, a bone-building nutrient. Just 85 grams of salmon can provide more than the daily recommended vitamin D.

Red wine and cocoa: Red wine’s resveratrol is a natural anti-inflammatory. Cocoa, particularly dark chocolate, contains flavonols that help eliminate toxins and are known to reduce the production and effect of pro-inflammatory substances.

Diet can play a vital role in promoting overall wellness and curtailing the onset or progression of diseases that are negatively affected by inflammation. More people are becoming aware of the effects of inflammation on the body and are using natural remedies to relieve joint discomfort.

Nancy J. Schaaf is a retired English/literature educator and also a retired registered nurse. 

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