Diet

Summary

  • Arthritis is a general term describing a large number of conditions that affect our muscles, bone and joints
  • No special diet or ‘miracle food’ can cure arthritis, but some conditions may be helped by dietary changes

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Arthritis is a general term describing a large number of conditions that affect our muscles, bone and joints. These conditions cause pain, stiffness and (often) inflammation in one or more joints. They may also cause pain in our muscles, and affect the strength of our bones. 

Everyone can benefit from eating a healthy, well-balanced diet to maintain general good health. 

Making changes to your diet may help to manage some muscle, bone and joint conditions. For example, people with inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis seem to benefit from an increased intake of omega-3 fats, found in oily fish such as sardines and salmon, while people with gout may benefit from avoiding foods high in purines, including offal, shellfish and beer and drinking plenty of water.  

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Healthy eating

Your body works best when you eat a wide range of healthy foods. Most people find that they feel better if they eat a balanced diet full of cereals, fresh fruits and vegetables and choose foods that are low in fats, salt and sugar. Eating a balanced diet and having an adequate fluid intake can also help provide you with better energy levels, help to maintain your weight, and give you a greater sense of wellbeing which may improve your symptoms. 

Always seek the advice of your doctor or dietitian before changing your diet. You may be restricting your food intake unnecessarily or taking too much of certain products (such as mineral supplements) that may have no impact on your condition at all. Some supplements may also interact with your medication. 

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Dietary recommendations for muscle, bone and joint conditions

General dietary recommendations for a person with muscle, bone and joint conditions include:

  • eat a well-balanced diet, including fruit and vegetables, protein foods, dairy, cereals and grains. This will help to maintain general good health and a healthy weight
  • avoid crash dieting or fasting
  • increase dietary calcium to reduce the risk of osteoporosis in later life
  • drink plenty of non-alcoholic fluids, especially water
  • keep your weight within the normal range. Excess bodyweight increases stress on joints, especially weight-bearing joints like knees and hips.

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Dietary modification for gout

Uric acid is a waste product that is normally excreted from the body in urine. Gout is a type of arthritis characterised by the build-up of uric acid in the joints (such as the big toe), which causes inflammation and pain. 

It is believed that lowering uric acid levels through small changes in your diet may help reduce the chance of future gout attacks. These changes include:

  • Restrict or avoid alcohol.
  • Avoid binge drinking.
  • Restrict or avoid offal meats, such as liver, kidneys and brains.
  • Restrict or avoid shellfish, such as prawns and scallops.
  • Restrict or avoid some seafood, including sardines, herrings, mackerel and anchovies.
  • Restrict or avoid products containing yeast, such as beer and Vegemite.
  • Drink plenty of non-alcoholic fluids.
  • Avoid fasting or ‘crash’ dieting.
  • Make sure you don’t overeat on a regular basis.
  • Take your time when eating.

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Omega-3 fats and inflammation

Foods that contain omega-3 fats have been found to help reduce the inflammation associated with some forms of arthritis, such as rheumatoid arthritis. These effects are modest compared with medication.

Omega-3 fats have few side effects, and may also have other health benefits, such as reduced heart disease. 

Foods rich in omega-3 fats include:

  • fish – oily fish such as salmon and sardines, have greater amounts of omega-3 fats
  • linseeds and linseed (flaxseed) oil
  • canola (rapeseed) oil
  • walnuts
  • foods fortified with omega-3, such as margarines and eggs
  • some fish oil supplements.

Do not confuse fish oils with fish liver oils (such as cod liver oil and halibut liver oil). Fish liver oils also contain vitamin A. Large amounts of vitamin A can cause serious side effects. Ask your doctor before taking any supplements, to make sure you’re taking the correct dosage.

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Glucosamine and chondroitin

The supplements glucosamine and chondroitin are popular – yet evidence about their success in treating arthritis is limited. 

Studies show that glucosamine and chondroitin, taken either separately or in combination, may relieve pain for people with osteoarthritis where there has been a breakdown of cartilage. There is no evidence that these supplements are effective for any other muscle, bone or joint conditions.  

Glucosamine and chondroitin may interact with other medication, including warfarin, and should only be taken after consultation with your doctor.

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Maintain a healthy weight

If you are overweight or obese, the extra load on your joints may be exacerbating your arthritis symptoms, especially if your affected joints include those of the hip, knee or spine. There is also a clear link between being overweight and an increased risk of developing osteoarthritis.

To lose excess weight you must be active, but this can be difficult for people with arthritis due to pain or stiffness. See your doctor, dietitian or health professional for information and advice. 

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The evidence for diet and muscle, bone and joint conditions

Gout can be helped by avoiding some foods.

However, there is no substantial scientific evidence that other muscle, bone and joint conditions can be helped by avoiding particular foods, unless a person has specifically shown intolerance to that food. 

There is no evidence that:

  • acidic foods – eg lemons, oranges, tomatoes
  • nightshade foods - eg tomatoes, potatoes, peppers and eggplants
  • dairy foods

trigger or aggravate the symptoms associated with muscle, bone and joint conditions.

These foods all contain important nutrients and avoiding them may cause other health problems.

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Tips for managing your diet

If you think a particular food may aggravate your condition, it can help to keep a diary of your food intake and symptoms. After a month, you may have some idea about which food could be provoking symptoms. Discuss these results with your doctor or a dietitian.

Don’t cut whole food groups from your diet – for example, all dairy products – without talking to your doctor, as you may miss out on important vitamins and minerals.

The symptoms of arthritis, particularly the inflammatory types, can change for no apparent reason. Don’t assume any improvement in your symptoms is due to what you eat or avoid. Be guided by your health professional. 

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Where to get help

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Things to remember

  • Arthritis is a general term describing a large number of conditions that affect our muscles, bone and joints
  • No special diet or ‘miracle food’ can cure arthritis, but some conditions may be helped by dietary changes

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More information

Need information regarding your condition and commonly prescribed treatments? Or assistance navigating the health, disability and social services systems?  Do you want to speak to someone who has a chronic musculoskeletal condition, and can understand what you are going through? Contact our Help Line on 1800 263 265. 

Interested in finding out about our upcoming webinars and seminars and other events. Click here to learn more. 

Download a PDF of this information. 

This information has been provided by the Better Health Channel and has been produced in consultation with and approved by: MOVE muscle, bone & joint health Ltd.

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Welcome to MOVE muscle, bone & joint health, the new voice of Arthritis and Osteoporosis Victoria.

We may have a new name but since 1968 we have been the leading provider of supported solutions and trusted knowledge to the one-in-three Australians who live with these conditions.

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