Ways to Reduce Inflammation From Arthritis

The joint inflammation of arthritis is the chief culprit behind your joint damage, stiffness, swelling, and pain. Inflammation is at the root of many chronic diseases, not just arthritis. It plays a role in heart disease, asthma, and even certain cancers, as well as many pain conditions.

Prescription medications are often used to treat arthritis and other inflammatory diseases, but you have a lot of other options, as well, including over-the-counter (OTC) medications, dietary adjustments, and other lifestyle changes.

Read on to learn more about ways to reduce inflammation and help improve your arthritis symptoms.

NSAIDs

A Black man massages an arthritic hand.

katleho Seisa / Getty Images

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are commonly the first pain relievers used for inflammation related to arthritis. Though some require a prescription from your doctor, many common NSAIDs are available over the counter. Common NSAIDs include:

  • Advil, Motrin (ibuprofen)
  • Aleve (naproxen)
  • Aspirin
  • Celebrex (celecoxib)

Certain illnesses such as rheumatoid arthritis cause increased inflammation that require stronger prescription therapies. These arthritis drugs—such as disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs), corticosteroids, and biologics—also battle inflammation, but they do so by targeting different molecules in the immune system, so they don't work the same way as NSAIDs.

Talk to your doctor about which anti-inflammatory therapy is appropriate for you.

Acetaminophen, a popular over-the-counter pain reliever in Tylenol and many combination drugs, is not an anti-inflammatory drug.

Corticosteroids

Corticosteroids are strong anti-inflammatory medications that are similar to cortisol, a hormone is made by the adrenal gland. Cortisol plays a large role in how the body naturally manages inflammation. Corticosteroids are fast-acting, and are sometimes prescribed for short-term relief until other drugs begin to take effect.

If your doctor prescribes corticosteroids, you might receive them in the form of a shot, pill, cream, or by infusion (through an IV line). A common way corticosteroids are used to treat arthritis is through an injection directly in the joint that is causing pain (also known as a cortisone shot).

Dietary Supplements

In some cases, dietary supplements can help improve arthritis inflammation. But some supplements can interfere with prescription medications, so it's important to talk with your doctor before you start any supplement regimen.

Fish Oil

Research shows that fish oil (omega-3 fatty acids) taken in capsule or liquid form can be beneficial for reducing inflammation. According to the Arthritis Foundation, a therapeutic dosage of a fish oil supplement containing at least 30% EPA/DHA (the active ingredients in fish oil) is up to 2.6 grams twice a day.

Glucosamine and Chondroitin

Two of the most common supplements used for arthritis, glucosamine and chondroitin are natural compounds found in cartilage, a tissue that cushions bones in our joints. Research studies on the value of glucosamine and chondroitin for arthritis are conflicting, however, and experts disagree on whether patients with arthritis should take them.

Some studies have shown that they can interact with blood thinners and may cause problems for people with diabetes or kidney disease.

S-Adenosyl-Methionine

SAM-e, or S-adenosyl-methionine, is a compound that occurs naturally in the body. It works with folate and vitamin B12 to support a number of body processes. Being deficient in folate or B12 can cause you to be short of SAM-e. Some studies have shown SAM-e to be effective in reducing osteoarthritis pain and inflammation.

Vitamin Supplements

Our bodies need certain vitamins and minerals to stay healthy overall. Vitamins D and K are linked to healthy cartilage and bone. If you're deficient in vitamins D or K, it may be helpful to supplement. Other antioxidant vitamins—including vitamins A, C, and E, might also be beneficial.

Anti-Inflammatory Diet

An anti-inflammatory diet is often recommended for people trying to control inflammation or for those who just want to eat as healthily as possible. An anti-inflammatory diet focuses on cutting your intake of saturated fats and trans fats while increasing your intake of foods rich in nutrients like antioxidants and healthy fats.

What to Avoid

Omega-6 fatty acids play a role in the health of our brain and bones, and help regulate our metabolism. In excess quantities, though, they can increase our body's production of inflammatory chemicals.

Limit your intake of meat, dairy products, and vegetable oils (and margarine) to balance omega-6 fatty acids in your body. Refined carbohydrates and sugars, along with many processed foods, may also increase inflammatory chemicals and make your arthritis inflammation worse.

