5 Steps To Reduce Joint Pain By Eating An Anti-Inflammatory Diet

5 Steps To Reduce Joint Pain By Eating An Anti-Inflammatory Diet 1024 576 Best Practice Health TV

The word arthritis has two parts. Arth- is Latin for joint, and -itis, Latin for inflammation. So, arth-ritis is an inflamed joint. As everyone knows, arthritis is painful. It makes sense that for people with arthritis the inflammation in your joints at least contributes to the pain coming from your joints. That is why more and more doctors today are recommending an anti-inflammatory diet for the treatment their patients with joint pain from arthritis.

Doctors are also looking for alternatives to non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. That is because we know that the long-term use of anti-inflammatory medications like Alleve and Ibuprofen cause ulcers, kidney failure, heart attacks, and stroke. Unlike pharmaceuticals, healthy whole foods are balanced by nature to minimize the risk of complications for people who eat them. But does the food we eat contribute to inflammation in our joints?

Food allergies prove that food in our intestines causes inflammation in our bodies. Everything you eat is ground up by your teeth, dissolved into a stew of macromolecules by the acids in your stomach, and then squeezed along through your guts until the ending with which we are all familiar. Nutrients are absorbed across our intestinal walls. If you are allergic to peanuts and you eat a peanut, you will have an allergic reaction at this stage of the process.

An anti-inflammatory diet reduces joint pain by acting like a medication to reduce inflammation, and by preventing inflammation due to foods in the first place.

The thing is, raising the level of inflammation in our guts raises the level of inflammation in the whole body. An allergic reaction is an example of an inflammatory reaction. And we know that some foods, like peanuts, often cause stronger reactions than others.

Think of your immune system like it is an army. In peacetime the army may be calmly building up cells in your spleen, restoring the bone marrow, and patrolling the blood guarding your borders. But after war breaks out in your guts your cellular soldiers are at a higher stage of readiness everywhere. The threshold for triggering a reaction from the whole army is lower.

That is the theory of how food allergies cause joint pain. By triggering the inflammatory system in your guts your body gets ready to rumble, and the inflammatory process in your joints is activated. The amount of c-reactive protein in your blood is a measure of this degree of “readiness,” or background inflammation, in the body.

Since what we eat affects our overall level of inflammation, by avoiding inflammatory food you reduce your overall level of inflammation. Reducing your overall level of inflammation reduces your joint pain. Another name for avoiding inflammatory foods is being on an anti-inflammatory diet.


The internet is full of anti-inflammatory diets, but the one we have had the best luck with at PS&J is The Fat Resistance Diet by Dr. Leo Galland. It was developed by the author as a diet for joint pain.


But reality goes one step further. It is not crazy to think of food an actual medicine. We know that most early medicines came directly from nature. For example, the heart medicine digitalis famously was first isolated from the foxglove tree bark. Turmeric has been used since antiquity as an anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer medicine. There are as many pieces of advice about an anti-inflammatory diet on the internet as there are drops of rain in a typhoon. If you want to try some things we ‘ve broken it down into 5 steps we call TOAST. These steps are complete with healthy hacks to help them become habits.



Tea is for turmeric

The first T is for Turmeric, which is easy to get as a tea. Check out this video by my old medical school professor Dr. Andrew Weil on How To Make Turmeric Tea | Andrew Weil, M.D. – Bing video . Although it is an ancient compound, Turmeric is a legitimate anti-inflammatory drug. But the proof of the pudding is always in the eating: you know Turmeric Tea works if you drink it before bed and wake up without joint pain or stiffness.


Healthy Hack! Turmeric works by having your body break it down into curcumin which is easier to absorb when taken by mouth. You can buy curcumin as a tablet or even a chew on the internet or in the same stores where you buy fish oil capsules. Buy a bottle of curcumin tablets or chews and put them by your toothbrush. If you reach the end of the day and did not get to drink a cup of turmeric tea, then take a curcumin capsule before bed.


Why not just avoid all the fuss and take an anti-inflammatory drug like Aleve or Ibuprofen? Because drugs are dangerous. Aleve and Ibuprofen are non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). If you tear your anterior cruciate ligament, take an NSAID (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug) for a few weeks. However, you should know there are real dangers to taking these medications long-term.

After four weeks of NSAIDs the risk of gastrointestinal bleeding from peptic ulcer disease increases five times, and 15 or 20 percent of all gastrointestinal bleeds were caused by NSAIDs. The second life-

threatening side effect of NSAIDs is kidney failure. These drugs also cause vascular events that can kill you like myocardial infarction (aka heart attack) and stroke.

