Stiffness in the joints usually happens because of injury or disease, primarily rheumatoid arthritis. Joint stiffness and pain are kinds of inflammation, the body’s response to trouble. Diet and exercise have an impact on stiffness in the joints; some foods are inflammatory while others decrease inflammation. Routine exercise maintains flexibility in muscles and joints, and helps you lose weight, which takes pressure off the knee and ankle joints. Read on for ten foods that help with joint stiffness.
1. The Mediterranean diet
Heavily processed foods, like potato chips and hot dogs, promote inflammation in the body; on the opposite end of the spectrum is the Mediterranean diet, which is one of the healthiest ways to eat. This diet is high in omega-3 fatty acids, which decrease inflammation and promote mental acuity. Some of the foods you’ll find in a Mediterranean diet: nuts (like almonds), vegetables (especially tomatoes, eggplants and peppers), whole grains, and lean fish.
2. Olive oil
The cornerstone of the Mediterranean diet, olive oil contains oleocanthal, a compound that prevents inflammation; olive oil also has heart-friendly monounsaturated fats. Two main arthritis medications, ibuprofen and aspirin, work in the same way as oleocanthal, blocking the same pain receptors. To keep the oleocanthal in the olive oil, store the oil in a dark glass container; extra virgin olive oil has the highest quotient of oleocanthal. You can cook with it (but not over very high heat—that mutates the molecules), or sip a teaspoon a day.
3. Green tea
Certain plant chemicals are very helpful to the human body; these are called antioxidants (or polyphenols), and every plant has a different combination of them. The antioxidants in green tea include epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG), which halts the creation of some inflammatory chemicals in the body—like the ones tied to arthritis. Early research has found that EGCG helps stop the breakdown of cartilage, preserving joint integrity.
OK – not strictly a food this one but definitely worth a mention! Arnica is another wonderful plant for relieving inflammation, but it’s better applied externally. Arnica is made into a thick gel or cream that soothes aching joints and muscles. Unlike some other more chemically manufactured creams, arnica gel can be applied many times a day, smells pleasant, and usually costs much less.
Cruciferous vegetables, like broccoli and cauliflower, contain sulforaphane. This compound restricts inflammation and also blocks the enzymes that start joint degradation. Broccoli also has lots of vitamin K, an antioxidant that staves off osteoarthritis, according to a study at the Boston University School of Medicine. Steam or grill broccoli to retain its goodies; boiling it in water loses them.
The antioxidants in onions are called flavonoids; the major flavonoid is quercetin, which blocks leukotrienes (these start up inflammation in the body), prostaglandins (hormones responsible for a lot of pain), and histamines (another hyperactive immune system response). Onions are low in calories and high in nutrients, making them a great choice for people susceptible to joint pain. Many grocery stores sell onions—and other vegetables—pre-chopped, which is a good solution for people with wrist and finger joint pain.
7. Turmeric and ginger
For some reason, spices get passed over in some health circles, in favor of vegetables—they’re all plant foods, and they all have phytonutrients that effect health. Some spices battle inflammation, like ginger and turmeric. Ginger root calms an upset stomach (think ginger ale) and eases joint pain. Turmeric is the fine yellow spice found in curry; it’s also a potent anti-inflammatory, and can be sprinkled into soup or over brown rice. Grated ginger root works well in dark leafy salads, or baked into bread.
Red and orange vegetables contain carotenoids, another kind of antioxidants. Beta carotene and beta-cryptoxanthin are the two main carotenoids, and they’re very useful for fighting inflammation. Beta-cryptoxanthin is a preventative agent against inflammation-related disorders, like rheumatoid arthritis; it’s present in pumpkins, persimmons, tangerines, apricots, oranges, red peppers, papaya, and winter squash.
Yet another powerful group of antioxidants, anthocyanins are phytochemicals that slow the production of inflammatory agents in the body, reducing inflammation. Anthocyanins also keep connective tissue in good health, and are very skilled at removing dangerous free radicals from body tissues; free radicals cause inflammation, and are potentially cancerous agents. Cherries, eggplants, red and black grapes, dark berries, black currents, and plums all contain anthocyanins.
10. Willow bark
Finally, willow bark; this plant part has been treating inflammation for literally thousands of years. Aspirin is the laboratory-created equivalent of willow bark—but the actual bark is much gentler on the liver. Brew willow bark tea to relieve joint stiffness and menstrual cramps, or ingest it via capsule. Please note that too much willow bark may cause rashes—stay with one ounce of bark per gallon of boiling water, and drink a cup two or three times daily.
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