How Your Dietary Changes May Affect Osteoarthritis

The possible link between diet and osteoarthritis is interesting to both patients and researchers. Patients, of course, want to know what changes they could make to their diet, by either including or excluding foods, that would prevent osteoarthritis or at least decrease symptoms.

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Diet and Arthritis

There have been contradictory reports about the effect of diet on osteoarthritis. Some reports have concluded that diet has no effect on osteoarthritis, but that it may affect inflammatory types of arthritis, like rheumatoid arthritis. According to Dr. Andrew Weil, there is an anti-inflammatory diet, but there is little evidence that anti-inflammatory diets or food elimination diets benefit osteoarthritis patients.

According to Dr. Weil, there is nothing wrong with eliminating food that you suspect may flare your arthritis symptoms. The only way to be sure, though, that a particular food is a problem for you would be to add it back into your diet later to see if you get the same result.

Osteoarthritis is generally not thought of as an inflammatory type of arthritis — though there is some degree of inflammation associated with it. Even so, the anti-inflammatory diet won't hurt you and it's considered healthy. Basically, you should:

  • Eat foods that contain omega-3 fatty acids (certain types of fish, flaxseed, and walnuts)
  • Limit use of polyunsaturated vegetable oils and partially hydrogenated oils
  • Avoid refined and processed foods
  • Eat a variety of fruits and vegetables
  • Add ginger and turmeric as supplements

Researchers Evaluate Diet and Osteoarthritis

Researchers are still developing conclusions about diet and osteoarthritis. The foremost conclusion about diet and osteoarthritis has been the relationship to obesity. Weight loss can decrease the risk of developing osteoarthritis among overweight people. Obesity is a definite risk factor for osteoarthritis, especially in weight-bearing joints. Diet, through healthy eating, can be used to control that risk factor.

According to a study from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine, vitamin E (also known as alpha-tocopherol) and other naturally occurring antioxidants in the diet appear to protect against knee osteoarthritis. Researchers found vitamin E has a protective effect against knee osteoarthritis in Caucasians but they did not find the same protective effect in Black people.

Dietary carotenoids — beta-cryptoxanthin, lutein, and lycopene — found in orange and green vegetables and tomatoes also were found to reduce the risk of knee osteoarthritis. However, delta and gamma tocopherols, found in soybean, palm, and other oils, were found to double the risk of knee osteoarthritis.

Other studies revealed that vitamin C is important to the development of healthy, normal cartilage. Too little vitamin C can cause weak cartilage. Vitamin C is readily available in a healthy diet that includes citrus fruits. However, one other study indicated that excess vitamin C might increase the risk of osteoarthritis. Also, vitamin D deficiency has been associated with an increased risk of joint space narrowing and the progression of osteoarthritis.

Points to Remember

While the potential of specific nutrients for osteoarthritis prevention will continue to be researched, enough is known already to conclude that appropriate levels of vitamin C, D, E, antioxidants, and omega-3 fatty acids have protective properties against osteoarthritis.

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Article Sources
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  • Melanson, Kathleen Ph.D. Nutrition Review: Diet, Nutrition, and Osteoarthritis. American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine Vol.1 (2007).

  • Weil, Andrew MD. A Plateful of Pain?. AARP Magazine. March-April 2008.

  • Williamson, David. Study Reveals Possible Link Between Osteoarthritis, Diet. University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, News. November 9, 1998.