senior female client doing her grocery shopping with the assistance of a female right at home caregiver senior female client doing her grocery shopping with the assistance of a female right at home caregiver

Older Adults Can Fight Arthritis Through Food

Chronic inflammation is at the root of arthritis, a sometimes debilitating disease affecting 21% or 53 million older adults in the U.S. Like other inflammation-related diseases, such as Type 2 diabetes, arthritis may be best treated by both medication and healthy dietary habits. This may mean significantly changing the way a senior eats. Because changing daily living patterns at any stage, particularly later in life, can be a real challenge, loved ones and professional caregivers can play a key role in getting a senior started on an anti-inflammatory diet and helping them maintain it.

What Is Chronic Inflammation?

Acute inflammation is a natural byproduct of the body’s immune system that gets triggered in response to some physical irritation, infection, or injury. The immune cells and chemicals produced to fight a foreign body stop generating once healing is complete. Normal short-term inflammation protects the body and promotes healing. The problem comes with chronic inflammation, as in arthritis patients, when the body’s inflammatory substances and processes stay active all the time rather than turn off. Chronic inflammation leads to sore, stiff, damaged joints associated with arthritis and other diseases, such as fibromyalgia.

No one knows exactly why chronic inflammation occurs in some people and not in others. What we eat is an important factor, as some foods and beverages contribute to inflammation while others suppress it.

No two cases of arthritis look or feel the same. The areas most commonly affected are the hands and wrists, knees, hips, feet and ankles, shoulders, and lower back. There are many types of arthritis, ranging from osteoarthritis to rheumatoid arthritis to gout. An individualized care plan designed by a physician can provide the best relief for older adults.

Anti-inflammatory medications help fight pain and chronic inflammation. However, these drugs are not safe for everyone, and extended use can lead to complications and side effects.

The Role Food Plays in Arthritis and Inflammation

An optional or additional way to tackle inflammation is by eating foods rich in antioxidants, which have been shown to mitigate or relieve pain caused by inflammation.

Diet alone cannot cure or reverse arthritis, but experts from the Cleveland Clinic and Mayo Clinic, among other leading health care institutions, recommend certain foods known to strengthen bones, maintain the immune system, and fight inflammation. Experts agree that adding anti-inflammatory foods to a balanced diet may help ease pain and other arthritis symptoms.

Along with a good diet, older adults may find relief in regular exercise and maintaining a healthy body weight. Vitamins and natural supplements can add another layer of anti-inflammatory defense and treatment.

Foods To Avoid

Just as there are foods that fight inflammation, there are foods that promote it. Unhealthy foods pose a greater risk of developing many chronic diseases, so older adults should be mindful of what they eat if they wish to attain optimal overall health. A bad diet often leads to obesity, another risk factor for inflammation. But the critical thing to know is that it’s not so much how many calories you consume as what kinds of calories you ingest.

Try to avoid or limit foods that contribute to or worsen inflammation, such as:

  • Refined carbohydrates like white bread, pies, cakes, and pastries
  • Fried foods
  • Soda and other sugary beverages
  • Red meat and processed meat
  • Margarine, shortening, and lard
  • Fatty foods whose empty carbohydrates contain excess sugar or salt

These Foods Fight Inflammation

Anti-inflammatory foods are rich in antioxidants and polyphenols, which are protective compounds found in plants. They are the No. 1 recommended dietary response to arthritis. A Mediterranean diet heavy in fruits, vegetables, healthy fats like olive oil and nuts, whole grains, and fish is the classic plan to follow because it features foods that fight inflammation and eliminates foods that exacerbate it.

An anti-inflammatory diet should include:

  • Tomatoes
  • Olive oil
  • Green leafy vegetables, such as spinach, kale, and collards
  • Fruits, such as strawberries, blueberries, cherries, and oranges
  • Nuts, like almonds and walnuts
  • Red, kidney, and pinto beans
  • Fatty fish, like salmon, mackerel, tuna, and sardines

The above foods not only combat inflammation but also contribute to an overall healthy nutritional profile and lifestyle that help prevent and treat many diseases.

Balance Food With Vitamins and Supplements

Since no single food, food group, diet, or medication can relieve all arthritis symptoms, the best approach for most individuals is a regimen of foods, supplements, and vitamins combined with medications.

To complement a healthy diet, an older adult might consider increasing their intake of vitamins A, D, and E, all of which contain anti-inflammatory properties. Another option is eating foods rich in these vitamins. Other natural supplements to consider include these anti-inflammatory substances:

  • Omega-3 fatty acids
  • Curcumin
  • Zinc
  • Green tea
  • Frankincense
  • Capsaicin

Experts advise checking with a physician or pharmacist before taking any vitamins or supplements, especially if taking prescription and over-the-counter medications. It’s better to be safe than sorry to avoid dangerous drug-food-supplement interactions.

A Family Caregiver Can Be an Older Person’s “Diet Buddy”

A loved one of an older adult experiencing arthritis symptoms can serve as an advocate for following a healthy diet. A close friend or family member can encourage the senior to eat right and even gently hold them accountable for sticking with the plan.

How Right at Home Can Help

Short of a family caregiver to fill the role of a “diet buddy,” a Right at Home caregiver can help a senior eat right by helping shop for groceries and preparing meals that follow certain dietary guidelines. A caregiver can also help an older adult research which foods, vitamins, and supplements make sense depending on preferences, tolerances, and costs.

Good health is a team effort between a senior and the caregivers, advocates, physicians, and pharmacists who assist them. Since sustaining dietary changes can be hard for people to do alone, it makes sense for someone who is close to an older adult to serve as an available resource and support.

To find out more about how a professional caregiver can help, use our office locator to find the Right at Home office nearest you.

Interested in receiving tips, information, and advice about caring for your aging loved one? Sign up for our monthly e-newsletter.

Author Leo Adam Biga

Leo Adam Biga is a veteran freelance journalist and author who writes stories about people, their passions and their magnificent obsessions. The Omaha native and University of Nebraska at Omaha graduate is the author of “Alexander Payne: His Journey in Film.” Follow his work at

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