If your hips, knees or hands have gotten stiffer and more painful in recent years, you might be among the more than 32 million Americans who suffer from osteoarthritis. This degenerative joint condition, often described as the “wear and tear” form of arthritis, causes the cartilage that normally cushions joints to break down, allowing bone to rub against bone. The result: pain, redness, stiffness and inflammation.
This kind of arthritis is mainly treated by pain-relieving medications, but lifestyle changes can also help a lot. Exercise and weight loss tend to be top of the list. Regularly moving the affected joint helps stretch and strengthen the muscles surrounding it, which can ease stiffness and promote mobility. If you’re overweight, shedding a few pounds will help take some strain off a weight-bearing joint (like your knee or hip), as well as reduce the amount of inflammatory proteins that are naturally produced by fat cells. In fact, studies have shown that every 1 pound of body weight that you lose takes 4 pounds of force off the knee.
Dietary changes are, of course, the key to losing weight, but tweaking your eating habits can also help control arthritis symptoms. That’s because while osteoarthritis is primarily caused by overstressing one or more joints, “there’s also a component that has to do with the body’s response to injury, which is inflammation,” says Melissa Ann Prest, a registered dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. She points to the Mediterranean and DASH diets, which limit added sugar, refined carbohydrates and saturated fat, as anti-inflammatory standouts.
Whether you follow a specific diet plan or not, regularly adding the following foods to your plate (while simultaneously cutting back on fried food and sweets) might help soothe your achy joints and perhaps even slow down the progression of arthritis.
Superfood No. 1: Salmon
Oily fish like salmon are rich in inflammation-fighting omega-3 fatty acids, which may help curtail osteoarthritis symptoms, says Toby Amidor, a registered dietitian and author of The Family Immunity Cookbook. Salmon contains both EPA and DHA, two types of omega-3s that are found in all the cells of the body, she says.
Bonus: Eating fatty fish might help people with autoimmune forms of arthritis, including rheumatoid arthritis, better manage their condition. The American Heart Association also recommends eating fish twice a week to protect your heart.
Not a fish fan? Consider taking a fish oil or algae-based supplement that contains EPA and DHA.