• Tart cherries. Some people with OA have found relief from products made from tart cherries. The ingredient in cherries that helps with OA symptoms is the same one that gives this fruit its red color—anthocyanin. A 2013 study of tart cherry juice found that the drink improved symptoms of OA, although not much more than a nontherapeutic drink (placebo).  Dr. Zashin conducted two small studies using a gel made from tart cherries called CherryFlex. One of the studies showed that patients with OA who used this cherry concoction had significant symptom relief.  “We found that some patients can actually go off their anti-inflammatory drugs,” he said. However, he cautions that larger trials are needed to confirm that it is the cherries that make a difference in OA pain—and not a placebo effect. Never stop taking your medicines without first talking to your doctor.
  • Turmeric. One of the best-researched inflammation fighters isn’t a food at all, but a spice. "Turmeric is really promising as being anti-inflammatory," says Frenhman. Tumeric contains a compound called curcumin. A 2012 review published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences said that “curcumin could be beneficial in the management of chronic inflammatory-related joint disease, including OA” but authors warned that there is a considerable lack of data regarding side effects and safety. The compound has, however, been used for centuries in India to ward off inflammatory diseases. You’ll find this yellow spice in Indian cuisines—particularly curries—or you can add it to your own dishes.
  • Vitamin C. Antioxidants in vitamin C may slow the progression of OA, research finds. A 2011 study from the University of South Florida reported that people who took vitamin C supplements were 11 percent less likely to develop knee OA than those who didn’t take the supplements.  “There is some evidence that [vitamin C] can build cartilage,” Frechman says. You can safely get vitamin C from fruits like strawberries, kiwi, pineapple, or cantaloupe. However, Frechman warns against taking supplements with much higher doses than the recommended daily allowance of 65 to 85 micrograms, because in large doses vitamin C can increase the risk of kidney stones.
  • Foods to avoid

    Some people find that certain foods aggravate their OA. For example, people have reported that eating foods in the nightshade family – such as eggplant, tomatoes, potatoes and most peppers – increases their pain, although studies haven’t confirmed this.

    When it comes to your diet, eat what works for you. “I have some patients who find that when they got off gluten their joints feel better,” Dr. Zashin says. If you think a particular food is aggravating your OA, try eliminating it from your diet and see how you feel.

    Foods high in saturated and trans fats – such as red meat, fried food and packaged baked goods -- should be avoided. They are unhealthy in general, and can lead to weight gain, which can make OA symptoms worse.

    And if you tend to wash down your meal with a sugary soda – don’t. A 2013 study revealed that OA of the knee tended to get worse in men who drank a lot of sodas.

    Healthy choices for healthy joints

    Even foods that may be good for your OA shouldn’t be eaten in isolation. “All the nutrients work together in food,” says Frechman. “You need balance to be healthy.”

    Your goal in managing OA includes making healthy overall lifestyle choices, like combining a variety of healthy foods and getting regular exercise. “Focus on achieving an ideal body weight – that is the key thing that we know helps,” explains Dr. Zashin.