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Can some foods ease joint pain from osteoarthritis?

The question

Are there certain foods that can ease joint pain from osteoarthritis?

The answer

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There isn't a specific diet for osteoarthritis, but studies do suggest that certain foods and nutrients can lessen joint pain and possibly even slow disease progression. Eating the right diet can help you keep your weight in check (one of the biggest factors for treating osteoarthritis), reduce inflammation and build strong cartilage.

Osteoarthritis is caused by the breakdown of cartilage, the connective tissue that covers the surface of joints, allowing bones to slide over one another, reducing friction and preventing damage. Warning signs include joint stiffness after getting out of bed or sitting for a long time, swelling in one or more joints (e.g. knees, hips, spine, fingers) and a creaking sound of bone rubbing on bone.

Weight control tops the list of strategies to treat (and prevent) osteoarthritis. Carrying excess weight increases the stress on cartilage in the knees, hips and feet. If you are overweight, take steps to lose weight by cutting excess calories.

It's also important to get enough vitamin C, a nutrient that's been shown to reduce the progression of osteoarthritis. As an antioxidant, vitamin C helps combat the effects of harmful free radicals in the body, which can damage collagen. The nutrient is also used to make collagen.

While the official recommended intakes for adults are 75 milligrams (women) and 90 milligrams (men), research suggests a daily intake of 200 milligrams is needed to benefit the joints. Include at least two vitamin C rich foods in your diet each day. The best food sources of vitamin C include oranges, grapefruit, cantaloupe, strawberries, kiwi fruit, red and green peppers, broccoli, cauliflower and tomato juice.

Consider using extra virgin olive oil in place of other cooking oils or butter. Studies have determined that a phytochemical in olive oil, called oleocanthal, reduces inflammation the same way NSAIDs do. One study found that three and one-half tablespoons of olive oil was equivalent to 200 mg of ibuprofen. Stronger-tasting olive oils will have more oleocanthal.

It's also wise to limit your intake of meat cooked at high temperatures (e.g. grilling, broiling, frying), which contain inflammatory compounds called advanced glycation end products (AGEs). Studies have linked AGEs to a handful of chronic diseases, including osteoarthritis. Alternatives include poached or steamed fish, poached chicken, braised meat, as well as beans, lentils and tofu.

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When it comes to supplements, I advise taking vitamin D year-round. In people with osteoarthritis, a deficiency of the vitamin has been shown to cause cartilage loss, greater knee pain and difficulty walking, It's also been shown to speed disease progression. Adequate vitamin D is needed for calcium absorption and bone structure, both essential for proper joint function.

Vitamin D recommendations range from 600 to 2,000 IU a day, depending on age. In the fall and winter, Canadians are advised to supplement with 1,000 to 2,000 IU vitamin D per day. The safe upper daily limit is 4,000 IU per day.

Some, but not all studies, have shown that supplements of glucosamine and chondroitin can relieve joint stiffness and pain from osteoarthritis. There's also evidence that glucosamine can slow joint degeneration and osteoarthritis progression. Glucosamine and chondroitin natural substances are found in and around cartilage cells.

Most studies have used 1500 milligrams of glucosamine sulfate daily. Research suggests that chondroitin sulfate (1,200 milligrams daily) is effective for improving osteoarthritis symptoms when used with painkillers. Chondroitin is often combined with glucosamine, but the evidence that this combination works better than either ingredient alone is sparse.

If you take either supplement and don't feel any benefit after three months, it probably isn't going to work and you should stop taking it. Discuss supplementation with your health care provider.

Leslie Beck, a registered dietitian, is based at the Medisys clinic in Toronto. She can be seen every Thursday at noon on CTV News Channel's Direct;

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