Finding pain relief in the kitchen

While medication is sometimes a must for those living with joint pain, doctors at Baylor College of Medicine say some might find additional relief in the kitchen. Dr. Shalini Jha, assistant professor of medicine – immunology, allergy and rheumatology, says there are some diet changes that have been shown to help lessen inflammation, but the right recipe could be slightly different for each person.

“Some studies show a vegan, Mediterranean or vegetarian diet help relieve joint pain. Doctors can look at the markers for inflammation and whether joints are inflamed before and after diet changes. There have been good results showing that what you eat definitely plays a role this process,” said Jha. “However, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all diet for everyone.”

A colorful collection of fruits, vegetables, nuts and muffins laid out on a table and inside a bowl.Jha says it depends on the type of joint pain and the cause. Some pain might be caused by mechanical issues, injury or overuse. In those cases, what you eat probably won’t help. For those with an autoimmune issue such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus, what you eat is important.

“For autoimmune diseases, there is a direct connection between diet and your body. What you eat affects the microbes in your gut, and the microbiome plays a big role in the immune system helping to calm down or rev up inflammation,” Jha said. “While not all of these diet changes may work for people living with joint pain, a good rule of thumb when it comes to changing your diet to deal with inflammation is to focus on general health.”

Jha recommends lots of vegetables, fruits, nuts and beans and drinking lots of water. She also recommends focusing on foods that have high amounts of antioxidants, omega-3 fatty acids, and vitamin C. Those types of molecules have been shown to calm down the oxidative stress that your body is going through when inflammation is present.

In terms of foods that have shown to trigger an inflammatory cascade throughout the body, Jha says try to avoid or limit processed carbs, sugar, saturated fat, dairy and red meat.

“These are diet changes that are helpful to overall health as well, but don’t forget to always talk to your doctor about treating joint pain. Some issues require medication or other therapies. Diet alone may not solve the problem, and, in fact, overuse of the joint, regardless of diet, could actually cause more long-term damage. Uncontrolled inflammation in the body could also cause damage to other organs in some cases,” Jha said.

When starting a new diet, Jha says be mindful of what you are eating and how your body is reacting. Some people find that certain healthy foods can actually be a trigger for inflammation. Some patients have found that oranges or other acidic fruits and vegetables can trigger arthritis flare ups.

“Some people try elimination diets, where you take certain foods out of your diet for a few days or weeks and slowly reintroduce them back to see if that is a trigger,” Jha said. “Some find that gluten or even eggs are a trigger while others are not affected.”

Jha reminds her patients that the goal is to lessen pain and inflammation but also to focus on quality of life. Some people are not willing to give up certain foods all together, so she suggests moderation, adding lots of vegetables and fruits to your current diet, and monitoring how your body reacts to certain foods.

Learn more about Baylor Medicine Rheumatology services. 

By Graciela Gutierrez

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