Turmeric is balanced by nature; we know it is not poisonous as people have been eating it for generations. If you do not have an extra fifteen minutes or the ingredients to make turmeric tea, then pop a curcumin capsule or chew before bed

O is for Oil

Fish oil has a strong anti-inflammatory effect and reduces cardiovascular events like stroke and heart attack by acting as a natural blood thinner. I think the best way to get fish oil is through a whole food. Dieticians recommend getting three serving per week of oily fish like sardines or salmon. Of course, dieticians have traditionally been Priests in the Temple of Wrong Ideas. But there’s not much else to go by.

Without going into the chemistry of it all, replace the oils in your pantry with olive oil. And eat three servings of oily fish per week.


Healthy hack! You know that bottle of curcumin tables by your toothbrush? Put a bottle of fish oil or krill capsules next to it. If you did not eat a serving of oily fish that day before you brush your teeth pop down two fish oil tablets with your curcumin.


A is for Ayurvedic Cleanse

American Medicine —like the evidence-based practices based on the sciences of biology, chemistry, and pharmacology I learned in medical school— is called allopathic medicine. In America we follow allopathic medicine, but it has not always been that way. At one time in our country, we were a little into another flavor of medicine called homeopathic medicine. In homeopathic medicine they dilute everything down so that you can take a tiny concentration of medication with the goal of having a therapeutic effect without all the complications. As it turns out homeopathic medicine did not fit well with chemistry or molecular biology— so we abandoned it in favor of allopathic medicine.

Not all the other countries switched as quickly as us to allopathic medicine. In India, an ancient system of medicine was developed called ayurveda. The ayurvedic system is based on life forces they call doshas. Disease for ayurvedic medicine is the result of an imbalance in your doshas. Ayurvedic medicine is not consistent with allopathic medicine, but its ancient, survived the test of time, and cool. There is an intense amount of knowledge there of wisdom accumulated over the years, and ayurvedic practice has a lot to offer.

A cardiologist (Dr. Alejandro Junger, MD) developed a three-week elimination fast based on ayurvedic principles. The idea is to eliminate all the most common inflammatory foods and see how you feel. Then add them back one at a time to figure out which foods you should avoid. If three weeks is too much for

you then there is a seven-day version. I have done the three-week version several times and I can testify to that fact you feel like a million bucks and lose a ton of weight by the end of those three weeks.


Healthy Hack! Get a copy of Clean by Alejandro Junger on Amazon And follow the diet for 3 weeks. Before you begin have your doctor check your level of c-reactive protein (CRP) in your blood.


S is for Statin

If you want to take it to the next level, consider starting a statin. Lipitor and Crestor are examples. Statins are among the most common medications in America today because they work in your liver to reduce cholesterol. Cardiologists see cholesterol as a risk factor for heart attacks; so, reducing your cholesterol reduces your risk of heart attack. But statins are also strongly anti-inflammatory.

Statins are common, but do not let that trick you into thinking they are not powerful drugs. Statins can cause muscle problems, and they have a hundred other side effects, so you do not go into them lightly. However, if you want to reduce your inflammation to reduce your joint pain and your cholesterol is elevated as well, I would ask my doctor if a statin is right for you. Your doctor will need to follow your blood work and cholesterol levels, which is a good opportunity to check your CRP as well.

Track your efforts to turn good ideas into healthy habits


“You cannot manage what you cannot measure.”
-Peter Drucker, Edward Deming, or some else.


The source of this quote is disputed, but the idea is not. Two of the greatest management thinkers in history told us if you want to manage something you must measure it. If you are going on an anti-inflammatory diet to get rid of your joint pain, there are three things you need to track.

The first one is simply your weight. You do not have to weigh yourself every day, but you should follow your progress in some fashion. There are now a lot of apps on your phone that record and store your weight which connect to the scale wirelessly. This seems like the way to go. There are a lot of blue-tooth or wifi-enabled bathroom scales on the market. For what it is worth, I have the Fitbit Altria.

The second thing to follow is your CRP blood level. Again, the CRP tells you how much inflammation you have going on in your body. If your level is not falling you need to double down on the first four steps. Have your doctor check your serum CRP level once a month until it is stable, then quarterly. If you do not have a doctor google a lab near you, many do not require a prescription for serum level of CRP.

The third thing I recommend you track what you eat. If you are like me, most of the things you eat will be the things recommended, but not all. Instead of tracking all the food that you should eat— which is 99 of the foods you eat— it is more efficient to track the stuff you were not supposed to eat. But do track something. The observer effect of physics in in effect: just the act of tracking what you eat changes what you eat for the better.

Keep in mind also that minor changes can make a significant difference in how you look and feel. There are 3500 calories in a pound of fat, and seven days in a week. If you cut 500 calories of unhealthy food a day that is a pound of fat a week. Start with tea. See how you feel. If you like it, make the TOAST.


Dan Lieberman, M.D.

Medical Director | Phoenix Spine & Joint