Prescription #2 for Joint Health: Eat Well

The relationship between diet and arthritis has been the subject of exploration, claims, and controversies since the 1930s, but with the exception of gout (a certain form of arthritis), there is no link between one’s diet and the development of arthritis. However, there’s no disputing that eating a healthy diet, in conjunction with exercise, can help reduce the pain and inflammation associated with arthritis.

To that end, it’s important that you eat a variety of foods. Numerous studies have validated the beneficial effects of what’s been called the Mediterranean diet: a diet low in processed foods and saturated fat, and rich in fish, vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and nuts and seeds. (Learn more about what the Arthritis Foundation calls “The Ultimate Arthritis Diet” here.) Make an effort to control fat and cholesterol intake; eat only minimal amounts of sugar; limit your sodium intake; and drink alcohol only in moderation. (While consuming more than two alcoholic drinks a day may decrease bone formation and reduce your body’s ability to absorb calcium, there’s no clear link between moderate alcohol intake and osteoporosis.)

The importance of vitamins and minerals in your diet:

Be sure to take the recommended daily requirements of vitamins and minerals. It’s very important to get adequate levels of calcium and vitamin D. The higher your peak bone mass, the less likely you’ll be to have fractures later in life. Maximum peak bone mass depends partly on your inherited ability to make bone, the amount of calcium you consumed over your lifetime and your exercise level. In most cases, bones weaken when you have low levels of calcium, phosphorous and other minerals in your bones. The loss of bone mass, known as osteoporosis, is more prevalent in women, but men get osteoporosis too.  In fact, by age 65, men lose bone mass as fast as women do, and by age 75, one third of men have the disease.  

Premenopausal women and postmenopausal women who use Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) should consume at least 1,200 milligrams (mgs) of calcium and 2,000 international units (IU) of vitamin D every day. Postmenopausal women not using HRT and those at risk of steroid-induced osteoporosis should get 1,500 mgs of calcium and 2,000 IU of vitamin D daily. Men should consume 2,000 mgs of calcium every day.

Good food sources of calcium include skim, low-fat and whole milk, low-fat plain yogurt, Swiss, cheddar and ricotta cheese, kale, broccoli, canned salmon with the bones, and orange juice and other products—such as tofu—fortified with calcium. If you find it hard to get the recommended amounts of calcium from your diet because you can’t eat dairy products, for example, try calcium supplements. Supplements—even plain old TUMS–are just as effective as calcium from food, are inexpensive, and generally are well tolerated and well absorbed if taken properly.