7 Best Foods For Joint Health

Updated on November 2, 2023

Joint pain is incredibly common, affecting millions of people in the United States every year (1). Although the go-to remedy for many people is to take medications or over-the-counter drugs, lifestyle habits can go a long way in protecting your joints and keeping you mobile.

Diet, in particular, can have a significant impact on joint health. The foods you eat will either increase inflammation and delay your healing process or infuse your body with the nutrients you need to repair and get moving again.

In this article, you'll learn why joint issues occur and which foods to incorporate for long-term joint health.

Why Do Joint Issues Occur?

The most common cause of joint pain is arthritis. Arthritis is an inflammatory condition that affects your joints, with the two most common types of arthritis being osteoarthritis (OA) and rheumatoid arthritis (RA). 

Osteoarthritis occurs when the cartilage at the ends of your bones wears down. This protective tissue is crucial for your joints' healthy movement and flexibility. However, when it wears down, many people begin to experience issues like chronic pain, swelling, tenderness, and stiffness. As a result, you may not be able to engage in normal activities, and the downstream effect can impact physical fitness and mobility. 

This joint condition is primarily caused by wear and tear over time and affects millions worldwide. Although OA can impact any joint, the most commonly affected areas are the hands, knees, hips, and spine (2).   

Rheumatoid arthritis, on the other hand, is an autoimmune disease. In RA, your immune system attacks your own tissues and affects the lining of your joints. Ultimately, RA can lead to bone erosion and joint deformities over time if left untreated. Although less common than OA, RA is estimated to affect about 1% of the population (3). 

Whether you're dealing with wear and tear or are experiencing joint pain due to RA, diet can go a long way in easing symptoms of these joint conditions. While some foods can ease the discomfort of joint pain, others work by enhancing the health and integrity of the joint itself. Below are seven foods that support joint health and longevity.

7 Best Foods For Joint Health

1. Collagen

Collagen is a crucial building block protein for cartilage. In both RA and OA, the cartilage in your joints begins to wear away and causes pain and potentially further damage to your skeletal structure. 

Collagen supplementation has been studied in individuals with joint pain to enhance mobility and significantly reduce pain. In one study, athletes taking collagen experienced less pain while running, walking, changing direction, and rest (4).

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Regarding osteoarthritis, collagen has been shown in several studies to reduce pain and improve measures of function. When collagen is taken orally, it accumulates in your cartilage and stimulates the synthesis of the extracellular matrix. The result is stronger, more resilient joints. It's hypothesized that collagen's direct impact on tissue synthesis is behind its significant impact on joint disease (5).  

Research also shows that collagen may be helpful in the treatment of RA. In one study, participants with severe RA taking collagen saw significant improvements in joint tenderness and swelling, with four participants experiencing complete remission of the disease (5).

2. Brassica Vegetables

Broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, and cabbage all fall under the term "brassica." What makes brassica vegetables so special? They all contain significant amounts of the plant compound sulforaphane (SFN).

SFN is an organosulfur compound that acts as a potent antioxidant in your body, helping to ward off oxidative stress and inflammation. 

Research shows brassica vegetables are excellent for combating joint disease as the SFN may slow cartilage destruction (6).

In osteoarthritis, the cartilage tissue's extracellular matrix is damaged, which leads to the breakdown of the cartilage and subsequent joint pain and swelling. Studies have found that when you eat cruciferous vegetables, the SFN accumulates in your synovial fluid and can block the inflammation and destruction of the extracellular matrix in your joints (7).

3. Cherries

Cherries are rich in phytonutrient compounds, which may help protect your joints from pain and diseasespecifically gout. 

Gout is a type of arthritis that occurs when too much uric acid accumulates in your joints, causing pain and swelling (8). 

Research shows that cherries have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties; they inhibit the production of osteoclasts (cells that resorb bone tissue and reduce uric acid concentrations. 

In populations with gout, consuming as little as ten cherries a day has shown significant improvement in gout flares and symptoms (9)

In people with osteoarthritis, cherry consumption in the form of pills has led to increased function with a reduction in pain in as little as eight weeks (10).

