Whether you’re into sports, gardening or hiking, aching joints are more common than you think! Sometimes, simply getting older brings joint troubles. Here’s all you need to know to support your joints, nourish them and move with ease.
Why do our joints hurt?
There are many reasons why your joints might be aching – rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, gout, inflammation or irritation caused by bad posture or movement patterns resulting in joint stress.
Osteoarthritis is a common age-related disease characterised by wear-and-tear damage. It results in inflammation of the joints, pain and limited mobility.
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease which causes the body to attack its own joint lining and it leads to joint inflammation and swelling.
Gout is also a type of arthritis – caused by crystals of uric acid deposited in your joints and causing pain. It’s more likely to develop if you eat meat, drink alcohol excessively, are obese, have kidney disease or diabetes.
What all these conditions and other non-specific joint pain have in common is inflammation and a certain level of damage. Sometimes, you may experience pain after repeating a particular movement – for example, if you’re redecorating and have to crouch and stand up repeatedly, your knees might become painful. It doesn’t mean you have a disease, you may have just overdone things resulting in mild inflammation that will subside.
Because the causes of joint pain have similar features, the following nutrition tips apply to all of them. There’s a lot you can do to alleviate your joint troubles!
First of all, making your diet full of nutritious and anti-inflammatory foods can offer some relief to your joints and may support your body’s repair work. Eat these foods daily:
Vegetables – in particular dark green leafy veggies such as kale, rocket, broccoli, cabbage, spring greens or Brussels sprouts. They contain compounds that block an enzyme causing joint swelling. Brightly coloured vegetables should also feature on your daily menu because they contain antioxidants that help combat inflammation.
Garlic, ginger and turmeric – this trio is well-established as potent anti-inflammatories and that’s also why many joint health supplements contain them.
Berries – raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, strawberries and other berries are packed with anti-inflammatory compounds and vitamin C, important for tissue repair.
Cherries – they actively block the formation of several inflammatory proteins and so can help to alleviate joint pain. Cherries also help to reduce uric acid levels in the body – extra helpful for gout sufferers!
Omega-3s – these fats help with the repair of tissues and they are anti-inflammatory. Find them in flaxseed, chia seeds, hemp seed, walnuts or try an algal supplement.
Wholegrains – these little nutrient bundles contain good carbs, fibre, protein, vitamins and minerals as well as antioxidants making them nutritious and anti-inflammatory as opposed to refined grains (white bread) that fuel inflammation.
Good protein sources – especially beans, lentils, chickpeas and soya as they contain plenty of healthy protein together with antioxidants – your body needs both to repair tissues, cartilage and joint lining.
Avoid common irritants
Some foods are bad news because they make inflammation worse and hinder healing. These include sugar, refined grains such as white bread, cakes and pastries, processed foods loaded with fat and sugar or salt, alcohol, meat, dairy, deep-fried foods and, for some people with rheumatoid arthritis, gluten.
Feed the good gut bacteria
You may think that what happens in your gut has little to do with your joints but that would be wrong. More and more studies show that our gut bacteria affect not just digestion but also our immune system and joint heath!
If you eat a diet based around animal products, fats, junk foods, sweets and crisps, you most likely have more of the “bad” gut bacteria producing toxins that can harm your gut wall, get into the blood and travel to your joints, fuelling inflammation and further damage. Even if you’re vegan, a junk food diet can hurt your joints.
A diet based on wholesome plant foods full of fibre – fruit and veg, wholegrains, pulses, nuts and seeds – feeds the “good” gut bacteria that produce beneficial by-products that support gut health, tone down inflammation and can relieve joint pain.
By simply changing your diet, you can change the composition of your gut bacteria – make the good ones thrive and the bad ones go away!
Supplements that can help
A lack of vitamin D can cause non-specific joint pain. Given that many of us get too little sunshine, especially from October to April, we should take a supplement regardless of joint pain. A dose of 10 micrograms (400 IU) daily is recommended.
One of the best-known supplements for joint health is glucosamine. It’s the main component of cartilage and the fluid inside the joints so supplementing it may give your joints a helping hand. Some glucosamine is sourced from shellfish so make sure your chosen product is vegan.
Glucosamine is often combined with chondroitin, a cartilage component found in people and animals. Chondroitin is never vegan. However, phytodroitin is a plant-based alternative that is readily used by your body and has made its way into many vegan joint supplements.
Joint formulas usually contain MSM (a sulphur-containing compound) that’s vegan and supports the formation of collagen, essential for tissue repair.
Hyaluronic acid is another compound important for connective tissues, including joints. Your body produces it but an extra dose may help. Again, it’s not always vegan so check the label.
There are many supplements combining the above compounds with natural anti-inflammatories such as turmeric, ginger and boswellia (herb). Those may offer the best of both worlds. Always read the ingredients to make sure you’re buying a vegan product but as there’s already a large range, you’ll have plenty of options.
Bear in mind that joint repair takes time so you may only see results after six or more weeks. In the meantime, be patient and go gently with yourself!