Foods and Herbs for Supporting Joint Health

Jul 25, 2023

Strong joints and overall healthy joints are important at any age. When our joints are functioning properly, we can enjoy exercise and day to day general tasks without discomfort and/or pain. But as we age our joints can deteriorate or a variety of joint related ailments and diseases may arise.

While taking pharmaceuticals may be necessary (and that is totally ok) there may be some alternative and supportive natural remedies to help ease the inflammation, pain, and discomfort. Let’s take a look at some foods and herbs that may help support healthy joints.

Wild Salmon (and other seafood)

The widely-studied Omega 3 fatty acids are well known for combating inflammation throughout the body but what makes them unique in wild salmon and other types of seafood? Out of the three main types of Omega 3 fatty acids (alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)), it is one of the only sources of EPA and DHA found in food. While very small amounts of ALA (flax seeds and walnuts) can be converted to EPA and DHA, the best way to obtain these powerhouse omegas is from consuming cold water fish and other types of seafood.

Note: If you are vegan or vegetarian, you can still get EPA/DHA directly from an algae source but as you will see below, there are many other benefits to consuming other types of seafood, like wild caught salmon.

Wild salmon contains bioactive proteins (protein molecules) which may provide support for joint cartilage. One bioactive peptide called calcitonin is a key hormone for helping regulate and stabilize the balance of collagen and minerals in the bone and surrounding tissue (1).

Astaxanthin is a red-pink pigment that can be found in various seafoods, algae, and the feathers of flamingos. Some early evidence suggests that it’s powerful anti inflammatory properties may help protect against osteoporosis (2).

Another important nutrient concentrated in wild salmon is selenium. While this mineral supports many systems in the body, selenium intake is also associated with decreased risk of joint inflammation (3).

If you are not getting enough wild salmon into your diet, a whole food supplement may be beneficial. 

Cherries

A flavonoid found in cherries, known as anthocyanin, hosts its powerful anti-inflammatory benefits. Some studies have shown that concentrated cherry juice may help relieve pain for those suffering from osteoporosis and reduces flares in those with Gout (4,5).

Turmeric

While there needs to be more studies conducted, there is promising research for the use of Curcumin (a anti-inflammatory constituent found in turmeric) for providing relief for arthritis and other joint-related ailments. One study showed that taking 1,000 milligrams (mg) of curcumin each day for 8–12 weeks helped reduce pain and inflammation due to arthritis, particularly osteoarthritis (6).

Whole Grains

Whole grains contain powerful antioxidants, minerals, and vitamins that help lower inflammation in the body. Some of these nutrients include Vitamin E, selenium, magnesium, and B-vitamins.

Whole grains are also high in soluble and insoluble fiber. Some studies show that higher total fiber intake was related to a lower risk of osteoarthritis symptoms (7).

Cruciferous Vegetables

Sulforaphane, a powerful phytochemical found in cruciferous vegetables, has been linked to numerous health benefits. One study found that sulforaphane blocks inflammation and helps reduce and slow down cartilage destruction in joints (8)

How to activate Sulforaphane: Sulforaphane is activated when glucoraphanin comes into contact with an a family of enzymes called myrosinase. These enzymes are only activated and released when a plant is cut or chopped and can be destroyed if the vegetable is heated. Since the myrosinase enzymes are denatured upon cooking, a simple hack is to add mustard seeds or mustard seed powder to your cooked cruciferous veggies as it contains the enzyme myrosinase.

There is also a catch when it comes to the activation of sulforaphane. Once you cut your cruciferous vegetable, you have to allow it to sit for 40 minutes so the myrosinase and glucoraphanin have enough time to activate sulforaphane.

Nuts & Seeds

Nuts and Seeds should be a staple in your diet for many reasons and one of them is that they are all high in omega 3 fatty acids. As we can see from above, they provide a wide range of benefits for heart, brain, and of course, joint health (9).

Specifically, some seeds are high in ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), a type of omega 3 fatty acid. ALA’s are also anti-inflammatory and support joint health. Walnuts, chia seeds, and flax seeds are a few great sources to consume regularly.

Did you know that chia seeds contain quercetin? Quercetin is another constituent that is excellent at fighting inflammation.

