Foods that Fight Osteoarthritis and Inflammation

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Foods That Fight Osteoarthritis & Inflammation

Osteoarthritis is the most frequent cause of physical disability among older adults in the world, affecting more than 20 million Americans. It is estimated that 20% of us will be affected in the coming decades and it is becoming more and more widespread among younger people. Can anti-inflammatory foods help with this disease?

Osteoarthritis is characterized by loss of cartilage in the joint. We used to think it was just mechanical wear and tear, but is “now generally accepted to be an active joint disease with a prominent inflammatory component.” This is supported by the fact that, for example, there is significantly higher production of inflammatory prostaglandins from tissue samples obtained from the knees of people suffering from the disease.

If the loss of cartilage is caused by inflammation, an anti-inflammatory diet may indeed help. A recent review concluded that using optimal nutrition and exercise as the “first-line” intervention in the management of chronic osteoarthritis could well constitute the best medical practice.

What does “optimal nutrition” look like? The China study “showed the serious health consequences of high consumption of pro-inflammatory foods (meat, dairy, fat, and junk) and low consumption of anti-inflammatory plant foods (whole grains, vegetables and fruits, and beans, split peas, chickpeas and lentils).” The unnatural Western diet “contributes to low-grade systemic inflammation, and oxidative tissue stress and irritation, placing the immune system in an overactive state, a common denominator of conditions such as arthritis.”

There are phytonutrients in plants that appear to help decrease the degradation of the joint cartilage, inflammatory activity, cell death and oxidative damage. This is based largely on in vitro studies, suggesting protective benefits of soy, pomegranates, citrus, grapes, green tea, and the curry powder spice turmeric. But my patients are people, not petri dishes. What role might the yellow pigment curcumin in turmeric play in the treatment of osteoarthritis?

Obesity doesn’t just put more stress on our joints. The fatty tissue inside our joints—like in the kneecap itself—is a source of pro inflammatory chemicals that have been shown to increase cartilage degradation. Curcumin may not only help prevent the release of inflammatory chemicals, but may also slow the formation of the fat pad in the first place. But this has all been in test tubes. There have been two clinical studies published to date.

The latest study took 50 patients suffering from mild-to-moderate knee osteoarthritis and gave them either the best available medical treatment, which included control with anti-inflammatory drugs and pain-killers, or the best available treatment along with some proprietary curcumin supplement. They looked at a number of different outcome measures, including the Karnofsky scale which goes up to 100 (normal, no evidence of disease), down to zero, at which you’re dead. The group with the added curcumin did significantly better, and were able to double their walking distance (see the results in my video, Turmeric Curcumin and Osteoarthritis). The curcumin group was also able to significantly decrease their drug use, side-effects, swelling hospitalizations, and other treatments.

But it doesn’t have to be some fancy proprietary formula. In the other study, “The efficacy of turmeric extracts in patients with knee osteoarthritis,” about a hundred sufferers were randomized to ibuprofen or concentrated turmeric extracts for six weeks, and the curcumin group did as good or better than the ibuprofen group. Even though ibuprofen is over-the-counter, it can cause ulceration bleeding and perforation of the stomach and intestines (that is, it can eat right through your stomach wall). In fact, that happened to someone in the study. Whereas the side-effects of curcumin include potentially protecting against a long list of diseases.

What about rheumatoid arthritis? See Turmeric Curcumin and Rheumatoid. Also check out Boosting the Bioavailability of Curcumin and Who Shouldn’t Consume Curcumin or Turmeric.

I think the only other video I have on osteoarthritis is Rose Hips for Osteoarthritis.

Those unfamiliar with The China Study should read it! I also mention it in my video China Study on Sudden Cardiac Death. If, as described, oxidative stress and inflammation both play a role in joint inflammation, then that may help explain the role of turmeric. See my videos Which Spices Fight Inflammation? and Spicing Up DNA Protection.