What to Eat

Omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants, however, are good for you. Foods that are high in these substances can help you lower inflammation.

The Mediterranean diet is considered a good example of an anti-inflammatory diet, and is based on the consumption of:

  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Whole grains
  • Nuts
  • Beans
  • Legumes
  • Fish and seafood at least twice per week
  • Poultry, eggs, cheese, and yogurt in moderation
  • Sweets and red meats only on rare, special occasions

When it comes to beverages, green tea is a good choice. Research shows that it has anti-inflammatory properties.​

Cannabis

In recent years, interest has increased in the use of cannabis products (cannabinoids) to treat arthritis. The use of cannabis for medicinal purposes has grown in recent years, particularly in the treatment of chronic pain conditions such as arthritis

The two main active substances in cannabis plants are delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC, the psychoactive chemical that causes the "high" feeling) and cannabidiol (CBD). Both have been shown to improve pain symptoms. The primary difference between medical and recreational cannabis is the amount of these chemicals.

Medical cannabis has low levels of THC and higher levels of CBD. Various forms of CBD supplements are also available that contain no THC.

Cannabis can taken in capsules, in drops under the tongue, or smoked. Edibles—such as baked goods or oil-infused gummies—are another way to use cannabis.

Under federal law, cannabinoids cannot legally be prescribed, possessed, or sold. However, every U.S. state has different regulations regarding the use of medical marijuana and CBD oil, so be sure to understand which laws apply to you.

Maintain a Healthy Weight

Being overweight can drive up your inflammation. Where body fat is distributed can contribute, as well. For instance, a large waist circumference (35 inches for women and 40 inches for men) is typically associated with excess inflammation.

Researchers recognize that there is a connection between inflammation and obesity, although more needs to be learned. At the very least, talk to your doctor to determine the ideal body mass index (BMI) for your frame, and work toward that goal.

You don't need to lose a lot of weight to improve inflammation. Reducing your weight by between 5% and 10% significantly lowers your level of inflammation, according to the Obesity Action Coalition.

Exercise

Exercise may be another good option. Experts recommend 30 to 45 minutes of aerobic exercise, five days a week to reduce inflammation.

Many people with arthritis steer clear of regular exercise, as they feel exercise makes their arthritis worse. However, though caution may be warranted, remember that doing something is better than doing nothing. Start slowly, at whatever pace you consider doable, and then build on that.

Stop Smoking

Smoking tobacco has numerous damaging effects on your health, and studies show that these include higher levels of inflammatory markers. If you are currently a smoker, try to use the idea of having less inflammation and pain as motivation to quit.

Reduce Stress

Stress has been linked to higher levels of inflammation in the body. A 2017 study found that acute stress raised levels of numerous inflammatory markers. Therefore, practicing stress-relieving techniques may help to reduce inflammation.

Get Enough Sleep

Inadequate sleep has been associated with increased inflammatory markers. In a review of studies on inflammation and sleep, researchers concluded that sleep disturbance and long sleep duration are linked to increases in systemic inflammation.

When trying to determine how much sleep is adequate, remember that it is not precisely the same for everyone. According to researchers for the National Sleep Foundation, adults generally need between seven and nine hours per night, but that individual needs can vary.

The key is to determine how much sleep you require to feel well. Then, be aware of how much sleep you are getting on a regular basis. A healthy sleep pattern can help reduce inflammation.

Frequently Asked Questions

What causes arthritis inflammation?

The immune system plays a key role in inflammatory arthritis. When the immune system isn't working properly, it releases inflammatory chemicals that can attack joint tissues. This, in turn, causes your arthritis symptoms, such as increased joint fluid, swelling, and bone and muscle damage.

How can you reduce arthritis inflammation naturally?

While your doctor can prescribe a number of treatments to treat your arthritis inflammation, there are some key steps you can take without medication. These include losing weight, eating anti-inflammatory foods, getting restorative sleep, and even taking certain nutritional supplements.

What types of diet can help reduce inflammation from arthritis?

A diet rich in antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids can help reduce inflammation in the body, including inflammation caused by arthritis.

A Word From Verywell

Inflammation plays a role in multiple diseases, including arthritis. Taking steps to reduce inflammation in your body—such as making changes to your diet, losing weight, or certain medications—can be helpful in alleviating your arthritis symptoms.

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