Smooth-working, unencumbered joints are happy joints. And they are a key component of life-long vibrancy. Unfortunately, millions of us live with uncomfortable, unhappy joints due to chronic inflammation and a situation I call “repair deficit.” If you are trying to gain and maintain comfortable, good feeling joints, consider these top-7 joint-enhancing self-help tips.
#1. Consume an Alkaline Diet
The alkaline diet is a high-mineral, plant-centered, whole foods eating pattern focused on achieving optimal pH balance. High in vegetables, fruits, pulses, herbs, spices, along with adequate protein, the alkaline diet reduces inflammation and sets the stage for self-repair. The alkaline diet is an anti-inflammatory eating pattern that provides abundant vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and plant compounds necessary for tissue repair.
#2. Try to Avoid the Inflammatory All Stars
The list of pro-inflammatory foods to avoid or minimize includes red meat, which is high in inflammatory arachidonic acid (1), processed sugar, and food additives. Also consider a trial elimination of the nightshade family of vegetables, which contains solanine, a chemical that appears to aggravate arthritis and joint pain in some individuals. To test out this possibility, avoid consuming any food in the nightshade family for two weeks and note any difference in joint comfort. The nightshade family includes potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant, bell peppers, cayenne, paprika, and tobacco.
#3. Check for “Allergic Arthritis”
Over years of clinical practice, I have seen that, yes, there is such a thing as “allergic arthritis.” Pain in my hands would occur when I consumed red meat regularly for two weeks or so. The reaction was so obvious, and the solution was simple—avoid the food which caused the inflammation. Keep in mind, however, 80% of all food reactions are delayed and can occur more than a week after consuming the food. My preferred way to detect delayed food reactions is with an elegant lymphocyte-response assay known as the ELISA/ACT® Test.
It is my recommendation that anyone with unhappy joints should undertake an elimination diet avoiding the common hard-to-digest foods that often take advantage of a leaky gut to enter the bloodstream causing system-wide inflammation. The foods to avoid during this elimination diet include all gluten, dairy, soy and corn products, sugar, plus food additives and colorings. Go off all these foods for at least 10 days and then introduce them back one by one, noting any changes in your joint comfort. Most likely you will not only learn quite a bit about your personal food-inflammation link, but you will likely lose weight and feel less bloated. Strangely enough, often the foods we crave are often hidden causes of inflammation and the ones we are most allergic to.
#4. Exercise Your Joints
Full range of motion and even weight-loading exercises enhance joint health. Even though the exercise may seem to be a bit painful, research suggests that generally, exercise does not injure joints, but actually promotes joint health.(2) The “use it or lose it” principle applies to joints as much as it does to every other tissue in the body.
A systematic review found that 11 out of 12 studies using resistance training for knee osteoarthritis showed improvements in pain and physical function. (3)
Another review of exercise programs for rheumatoid arthritis reached the conclusion that “aerobic capacity training combined with muscle strength training is recommended as routine practice in patients with RA.” (4) These results stood strong for both long- and short-term programs, as well as land or water-based activity.
#5. Change Your Oil
Eat more fatty fish, walnuts, and flax seed, and take omega-3 fish oil supplements. A 2006 study has shown that after a few months taking 1,200 to 2,400 mg omega-3 EPA and DHA, a full 59% of the 125 subjects were able to discontinue their prescription NSAID neck and back pain medications. (5)
Eat like your ancient ancestors. Over hundreds of thousands of years of human evolution, our biological machinery evolved on a diet high in omega-3 fats. Animals grazing on grass were high in omega-3 fats, as were fish who were eating algae and other water plants. A healthy omega-6 to omega-3 ratio is between 1 to 1 and 4 to 1. Today most of us consume 15 to 17 times more omega-6 fats than omega-3 fats. A high intake of processed omega-6 oils has been linked to heart disease, arthritis, osteoporosis, and many other inflammatory degenerative diseases. (6)
So, reduce your intake of processed, pro-inflammatory omega-6 vegetable oils such as corn, canola, and soy oils. Today, we consume far too many omega-6 oils and far too few omega-3s. Our current high intake of these omega-6 oils is well documented to increase inflammation and reduce the body’s repair capacity.
