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Eating Mediterranean may ease osteoarthritis symptoms

161026_tsf_bloghero_03Knees a little creaky? Hips stiff and sore? Hands or elbows swollen?

These can be symptoms of osteoarthritis (OA), a condition seeing the breakdown of cartilage in hips, hands, knees, elbows, the spine and other joints throughout the body.

OA is often slow in onset and can be hugely debilitating. Whilst the cause may be unknown in some, it may be due to misalignment, mechanical stress, or follow an injury. And some are at higher risk of developing the condition due to predisposition.

So, what can we do about it? Well, new research indicates that what we eat could help improve symptoms and quality of life in those with OA!

The Mediterranean diet and OA

First up, a recent study assessed diet and quality of life scores in 4,470 North Americans with OA.1

Researchers found that higher adherence to a Mediterranean-style diet – abundant in whole foods like vegetables, fruit, and good fats from extra virgin olive oil, nuts and seeds, and oily fish – had significantly better quality of life scores, and lower incidence of disability, pain, and depression. Brilliant!

In addition to this, a clinical trial recently undertaken in the U.K. put the Mediterranean diet to the test. Half of the 99 participants followed a traditional take on the diet (n=50), whilst the remaining half (n=49) continued their diets as normal.2

Those eating traditionally Mediterranean saw an 8% decrease in cartilage decay, 2.2% weight loss, improved knee and hip movement, and a whopping 47% decrease in IL-1a, an inflammatory biomarker that stimulates the “synthesis and activity of matrix metalloproteinases and other enzymes involved in cartilage destruction in osteoarthritis.”3

“As osteoarthritis is a chronic disease, treatment is primarily about managing the symptoms and this study shows that eating healthily may help form part of that treatment strategy,” says Martin Lau of Arthritis Action, an U.K. charity that helped fund the study.

With positive results from both studies, enjoying the Med way of eating for OA looks promising!

Food can heal or harm

We have shared results of previous trials where high adherence of the traditional Mediterranean way of eating may help mitigate type 2 diabetes, cognitive decline, weight gain and breast cancer recurrence.

When it comes of OA, what is it about the Mediterranean diet that could help?

To begin with, eating mostly real, whole food can help provide the body with nutrients and phytochemicals for reparation and rejuvenation, as well as anti-inflammatory activity. Simultaneously, limiting the highly processed foods like refined sugar and trans-fats that can contribute to inflammation may help avoid aggravating the issue.

Foods like leafy greens, oily fish, nuts, seeds, and spices like ginger and turmeric may all partake in anti-inflammatory activity once in the body.4;5

There is also the possibility of a connection between the health of the microbiome and leaky gut.

By maintaining a robust gut lining and keeping gut bugs happy with a diverse diet full of fibre and whole foods, allergens, toxins and harmful bacteria that can sneak through the compromised intestinal lining and may exacerbate symptoms can be kept at bay.

It is supposed the chronic use of painkillers may be an issue for those with OA, as medications like non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and high dose paracetamol may compromise intestinal barrier integrity, worsening the issue in the long run. But research into this complex relationship is in early days.6

For now, focusing a majority of the diet on real, whole foods can be beneficial. Not only for conditions like OA, but many health outcomes!

If you are suffering from OA, or suspect you may be, we encourage that you consult with your healthcare practitioner. They can work with you to personalize treatment, including dietary amendments, to best suit your lifestyle and requirements.

By Angela Johnson (BHSc Nut. Med.)



  1. Veronese, N Stubbs, B, Noale, M Solmi, M Luchini, C
    & Maggi, S 2016, ‘Adherence to the Mediterranean diet is associated with better quality of life: data from the Osteoarthritis Initiative’, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, [Epub].
  2. Dyer, J Davison, G Marcora, S M Mauger, & Alexis R 2016, ‘Effect of a Mediterranean type diet on inflammatory and cartilage degradation biomarkers in patients with osteoarthritis’, The Journal of Nutrition, Health & Aging, [Epub]
  3. Jacques, C Gosset, M Berenbaum, F & Gabay C, 2006, ‘The role of IL-1 and IL-1Ra in joint inflammation and cartilage degradation’, Vitamins and Hormones, vol. 74, pp. 371-403.
  4. Bartels, E, Folmer, V, Bliddal, H, Altman, R, Juhl, C, Tarp, S, Zhang, W, & Christensen, R 2015, ‘Review: Efficacy and safety of ginger in osteoarthritis patients: a meta-analysis of randomized placebo-controlled trials’, Osteoarthritis and Cartilage, vol. 23, pp. 13-21.
  5. Kuptniratsaikul, V, Dajpratham, P, Taechaarpornkul, W, Buntragulpoontawee, M, Lukkanapichonchut, P, Chootip, C, Saengsuwan, J, Tantayakom, K, & Laongpech, S 2014, ‘Efficacy and safety of Curcuma domestica extracts compared with ibuprofen in patients with knee osteoarthritis: a multicenter study’, Clinical Interventions in Aging, p. 451.
  6. Vitetta, L Coulson, S Linnane, AW & Butt, H 2013, ‘The Gastrointestinal Microbiome and Musculoskeletal Diseases: A Beneficial Role for Probiotics and Prebiotics’, Pathogens, vol. 2, 4, pp. 606–626.
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