4. Turmeric

One thing that all joint issues have in common is inflammation. Whether it's osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, or just an injury from overuse, if your joints are hurting, you can be sure that inflammation is present. 

While acute inflammation can be a good thing, chronic inflammation is debilitating and is often an over-correction of the immune system in the healing process. 

Therefore, when joint pain becomes chronic, one of the best things you can do for yourself is to get your inflammation under control.

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Turmeric is a spice that's been used as a medicinal plant for thousands of years in Eastern cultures. Its bioactive compound, curcumin, is one of the best-known anti-inflammatories that come from the natural world. 

Research shows that turmeric, due to its high curcumin content, may help ease knee pain in people with osteoarthritis and lower joint pain and swelling in people suffering from rheumatoid arthritis (11).

5. Citrus Fruit

Aside from the amino acids that make up the protein itself, collagen production depends on several nutrients. Of these nutrients, one of the most crucial is vitamin C. 

Vitamin C plays an essential role in healing your connective tissue and combating oxidative stress that often comes with the breakdown of cartilage. Studies show that vitamin C is necessary for the synthesis of collagen fibers and the reconstruction of damaged tissues. In addition, vitamin C assists in bone healing after fracture (12). 

While there are plenty of sources of vitamin C coming from both fruits and vegetables, one of the most potent sources is citrus fruit like oranges, grapefruits, and tangerines (13). 

Although red peppers have an even higher content of vitamin C, for joint health issues, you may want to steer clear as red peppers are nightshade vegetables that could instigate more inflammation.

6. Fatty-Fish

Salmon and other fatty fish are excellent sources of omega-3 fatty acids, which are anti-inflammatory in nature. Omega-3's help reduce joint pain by changing your cells' structure, switching them over from inflammation-producing to inflammation-reducing (14).

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In people with rheumatoid arthritis, taking omega-3 supplements has been shown to reduce joint pain and swelling significantly (15).

Research also shows that taking fish oil improves morning stiffness and joint tenderness and may provide enough relief to reduce anti-inflammatory medications (16).

7. Garlic

Garlic is another herb that's been used for thousands of years as a healing plant for its medicinal properties and is well-known to enhance the function of the immune system. Due to both anti-inflammatory and antioxidant compounds, research shows that garlic may have a potent impact on joint pain, and arthritis in particular. 

A compound in garlic called thiacremonone has been shown in animal research to target arthritic genes and regulate inflammatory responses (17). In a human trial, researchers found that increased consumption of garlic led to lower levels of hip osteoarthritis. In addition to its impact on inflammatory genes, it appears that garlic may also protect cartilage against the impact of wear and tear (17, 18).

The Bottom Line

If you've been experiencing achy joints or even have full-blown arthritis, taking a look at your diet is crucial. 

Foods like fatty fish, brassica vegetables, cherries, garlic, turmeric, and citrus fruit help to calm inflammation and give your body the nutrients it needs to support collagen production. 

Meanwhile, collagen powders offer your body the building blocks it needs to synthesize healthy connective tissue and rebuild damaged joints. 

In general, consuming a diet that's rich in whole foods and only incorporating processed foods only sparingly will have an overall beneficial impact on the longevity of your joints, tissues, and organs. 

And as always, quality is key. Whether you're looking for food or supplements, try to ensure that the manufacturer isn't cutting any corners and that you're receiving the best quality you can.

Dr. Chad Walding
Article by

Dr. Chad Walding

Dr. Chad Walding is the Co-Founder and Chief Culture Officer at NativePath. He is a Doctor of Physical Therapy with a passion for helping people eat, move, and live in harmony with their natural state.

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    Medical Disclaimer

    This content is for informational and educational purposes only. It is not intended to provide medical advice or to take the place of such advice or treatment from a personal physician. All readers/viewers of this content are advised to consult their doctors or qualified health professionals regarding specific health questions. Neither Dr. Chad Walding nor the publisher of this content takes responsibility for possible health consequences of any person or persons reading or following the information in this educational content. All viewers of this content, especially those taking prescription or over-the-counter medications, should consult their physicians before beginning any nutrition, supplement, or lifestyle program.

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