From Maroon and Bost 2006 (5)
#6. Test the Success of Your Oil Change
The Omega-3 Index at-home blood spot test provides an inexpensive assessment of your omega-6 to omega-3 ratio. It looks at the portion of various fatty acids in the red blood cell membrane quantifying your ratio of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids, as well as your level of saturated, monounsaturated, and trans fats. In my personal case it took 3,000 mg of combined DHA and EPA to have an ideal omega-6 to omega-3 ratio. To my displeasure some of the toxic trans fats also showed up in my testing, suggesting a little too much restaurant and snack food is still in my diet. The Omega-3 Index is available on our website.
#7. Supplement with the Anti-Inflammatory Superstars
To reduce inflammation and initiate repair we need an abundance of the basic building blocks along with robust antioxidants. The nutritional supplements central to this repair program would be a full-spectrum multivitamin and mineral complemented by abundant intake of 4 anti-inflammatory superstars. These joint-smoothing superstar nutrients are:
- Vitamin C. A major antioxidant and key electron donor repair agent. Consider a fully buffered, fully reduced ascorbate powder in the dose of 3,000 to 4,000 mg per day.
- Quercetin Dihydrate. The best natural anti-inflammatory and an important antioxidant, this plant flavonoid works synergistically with ascorbate to quell inflammation and enhance tissue repair. (7, 8) A common dose of quercetin in the dihydrate form is 500 to 2,000 mg per day.
- Vitamin D. Insufficient levels of this key pro-hormone are linked to arthritis of all types. Supplement with enough vitamin D3 to achieve a 50 to 60 ng/ml blood level of 25(OH)D. (9)
- Omega-3 fats (fish oils, EPA and DHA). The ancient anti-inflammatory essential fat. Supplement with 2,000 to 3,000 mg daily of omega-3 fats (EPA and DHA combined).
- Ley, S. H., et al. 2014. Associations between red meat intake and biomarkers of inflammation and glucose metabolism. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 99(2):352-360.
- Hartley, C., et al. 2020. High-impact exercise increased femoral neck bone density with no adverse effects on imaging markers of knee osteoarthritis in postmenopausal women. Journal of Bone and Mineral Research 35(1):53-63.
- Turner, M. N., et al. 2020. The role of resistance training dosing on pain and physical function in individuals with knee osteoarthritis: A systematic review. Sports Health 12(2):200-206.
- Hurkmans, E., et al. 2009. Dynamic exercise programs (aerobic capacity and/or muscle strength training) in patients with rheumatoid arthritis. Cochrane Database of Systemic Reviews 2009(4):CD006853.
- Maroon, J.C., and J. W. Bost. 2006. Omega-3 fatty acids (fish oil) as an anti-inflammatory: An alternative to nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs for discogenic pain. Surgical Neurology 65(4):326-331.
- Simopoulos, A. P. 2006. Evolutionary aspects of diet, the omega-6/omega-3 ratio and genetic variation: Nutritional implications for chronic diseases. Biomedicine & Pharmacotherapy 60(9):502-507.
- Javadi, F., et al. 2017. The effect of quercetin on inflammatory factors and clinical symptoms in women with rheumatoid arthritis: A double-blind, randomized controlled trial. Journal of the American College of Nutrition 36(1):9-15.
- Valsamidou, E., et al. 2021. Dietary interventions with polyphenols in osteoarthritis: A systematic review directed from the preclinical data to randomized clinical studies. Nutrients 13(5):1420.
- Heidari, B., et al. 2011. Association between serum vitamin D deficiency and knee osteoarthritis. International Orthopaedics 35:1627-1631.