As a practicing orthopedic medical doctor and surgeon I’m constantly dealing with older patients who suffer with chronic joint pain on a daily basis. And before prescribing medication or more invasive options I always advocate a nutritional approach to disease prevention.
Recently, I’ve read new information on how your diet plays an important part in the health of your bones and joints. It seems that studies are indicating that possibly changing something as simple as your diet can help bring relief to those achy joints and cartilage.
Arthritis comes in many different forms and can strike at any age, but your risk increases as you grow older. Arthritic conditions are often caused by or at the very least linked to the levels of inflammation in your body. Your diet can play a major role in how much or how little systemic inflammation your body has to contend with.
One of the best diets for reducing inflammation is a Mediterranean diet. A Mediterranean diet includes sources of good fat like olive oil and fish. It depends on lean proteins like fish, shellfish, chicken and some dairy (especially yogurt). And it includes a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables.
People who live in the Mediterranean and eat the typical diet of that region suffer from fewer chronic diseases including arthritis.
People suffering from rheumatoid arthritis, a particularly painful form of arthritis that can affect your body’s organs as well as joints, fare well on a Mediterranean diet. In one study, rheumatoid arthritis patients switched to a Mediterranean diet for twelve weeks. At the completion of the study, the patients had lower levels of inflammation, better physical function, and a greater level of vitality.[i]
Some researchers suspect that it is the central role of olive oil in a Mediterranean diet that helps to prevent chronic diseases like rheumatoid arthritis. In some Mediterranean regions, it’s typical for people to get as much as 40% of their calories from fat, but most of that comes from olive oil. Olive oil acts on the immune system and helps to lower inflammatory reactions in your body.[ii]
Although the research is less robust, the Mediterranean diet may help prevent osteoarthritis, too. The foods that the diet is built around are fresh, natural, and rich in antioxidants. Research shows that a diet rich in antioxidants may help to lower your risk of developing osteoarthritis.[iii]
Putting the Mediterranean Diet to Work for You
A Mediterranean diet can make a big difference in the health of your joints. But it doesn’t stop there. It’s good for your heart and your brain, too.
Here’s how to eat Mediterranean-style, starting today.
- Begin using more olive oil. It has a low smoke point, so it is not the best oil to cook with at high heats, but it is excellent for cooking over low heat and it’s great to drizzle over salads or steamed vegetables.
- Eat more fish and shellfish. Seafood delivers lots of good lean protein and healthy fatty acids. It’s also a central part of the Mediterranean diet.
- Eat more yogurt. Yogurt is loaded with active bacteria that are good for your digestion. Choose either plain yogurt or one that is low in sugar. And make sure it contains active cultures.
- Load up on the fruits and vegetables. Have a serving of one or the other with every meal, and build your snacks around fresh produce. Yogurt and fruit makes a great snack, for example. Or fresh cut vegetables tossed with feta cheese and olive oil.
- Go light on the grains. When you do eat grains, choose whole grains.
Try eating Mediterranean style for a few weeks. I’m willing to bet that you feel better and you’ll be taking positive steps to prevent arthritis from slowing you down.
Mark Bromson, M.D.
[i] Skoldstam L, et al. “An experimental study of a Mediterranean diet intervention for patients with rheumatoid arthritis,” Ann Rheum Dis 2003; 62(3): 208-14
[ii] Wahle KW, et al. “Olive oil and modulation of cell signaling in disease prevention,” Lipids 2004; 39(12): 1223-31
[iii] Wang Y, et al. “Effect of antioxidants on knee cartilage and bone in healthy, middle-aged subjects: a cross-sectional study,” Arthritis Res Ther 2007; 9(4): R66