Research over several years has consistently shown that a Mediterranean-type diet that is rich in oily fish, olive oil and fresh fruit and vegetables and low in red meat, saturated fats and refined and sugary foods, is anti-inflammatory and therefore beneficial for sufferers of both OA and inflammatory arthritis (RA, juvenile idiopathic arthritis, etc.). However, more recently, scientists have recommended ‘the anti-inflammatory diet’, which is an expansion of the Mediterranean diet and includes additional foods thought to contain anti-inflammatory nutrients, such as wholegrains, legumes, nuts, seeds and spices.
In a recent review of the existing evidence, Professor Phillip Calder, a nutritional immunologist at the University of Southampton, concluded that the omega-3 fatty acids found in oily fish and the compounds found in spices ‘damp down’ the production of chemicals that trigger inflammation, whilst antioxidants found in fruit and vegetables inhibit the action of free radicals, which destroy healthy cells and worsen inflammation. This type of diet also supplies the vitamins and minerals the body needs to make strong, healthy joints and bones – including vitamin B complex, antioxidant vitamins A, C and E, vitamin D, calcium and magnesium.
The anti-inflammatory diet is filling because of its high fibre content, so it can help you to lose excess weight too. Carrying extra pounds puts additional strain on the joints and even modest weight loss can bring about a reduction in pain, especially in the knees and hips. This is because when you walk, the load on the knee joints is equal to four times your body weight – therefore each pound in weight lost means a four-pound reduction in strain on the knees. Fat cells are also thought to release inflammation-causing chemicals, making the symptoms of both OA and RA worse. Knee arthritis is common in elderley people.
Arthritis Research UK states that, whilst dietary changes alone cannot cure arthritis, there is strong evidence that eating oily fish and plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables can help if you suffer from an inflammatory form of knee arthritis, such as RA. The British Dietetic Association also recommends this type of diet for OA.
What is inflammation?
The literal meaning of inflammation is ‘set afire’. It is the natural response of the immune system to irritation, infection or injury. The purpose of inflammation is to promote healing by destroying any invading organisms and encouraging the removal of debris from dead bacteria or viruses. Symptoms include redness, heat, swelling and pain. Problems occur when the immune system mistakes normal body tissue for ‘the enemy’ and attacks it.