Almost 70 million people--nearly one in six American--are affected by arthritis and other chronic joint problems, according to a recent government survey. Although the principal causes of arthritis are unknown, physicians cite aging, injury, obesity, infection, and autoimmune reactions as possible factors.
Taking preventive action is the best way to maintain healthy joint function throughout life. Many yogis have long recommended the discipline's gentle, nonstraining movements to enhance both flexibility and stability in the joints. Now some studies also point to diet as a factor in helping reduce arthritis pain and perhaps even playing a role in prevention. There are basically four ways that food can help you prevent and control arthritis: by taming free radicals, fighting infection, controlling inflammation, and (in the case of rheumatoid arthritis) lowering immune-system reactivity.
Free radicals are a prime cause of the most common forms of arthritis, says Jason Theodosakis, M.D., author of The Arthritis Cure. To counteract them, he recommends eating antioxidant carotenoids, which are found in yellow-orange foods such as apricots, carrots, squash, and melons.
According to recent research sponsored by the National Institutes of Health, some types of arthritis are caused by infection. So physicians may attempt to control disease progression in these types with antibiotics. To fend off microbes naturally, you can try upping your intake of natural antimicrobial foods, such as raw garlic and oregano, and fruits and vegetables rich in Vitamin C.
Reducing inflammation is another key to treating most forms of arthritis, and some studies, such as one published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition, show that eating fish, which contains omega-3 fatty acids, can help decrease joint inflammation via several biochemical pathways in the body. Fish oil inhibits the production of precursors to prostaglandins--fat derivatives that help create inflammation, says Joseph Mercola, D.O., author of The No-Grain Diet.
Ayurvedic medicine also uses oil as a leading arthritis remedy. In Ayurveda, arthritis is seen as a disease of excess vata, the air principle; vata increases as we age, reducing moisture throughout the body and causing the joints to lose lubricity. To counter this, Ayurveda counsels smoothing ghee (clarified butter), sesame oil, or olive oil on cranky joints while consuming any of the three as a food to help soothe inflammation, lubricate joints, and banish arthritis stiffness.