Patients often tell me as an afterthought about their arthritic hands or dodgy knees, not expecting to be able to do anything about it.
‘That’s wear and tear’, they say with resignation. It’s what doctors often tell people, and because it’s so common, that’s an easy assumption to make. But it’s not entirely true.
When I worked in a naturopathic clinic back in the 80s, patients with arthritis were usually put on an exclusion diet. Six pounds of grapes a day – and nothing else – was a frequent choice, and the rationale then was that grapes contained useful minerals that would combat joint inflammation. Most people had some improvement, and a few reported complete remission of their symptoms. But we now know that there’s more to it than a few minerals.
There are foods that encourage inflammation, and foods that do the opposite.
Grapes certainly fall into the second category, and so do most vegetables and fruits, with the possible exception of the Solanaceae family (potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, aubergines and chillis) and citrus fruits. Some contain active anti-inflammatory ingredients, like flavonoids and essential oils, but recent studies suggest that fibre – which is the part you don’t digest – has a very important part to play.
There is a strong correlation between a diet high in fibre – which includes whole grains and pulses as well as vegetables – and a lower risk (up to 61%) of developing arthritis.
What’s more, if you already have joint problems, increasing your dietary fibre can help to improve or even resolve them. In other words, ‘wear and tear’ doesn’t have a lot to do with it.
Of course, it does sometimes play a part, but that part is much smaller than we used to think. And that’s very good news. If you’re waiting for a hip operation or a knee replacement, for example, you might be able to do a great deal by modifying your diet, and maybe even avoid the operation altogether.