I’d also add nuts (Fighting Inflammation in a Nut Shell) and mushrooms (Boosting Immunity While Reducing Inflammation) to the list of anti-inflammatory plant foods.

-Michael Greger, M.D

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here and watch my full 2012 – 2015 presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More than an Apple a Day, From Table to Able, and Food as Medicine.


Michael Greger M.D., FACLM

Michael Greger, M.D. FACLM, is a physician, New York Times bestselling author, and internationally recognized professional speaker on a number of important public health issues. Dr. Greger has lectured at the Conference on World Affairs, the National Institutes of Health, and the International Bird Flu Summit, testified before Congress, appeared on The Dr. Oz Show and The Colbert Report, and was invited as an expert witness in defense of Oprah Winfrey at the infamous "meat defamation" trial.

48 responses to “Foods That Fight Osteoarthritis & Inflammation

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  1. If you’re going to get turmeric from food instead of supplements, should it be raw or cooked to get the anti-arthritis benefits described here? I remember from previous blogs that some benefits of turmeric come from cooked and some come from raw.

      1. Adding pepper to turmeric to inhibit liver enzyme production is fine for promoting curcumin uptake, but what about inhibiting normal liver function that is designed to remove other substances the liver sees as waste products or harmful compounds? Seems to me this is getting a little dicey. Those enzymes are there for very good, health promoting reasons. Let’s not get so absorbed in food as allotropic medicine and get back to trusting ordinary whole foods (whole grains, vegetables, fruits, and legumes) as the best way to build and maintain health. Once you start down the food-as-medicine path you need to get concerned about dose, frequency, and unintended consequences. I hear those concerns coming out in the comments below. Back to basics, people.

        1. I am not a medical person or researcher. While considering ordering piperine (black pepper fruit extract) to up my absorption of turmeric, I found this study done on rats,, which indicates that piperine nullifies the antidiabetic and antioxidant activities of curcumin. I love black pepper so will continue consuming it as a condiment; however, I am not going to use the extract.

          Further reading, leads me to believe that ginger increases the efficacy of turmeric and possibly other nutrients. I am now adding 1/8 t. ginger powder to water and drinking it before taking my Organic India turmeric capsules which also include curcumin extract. I am also drinking the ginger powder water as I am weaning myself off Ibuprofen and it does help cut down on my pain and inflammation. In addition, I add 1/4 t. of ginger powder to my morning smoothie.

          1. My doctor GP. prescribed
            Curcuma 100mgs
            Cinamon 100mgs
            Lorcaserine 10 mgs,
            to be made up by Pharmacist, capsules ,60.
            I’m in Brazil

    1. There is video about turmeric and how much better it works when you ingest it with black pepper. Make sure to check that out as well.

      When I take my turmeric supplement (I also eat curries but not often enough) I also make sure to have black pepper along with it just to make sure that I get max bang for the buck…or bang for the spice if you prefer.

      1. YES YES YES on the ground black pepper inclusion! It has been proven to increase our absorption of this mighty plant food! I’ve read that both FRESH AND DRIED (powder) turmeric is equally good for our bodies!!! yay!

    1. I just take a capsule that has turmeric in it in the same dry and powder form as if you were to put it into your cooking, I have never seen an extract but they are probably out there.

      1. I thought about capsules, but for me they cost too much. So now I mix my grocery-store turmeric with applesauce. Usually I put it on a small plate (an orange one natch) and lick it all up, every last granule. However suits each of us is fine.

          1. I actually like the flavor. However, a little bit of AS/Turmeric and some cinnamon? Use curry that you like with the turm in it? Mint oil? Etc?

    1. Hi France! Are you referring to gold milk as in the Ayurvedic recipe for cooking some turmeric powder in milk? If so, you do not need to worry about consuming gold milk (say, turmeric powder cooked in some soymilk or almond milk) with anticoagulant medications. Like who many products, however, it can become difficult to determine the drug-nutrient interactions with food concentrates. So typically, your safest course of action is to consume turmeric in levels one would normally find in regular dietary amounts. You can find more information about the possible concerns regarding turmeric consumption in the video Who Shouldn’t Consume Curcumin or Turmeric?

