Fiber and Arthritis: How Your Diet Affects Arthritis Risk

Fiber and Arthritis

Arthritis is a frustrating degenerative condition, one that can cause significant pain and limited mobility. Managing that pain is difficult, often requiring medications that come with their own side effects. But thankfully, there are also ways to reduce arthritis pain naturally.

One interesting way of doing so is through the diet, especially by relying on anti-inflammatory foods.

However, recent research has also emphasized another interesting connection – between fiber and arthritis. This association suggests that a high fiber diet may also help to reduce the risk of arthritis and also arthritis pain.

In fact, the observed connection was between fiber and osteoarthritis. This association is significant – because osteoarthritis is not strongly associated with inflammation (1). As a result, it is harder to treat through the diet than other forms of arthritis.

With that in mind, any dietary methods of treating osteoarthritis are highly desirable and need to be fully explored. After all, finding ways to reduce pain without medication is always desirable – especially as medication often has side effects.

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Osteoarthritis and Inflammation

While most forms of arthritis are associated with inflammation, osteoarthritis is different. Instead, it is typically caused by aging, obesity or injury (2). Essentially, osteoarthritis can be considered a ‘wear and tear’ disease. As such, any situation or pattern of behavior that causes high amounts of stress on joints can potentially lead to osteoarthritis.

Woman with lower back pain

As with other types of arthritis, the symptoms of osteoarthritis include pain and stiffness in and around the joint. With more than 20 million Americans suffering from it, this form of arthritis is commonplace – and the chances of having it increase with age (3).

Most other forms of arthritis are associated with misdirected inflammation – which is also why the terms arthritis and inflammation are so strongly associated with one another.

As a result, many people turn to anti-inflammatory food choices as ways to reduce arthritis pain. For example, common recommendations include a diet that is high in omega-3 fatty acids (such as through fatty fish or fish oil) and has a strong focus on antioxidants and phytochemicals.

The site Mind Body Green also offers 11 Rules for an Anti-Inflammatory Diet, which can be a good place to start. The underlying concept is also explained on the site The Everygirl.

So, what about inflammation and osteoarthritis?

Well, the condition may not be caused by inflammation but inflammation can still play a role. In particular, osteoarthritis results in bone rubbing upon bone. That process can be painful and can contribute to inflammation in the joints. The connection is one that Dr. Russell Schierling examines as well.

As a result, reducing inflammation may still help to lower osteoarthritis pain, to some degree. While the effect may not be as strong as for other types of arthritis, it is still significant.

Arthritis and the Diet

So then, an anti-inflammatory diet can be one way to reduce inflammation and arthritis pain, even for people with osteoarthritis. And thankfully, an anti-inflammatory diet doesn’t have to be difficult. In fact, many anti-inflammatory foods can taste great and are easy to include in the diet. These include olive oil, tart cherry juice, turmeric and fermented foods.

And, even though the idea is counterintuitive, coffee may help to reduce inflammation as well.

Of course, choosing anti-inflammatory foods is only part of the battle. You do also need to avoid foods and ingredients that cause inflammation. Some of the most significant examples are sugar and processed foods, both of which are far too common in modern society.

There are also countless books and guides out there (such as the one below), along with many lists and recipes online. This type of information can make it easier to focus on foods that reduce inflammation. Doing so may well help reduce osteoarthritis pain for some people.

A general anti-inflammatory diet isn’t the only way to go either. Instead, some people choose to focus on techniques like ketosis. Now, ketosis is a long-term lifestyle approach, one that involves relying on fat as a key energy source rather than carbs.

To do so, a ketosis diet involves a dramatic shift in the food that you eat and a major reduction in carb consumption. This change in food choice also serves to significantly lower inflammation.

Inflammation aside, choosing a healthy diet is important for osteoarthritis in another way. In particular, healthy food choices play a key role in a person’s weight.

For people that are overweight, weight loss can help to reduce the amount that bone rubs upon bone and considerably lower arthritis pain. This may be another reason to consider a ketosis diet, as the approach is powerful for weight loss.

How Fiber and Arthritis are Related

Whole grain bread

We’ve talked about the impact of diet on arthritis, especially in terms of inflammation and weight loss. But, the connection to fiber is less obvious.

Still, research has indicated that a high fiber diet can help to reduce some of the symptoms of osteoarthritis.

The strongest evidence of this effect comes from a 2017 article published in the Annuals of Rheumatic Diseases.

The authors of this study examined data from two separate large-scale research studies. One of these was the Osteoarthritis Initiative, which involved 4,796 participants. The other was the Framingham Offspring Osteoarthritis Study, which had 1,268 participants.

In both cases, dietary fiber intake was estimated at the beginning of the study. For the Osteoarthritis Initiative study, data was then collected annually for approximately 4 years. In contrast, the Framingham study simply assessed outcomes 9 years after the initial sample.

Within both sets of data, a significant negative association was found between total fiber intake and the risk of osteoarthritis. The effect was also dose-specific, with the largest decrease in risk being seen for the highest levels of fiber intake.

Additionally, the Osteoarthritis Initiative study found a similar relationship between fiber intake and worsening of knee pain. That effect was not found in the Framingham study.

Practical Implications

The research here is observational. As such, there is no way to be certain about whether fiber directly (or indirectly) decreased osteoarthritis risk and lowered the worsening of knee pain.

However, such a relationship is possible.

Inflammation in the knee

For one thing, higher fiber intake can often make it easier for people to lose weight (4). That outcome alone could easily result in lower osteoarthritis risk, especially for people who are overweight.

Likewise, higher fiber intake could lower the risk of weight gain and of becoming obese. This would also decrease the risk of osteoarthritis, especially as obesity is a key risk factor and can place a considerable amount of stress on joints.

On a side note, fiber is generally considered a critical component of a healthy diet (5). This association may mean that people with higher fiber intakes already follow a healthier diet than those that have a lower intake.

As a result, it is possible that fiber intake acts as a rough indicator of a healthy diet and lifestyle and those healthy approaches are what contributes to decreased osteoarthritis risk.

Without experimental studies, it is impossible to know whether or not that is the case. But, regardless of the mechanism, this research makes it clear that fiber can play some role in osteoarthritis risk, either directly or indirectly.

As a result, it offers one more reason why people should focus on getting enough fiber in their diet.

Finally, there is some association between fiber and inflammation.

For example, evidence suggests that individuals who consume high fiber diets tend to have lower levels of C-reactive protein in their blood (6).

This type of protein acts as a rough indication of inflammation and is considered a risk factor for the development of some inflammatory diseases, including cancer, heart disease and inflammatory bowel disease (7).

As such, higher fiber diets may help to lower inflammation levels, promoting better health and lower disease risk overall. When combined with other anti-inflammatory ingredients, it’s easy to see how fiber intake can be powerful for overall health.

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