Chia seed tip: If you have a hard time digesting chia seeds, try soaking them in water overnight (in a closed container, in the fridge). Soaking allows the release of enzyme inhibitors (ex: phytic acid), which in turn makes nutrients more bioavailable and the seeds easier to digest.

Boswellia

Boswellia, also known as frankincense, is a resin extract from the Boswellia tree. While most of the studies have been on animals, it shows promising anti-inflammatory benefits not only for the joints, but on the entire body.

One clinical trial has shown that Boswellia serrata, an extract of the plant, can reduce pain and considerably improve knee-joint functions, in some cases providing relief even within seven days (10).

Ginger

If you have Rheumatoid Arthritis, an autoimmune disease that attacks the joints, then you may want to consider adding more ginger to your diet. One study showed that powdered ginger decreased high-sensitivity C-reactive Protein and Interleukin 1 beta (IL-1β) in patients with active rheumatoid arthritis (11). It appears that ginger plays a role in improving inflammation in the rheumatoid arthritis patients by decreasing inflammatory factors.

Eggshell Membrane

Natural Eggshell Membrane (NEM®) contains naturally occurring glycosaminoglycans and proteins essential for maintaining healthy articular cartilage and the surrounding synovium (connective soft-tissue membrane that lines the inner surface of synovial joint capsules).

One clinical study showed that by taking 1, 500mg capsule of NEM® a day, patients with osteoporosis saw up to 26.6% reduction in pain and stiffness in the knees (12).

Type II Collagen

While most people are familiar with Type I and III collagen, Type II collagen has been gaining popularity for joint health.

Type II collagen supplements are derived from chicken sternum cartilage and there has been a lot of research on how effective it can be for supporting joint health.

Several animal and human studies have shown that Type II collagen may improve joint mobility, flexibility, and provide comfort by preventing the immune system from attacking and damaging cartilage (13,14,15). While these studies were only done in animals, undenatured could potentially be an effective remedy for joint ailments.

Interesting to note that one study on dogs found that undenatured Type ll collagen was found to be superior to glucosamine and chondroitin (16).

Arnica

Arnica has been used for centuries as a natural remedy for inflammation, joint and muscle pain, and arthritis (17).  The most common form of Arnica is a homeopathic preparation (highly diluted) as regular Arnica can have cytotoxic side effects.

A few clinical trials have shown that a homeopathic arnica gel significantly reduced pain in those suffering with osteoarthritis of the hands and knees (18,19).

Whether you are looking for preventative or acute care, we can see that there are a variety of natural ways to support our joints today and when the time comes that they need some extra care. It’s important to speak with your practitioner before you start any new supplements, especially if you are on medication.

(1,3) https://jimruskfishingalaska.com/health-benefits-of-wild-caught-salmon/

(2) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6914430/

(4) https://www.macrothink.org/journal/index.php/jfs/article/view/1927

(5) https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/epdf/10.1002/art.34677

(6) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5003001/

(7) Rozenberg S, Body JJ, Bruyère O, et al. Effects of dairy products consumption on health: benefits and beliefs--a commentary from the Belgian bone club and the European society for clinical and economic aspects of osteoporosis, osteoarthritis and musculoskeletal diseasesCalcif Tissue Int. 2016;98(1):1-17. doi:10.1007/s00223-015-0062-x 

(8) Rose K Davidson, Orla Jupp, Rachel de Ferrars, Colin D Kay, Kirsty L Culley, Rosemary Norton, Clare Driscoll, Tonia L Vincent, Simon T Donell, Yongping Bao, Ian M Clark. Sulforaphane represses matrix-degrading proteases and protects cartilage from destruction in vitro and in vivoArthritis & Rheumatism, 2013; DOI: 10.1002/art.38133

(9) https://www.womansworld.com/posts/joint-health/nuts-and-seeds-reduce-arthritis-pain

(10) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3309643/

(11) https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32280660/

(13) https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/8546737/

(14) https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/8378772/

(15) https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19697097/

(16) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7222752/#B96-animals-10-00697

(17) Simon L.S. Relieving pain in America: A blueprint for transforming prevention, care, education, and research. J. Pain Palliat. Care Pharmacother. 2012;26:197–198. doi: 10.3109/15360288.2012.678473.

(18) https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23728701/

(19) https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12539881/

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