Aching joints: How our diets can relieve joint pain

Read Time:   |  28th January 2022

Veronika Charvátová MSc, from Viva! Health, guides you to the right foods and supplements to support your body and prevent pain from aching, creaking joints

Whether you’re into sports, gardening or hiking, aching joints are more common than you think. Sometimes, simply getting older brings joint troubles.

Here’s all you need to know to support your joints and nourish them.

Why do our joints hurt?

There are many reasons why joints can ache – rheumatoid arthritis, gout, osteoarthritis, inflammation or irritation caused by bad posture or movement patterns resulting in joint stress.

  • Osteoarthritis is a common age-related disease characterised by wear-and-tear damage. It results in joint inflammation, pain and limited mobility.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease, causing the body to attack its own joint lining and leading to joint inflammation and swelling.
  • Gout is also a type of arthritis, caused by crystals of uric acid deposited in the joints and causing pain. It’s more likely to develop if you eat meat, drink alcohol excessively, are obese, have kidney disease or have diabetes.

What all these conditions and other non-specific joint pain have in common is inflammation and a certain level of damage.

You may experience pain after repeating a particular movement. For example, if you’re redecorating and have to crouch and stand up repeatedly, your knees might become painful.

It doesn’t mean you have a disease, you may have just overdone things, resulting in mild inflammation that will subside.

Because the causes of joint pain have similar features, the following nutrition tips apply to all of them.

Anti-inflammatory foods to help aching joints

Making your diet full of nutritious and anti-inflammatory foods can offer some relief to joints and may support your body’s repair work. Eat these foods daily:

  • Vegetables – particularly dark green leafy veg1, such as kale, rocket, broccoli, cabbage, spring greens or Brussels sprouts. They contain compounds that block an enzyme that causes joint swelling.
  • Brightly coloured vegetables2 should also feature on your daily menu because they contain antioxidants that help combat inflammation.
  • Garlic, ginger, turmeric3 – this trio are well-established as potent anti-inflammatories, which is why many joint health supplements contain them.
  • Berries – raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, strawberries and other berries are packed with anti-inflammatory compounds and vitamin C, important for tissue repair.
  • Cherries4 – they actively block the formation of several inflammatory proteins and so can help to alleviate joint pain. Cherries also help to reduce uric acid levels in the body – extra helpful for gout sufferers!
  • Omega-3s5 – these fats help with tissue repair and are anti-inflammatory. Find them in flaxseed, chia seeds, hemp seed, walnuts or try an algal supplement.
  • Wholegrains – these little nutrient bundles contain good carbs, fibre, protein, vitamins and minerals as well as antioxidants, making them nutritious and anti-inflammatory, as opposed to refined grains (white bread) that fuel inflammation.
  • Good protein sources – especially beans, lentils, soya and chickpeas, as they contain a lot of healthy protein along with antioxidants – the body needs both to repair tissues, cartilage and joint lining.

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The link between gut bacteria and joint health

You may think that what happens in your gut has little to do with your joints, but that would be wrong.

More and more studies show that our gut bacteria affect not just digestion, but also our immune system and joint health!

If you eat a diet based around animal products, fats, junk foods, sweets and crisps, you most likely have more of the “bad” gut bacteria producing toxins that can harm your gut wall, get into the blood and travel to your joints, fuelling inflammation and further damage.

Even if you’re vegan, a junk food diet can hurt your joints.

A diet based on wholesome plant foods that are full of fibre – fruit and veg, whole grains, pulses, nuts and seeds – feeds the “good” gut bacteria that produce beneficial by-products that support gut health, tone down inflammation and can relieve joint pain.

By simply changing your diet, you can change the composition of your gut bacteria – make the good ones thrive and the bad ones go away!

Supplements that can help aching joints

A lack of vitamin D can cause nonspecific joint pain.

Given that many of us get too little sunshine, especially from October to April, we should take a vitamin D supplement regardless of joint pain.

A dose of 10 micrograms (400 IU) daily is recommended.

One of the best-known supplements for joint health is glucosamine. It’s the main component of cartilage and the fluid inside the joints, so supplementing it may give your joints a helping hand.

Some glucosamine is sourced from shellfish, so make sure your chosen product is vegan.

Glucosamine is often combined with chondroitin, a cartilage component found in people and animals.

Chondroitin is never vegan. However, phytodroitin is a plant-based alternative that is also readily used by your body and has made its way into many vegan joint supplements.

Supplements for aching joints

Joint formulas usually contain MSM (a sulphur-containing compound) that’s vegan and supports the formation of collagen, essential for tissue repair.

Hyaluronic acid is another compound important for connective tissues, including joints. Your body produces it, but an extra dose may help. Again, it’s not always vegan, so check the label.

There are many supplements combining the above compounds with natural anti-inflammatories, such as turmeric, ginger and Boswellia (herb).

Those may offer the best of both worlds.

Always read the ingredients to make sure you’re buying a vegan product, but as there’s already a large range, you’ll have plenty of options.

Bear in mind that joint repair takes time, so you may only see results after six or more weeks.

While you’re waiting for improvements, be patient and go gently with yourself!

Are you over 50?

Find out the 10 reasons why a vegan diet can improve your health!

References

  1. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28717804/
  2. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/07/170705105257.htm
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5664031/
  4. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16549461/
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4217020/

Written by

Veronika Charvatova

Veronika Charvátová MSc is a biologist and Viva! Health researcher. Veronika has spent years uncovering the links between nutrition and good health and is an expert on plant-based diets.

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