The Top 5 Foods for Healthy Joints and Cartilage
Did you know that what you eat can play an important role in keeping your joints and cartilage healthy? Your joints are made to withstand intense force. Within each joint is a capsule filled with synovial fluid which cushions and nourishes your cartilage—the “cushioning” that allows your joints to move quickly and smoothly. A poor diet, age, and genetics can cause cartilage cells to break apart, clog up synovial fluid, and induce an inflammatory reaction that results in pain.
While no single food is a cure-all for joint pain, eating an array of natural, unprocessed foods can work to protect, maintain, and repair your cartilage and joint health, leading to a less painful (and sometimes pain-free!) life. So, what are the best foods for healthy joints and cartilage? Here are the top five nutritious foods to regularly include in your diet.
Kefir, a fermented milk drink similar to a thin yogurt, supplies your gut with an array of healthy bacteria, including one strain called L. casei. Research suggests that bacteria in the gut, known as the gut microbiome, could be a driving factor in joint pain, deterioration of cartilage, and conditions like osteoarthritis. In one study, participants were given a daily dose of L. casei for two months. At the end of the study, they had lower levels of inflammatory markers and less joint stiffness than the placebo group.
By pouring kefir over cereal or adding it to smoothies, you’ll be providing your gut with beneficial bacteria that improve your overall gut health. According to research, good gut health has the potential to reduce systemic inflammation and repair damaged joints.
- Extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO)
As it turns out, everyone’s favorite oil is also an all-star when it comes to joint health. In one study, researchers from the University of Catania in Italy fed rats with joint injuries an EVOO-enriched diet. After eight weeks, the rats consuming EVOO had significantly higher levels of lubricin, a protein in the synovial fluid that protects cartilage and serves as a lubricant. To reap the benefits, add EVOO to salad dressings, pasta dishes, and stir-fries.
- Fatty fish
Fatty fish, such as sardines, salmon, and mackerel, are jam-packed with omega-3 fatty acids, including eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). These fatty acids have been shown to trigger a series of key reactions that lead to less joint inflammation. One study demonstrated that people taking a daily fish-oil supplement (which is high in omega-3s) were able to decrease their use of NSAID drugs, such as ibuprofen. Regularly enjoy fresh or canned fatty fish for a potent dose of anti-inflammatory compounds.
Turmeric is not only great for adding to curries—it’s also a powerful cartilage recovery food! Curcumin, the main component of turmeric, has been shown to decrease the amount of inflammatory compounds in cartilage cells. In one study on people with osteoarthritic knee pain, taking a turmeric extract for six weeks helped minimize discomfort as much as taking 800 mg of ibuprofen daily. How’s that for a potent natural remedy?
Who would have guessed that this sweet, juicy fruit can majorly benefit joint health? In one study, participants with osteoarthritic knee pain who took a daily orange peel extract for eight weeks reported a drop in knee pain and had lower levels of an inflammatory compound than the placebo group. These impressive results were due to a bioflavonoid in oranges called nobiletin. When peeling an orange, be sure to leave the albedo layer (a.k.a. the white fuzzy stuff) on, as this is high in nobiletin.
Nutrition for your cartilage and joints
Bursting with key compounds such as antioxidants, polyphenols, and omega-3 fatty acids, regularly eating the healthy foods mentioned above can help rebuild cartilage and prevent its degradation.
It’s important to note that what you eat is just as important as what you don’t eat. Do your best to eliminate processed foods and refined sugar, which promote inflammation. By eating healthier, you might also lose weight, which adds another layer of protection against joint pain and the break down of cartilage. Improving your joint pain and, consequently, the quality of your life, is a surmountable task if you’re open to adopting healthy habits.
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