  2. I don’t like the taste of turmeric in food. Is capsule form equally as good or better? If so, how much and how often is required to derive benefit?

    1. Wiki+Wiki= Grapefruit and pomegranate, seem to block the same enzyme.
      But most of us will have seen warnings about grapefruit on medication, could be a bit too strong an inhibitor.

      NF team?

  3. Should one use the capsules of circummin & black pepper, even though that one is adding turmeric..(grocery store spice)
    to cereal, and a small amount in cooking as well ??

    1. Believe this one or not, but I actually put black pepper (12 to 15 turns on my pepper mill) straight into my smoothies. I do have tons of fruit in there as well along with some greens so I cannot even taste it at all. It could be that I am used to it.

      Try it in smoothies if you get the chance. Use fresh ground and just start off with a couple of turns of the mill to see how it works for you.

      I take turmeric in capsules or sometimes I just eat Indian curries. I tried putting turmeric into foods myself but a little goes a long ways and I have more than ruined a few meals so I stick to capsules or a vegetarian / vegan Indian restaurant option.

      As a side note – my smoothies end up right around 2 quarts when they are done blending so if you make smaller ones, cut back the pepper for sure.

      1. mjs_28s: I DO believe it! Several years ago, I got a recipe from PCRM for “mango lassi” that included black pepper in addition to frozen mango, non-dairy milk, and dates. (I think that was it. There may have been one other ingredient.) I was surprised at the inclusion of the black pepper, but it works *really* well. It helps to balance out the sweet taste in a good way. So, I totally see black peoper working with smoothies.

  4. One also has to pay attention to the quality of the turmeric; in some cases lead has been added as a filler (think of the lovely yellow colour in old paintings…) – so it is best to get organic turmeric!

  5. I’ve noticed a reduction in arthritis pain with turmeric capsules along with an allergen free plant diet. Thanks for all these videos on the value of turmeric. Also, thanks for the further advice to stick to that China Study diet. All you all plant docs saved my life with your research and education. Thanks.

  6. Someone asked for the amount of cumin – with all the authorities on here a simple answer would be nice rather than having someone do all the research!

    1. Amazon sells a few brands of organic turmeric powder and several brands of capsules. It’s a good idea to buy organic turmeric because most of the turmeric sold in the US comes from India, which has to feed more than one billion people. To do that they have to maximize crop yields. The only way to do that is to use pesticide. There’re laws on pesticide usage but nobody follows them because of corrupt bureaucrats. They reportedly use some pesticides banned here decades ago.

  7. I have been using turmeric as an anti-inflammatory for a while. I take a high-quality turmeric supplement. The benefits I’ve experienced from the turmeric have been impressive…it helps my pain and swelling just was well as the stuff my Dr. prescribed. However, the turmeric doesn’t upset my stomach at all. I am learning more and more about the health benefits of turmeric that even go beyond it’s anti-inflammatory capabilities and am always looking for new ways to use turmeric in my diet.

  8. Hi, can I have some advice about the quantity of tumeric that should be consumed for ankylosing spondylitis? Its been suggested I eat a teaspoon of tumeric with natural youghart and some pepper and some honey, once in the morning, but this may go against the no animal /dairy product research that I see in the book by Dr Greger. It’s early days but I can’t find any information in the videos I’ve checked out about the quantity needed. Is there a way to measure your own inflammation and see how effective it is?

  9. I’ve searched this site for any information pertaining collagen absorption and have not found any. I understand collagen supplements are destroyed in the gut, but if the collagen is processed down to the lower Dalton levels would some of it make it into the body? I’m on a quest to help reduce joint damage and pain from arthritis. My diet is probably 75% vegen now. What foods are high in natural collagen? Would it even help?

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