Can improving your diet help your osteoarthritis?

Watch Professor Peter Brukner, La Trobe University & Founder SugarByHalf


Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common rheumatic disease in our community affecting approximately 15% of the population. OA mainly affects the large weightbearing joints of the lower limb especially the knee and hip. OA is associated with obesity, metabolic disorders, previous injury and a genetic predisposition.

Traditionally, OA is been thought to be mainly due to ‘wear and tear’. Its association with obesity has always been explained by the increased load on the joint due to excessive weight accelerating this ‘wear and tear’.

Our thoughts on OA have changed somewhat in recent years as we have become more aware of the role of inflammation. Inflammation is a major factor in the development of OA. Interestingly obesity is also associated with increased inflammation due to the production of inflammatory cytokines by the fat cells. Other factors associated with increased inflammation include poor diet, lack of exercise, smoking, alcohol, stress, and lack of sleep and sun.

The basis of treatment of OA has always been medications such as the NSAIDs, and surgery in the form of joint replacement. Recently there has been considerable interest in the role of both diet and exercise in reducing the pain and disability associated with OA. 

An interesting research study published last year (Strath et al) showed a marked improvement in symptoms with a ‘low inflammatory diet’ consisting of real foods, and avoiding sugar, processed foods and vegetable oils. These foods have all been shown to increase inflammation in the body, and by removing them and replacing them with real foods such as meat, fish, eggs, dairy, non-starchy vegetables, fruit, nuts and seeds, the amount of inflammation, and therefore pain and disability, is reduced.

It may well be that both the obesity and inflammation associated with OA have a common cause – a diet full of obesogenic and inflammatory foods.