Over time, even normal, healthy joints deteriorate, but we can improve our diet to include some foods that can help our joints.
Eating a rainbow of fresh, dried and/or frozen fruit and veg will ensure your diet is full of potent antioxidant vitamins, which fight free radicals and reduce the damage caused by inflammation. Be sure to include broccoli, which has the vitamins that keep joints well nourished – A, a bunch of Bs, C, a little E and K – not to mention lots of calcium and some protein, and kale which also a good source of calcium, its cholesterol-free; much lower in fat and calories than dairy; rich in joint-protecting vitamins A, C and K; and packed with two minerals that joints need to stay robust, copper which helps build collagen and ligaments, the tissue strands that connect two bones and manganese which activates enzymes needed for tissue growth and repair. Both these vegetables contain a compound called sulforaphane, which research has shown may protect joints from damage because this chemical may reinvigorate the body’s defences which decline as we age, raising the risk of osteoarthritis and other joint problems.
According to a 2004 study research showed that people who consumed the lowest amounts of vitamin C were three times more likely to develop rheumatoid arthritis than those who consumed more. This antioxidant penetrates into cells, where it protects DNA from free-radical damage.
Papayas have almost twice as much C as oranges, plus a hefty dose of beta carotene, another good antioxidant for joint health.
Apples are rich in quercetin, an antioxidant that’s important in building collagen and slowing its deterioration. Raw apples have much more quercetin than processed fruit. Collagen is the main component of cartilage and acts like a shock absorber in your joints, helping them withstand years of pounding and pressure. Collagen breakdown is often a critical step in osteoarthritis development.
Green tea is an excellent source of compounds called catechins which helps prevent the breakdown of cartilage and collagen. Pomegranate seeds contain anti-inflammatory flavonols which also protect the cartilage from damage.
Nuts and seeds are full of omega-3, these healthy fats hold anti-inflammatory properties. Chai seeds are one of the richest seed sources of omega-3. Almonds are one of the best vitamin E sources, which protects the outer membrane of joint cells. This makes it a first-line defender against free radicals. Sunflower seeds or peanuts are both also rich in E.
Oily fish like salmon, mackerel, sardines and trout also contain a potent form of omega-3, which dampens inflammation and relieves stiffness. Choose wild salmon – farmed varieties have fewer omega-3s and sometimes none at all. Canned salmon typically comes from wild fish, so it’s a good low-cost option. Sockeye salmon also contains vitamin D, essential for healthy joints and bones. Aim for two or more portions of fish per week and try poaching and baking to protect their beneficial oils.
Protein is key for building healthy connective tissue and without it you could suffer a loss of muscle mass and diminished strength. Poultry, fish and plant-based proteins such as beans and pulses are good options.
Ginger which is known as a stomach soother, has been used in Asia for centuries to reduce joint pain and swelling. Thanks in large part to compounds called gingerols, the spice has much the same effect as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. Turmeric is another spice that contains anti-inflammatory compounds.
The action of sunlight on your skin promotes the production of vitamin D and low levels of the ‘sunshine’ vitamin are associated with osteoarthritis, so head try to get outside in the morning or late afternoon when the sun is less intense without sunscreen for 15 minutes. Include vitamin D-rich foods such as oily fish, eggs and fortified spreads in your diet.
Certain medications interfere with the metabolism of vitamins and minerals like folate, vitamin B6, zinc and magnesium. Low levels of nutrients like B vitamins (which includes folate and B12) can increase your risk of joint degeneration, so include dark green leafy veg as well as gluten-free whole-grains like rice, buckwheat and amaranth.
Apart from your diet you can help your joints maintaining a healthy weight – for every extra pound you lose, you can reduce the load on your joints three-fold.
So get active – aim for 30 minutes of gentle exercise most days – try joint-supportive activities such as swimming. But do rest your joints regularly – listen to your body and know when you need to take time out.
And stop smoking – those who smoke are twice as likely to develop cartilage loss.