For years, people with osteoarthritis have reported that eating certain foods, like cherries, helped alleviate some of the pain and inflammation they felt in their joints. Science has followed suit by studying the chemical effects of these foods to determine if they play a role in relieving OA pain, and, if so, why and how.

With cherries, for example, results presented at a May 2012 American College of Sports Medicine conference found that drinking tart cherry juice twice a day for three weeks resulted in a significant reduction of inflammatory markers. Although the Oregon Health and Science University study was small – 20 women between the ages of 40 and 70 with osteoarthritis –  the findings provide more scientific support for the belief that certain foods can affect inflammation levels for people with osteoarthritis, even if it's not always clear why.

"A lot of what is out there is a little bit speculation, a little bit anecdotal," says Lona Sandon, assistant professor in the department of clinical nutrition at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas.

Studies such as the one on cherries can help clear away some of the speculation and provide more concrete answers.

Tart cherries, it turns out, are one of the richest food sources of anthocyanins, which have anti-inflammatory properties similar to some types of pain relief medication.

Other foods that are suggested by recent research to be anti-inflammatory include:

Garlic. A recent study in BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders noted that people who regularly ate foods in the allium family – garlic, onions, leeks, etc. – had less early evidence of OA. A compound in garlic, diallyl disulphide, may limit the amount of cartilage-damaging enzymes in human cells.

Broccoli. A study by University of East Anglia in the United Kingdom suggests that a compound in broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables called sulforaphane may prevent cartilage from breaking down, which contributes to osteoarthritis. 

Vitamin C. This nutrient helps form collagen and proteoglycans, two components in the cartilage that protects your joints. A 2011 study by the University of South Florida reported that participants who took vitamin C supplements were 11 percent less likely to develop knee OA than those who did not take vitamin C supplements. A 2004 study of vitamin C's effects by Duke University Medical Center, however, had conflicting results. That study concluded that consuming a high level of vitamin C could cause more cartilage damage and bony spurs to form on the knee joints. The researchers cautioned against supplementing vitamin C above the recommended daily dietary allowance. Still, eating foods rich in Vitamin C is good, so look for fruits like strawberries, kiwi, pineapple and cantaloupe, or vegetables like cauliflower or leafy green vegetables like kale and spinach.