Nutrition News: Can You Eat to Beat Arthritis?
Could the severity of osteoarthritis symptoms and the makeup of your diet be related? It’s a natural question — one that researchers have asked in hundreds of studies. A review of the published scientific research (Arthritis Research and Therapy, 2006) found 18 food compounds or dietary supplements that had been shown to decrease osteoarthritis symptoms in at least one randomized controlled study. But the scientific study of specific food components to prevent or treat arthritis is still relatively new, and the research was too weak or contradictory for firm conclusions to be drawn.
Food for thought
The review authors found 53 randomized controlled studies — a high standard in medical research — that looked at various food compounds and dietary supplements in people with osteoarthritis. Then they calculated the strength of the evidence for each compound or supplement. Only one met the criteria for “good” evidence: a mixture of avocado and soybean oil, also known as avocado/soybean unsaponifiables (ASU). Sold as a supplement in the United States, ASU is available in France as a prescription treatment for osteoarthritis. Well-controlled studies have suggested that ASU may reduce osteoarthritis pain and might slow down narrowing of joint space, a sign that arthritis is getting worse.
The review authors also found “moderate” evidence for methylsulfonylmethane, a sulfur compound found in fruits, corn, tomatoes, tea, coffee and milk. Overall, they concluded that certain food compounds may help relieve osteoarthritis symptoms, but it’s less clear whether such compounds also might slow down the disease’s progression.
More research is needed before scientists can say whether certain food compounds and dietary supplements might be useful for managing osteoarthritis. In the meantime, experts agree that people with osteoarthritis — like everyone else — can benefit from eating a diet that promotes better health and weight control. A healthful diet emphasizes fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and limits saturated and trans fats, added sugars and salt. Other smart choices include fish, beans, nuts, lean meats, skinless poultry and fat-free or low-fat dairy products.
If you choose to use dietary supplements, be aware that some may have unwanted side effects or interact harmfully with certain medications. Also, in the United States, supplements aren’t required to be standardized, so it’s not easy to know exactly what you’re getting. Before taking a supplement, talk to your doctor to make sure it’s appropriate for you.
The bottom line
Researchers are just starting to explore the food-osteoarthritis connection. The role played by specific food compounds is still uncertain. But when it comes to diet in general, it’s clear that you really are what you eat — and healthful food choices make for a healthier body.
PLEASE NOTE: The studies and their findings that are presented in this article are for informational purposes only and are not meant to take the place of the advice of your doctor. By providing you with this information, Genzyme Corporation is not endorsing its content. You should consult with your doctor before starting any new health regimen.
“Osteoarthritis and Nutrition. From Nutraceuticals to Functional Foods: A Systematic Review of the Scientific Evidence.” L.G. Ameye and W.S.S. Chee. Arthritis Research and Therapy. 2006, vol. 8, no. 4, article R127.
“Alternative Treatments for Arthritis: An A to Z Guide.” D. Foltz-Gray. Atlanta, GA: Arthritis Foundation, 2005.
“Dietary Supplements: Background Information.” National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements. Available at: http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/DietarySupplements.asp. Accessed September 6, 2011.