Living your best life with arthritis.

Fibre rich diet may prevent arthritis knee pain in older adults

According to a recent study, diets rich in fibre from plant-based foods can lower the risk of developing knee pain and stiffness due to osteoarthritis (OA) in older adults. Fibre-rich diet can also lower cholesterol, contribute to a better-controlled blood sugar, and a healthier diet.

Sources of dietary fibreOsteoarthritis is a common type of arthritis that affects more than 3,200,000 Canadians – about 1 in 10. Osteoarthritis is caused by the breakdown in cartilage in the joints. Cartilage is a protein substance that acts as a cushion between bones in joints, allowing joints to function smoothly. The disease can affect any joint, but hands and weight-bearing joints—including the spine, hips and knees—are most often affected. Other joints, like shoulders, elbows, and ankles, are less likely to be affected unless the joint has been damaged by injury.

Unlike some other forms of arthritis where women are most affected, women and men are equally likely to be affected by osteoarthritis. It strikes most commonly after the age of 45, but people of all ages—from children to senior citizens-are at risk. While osteoarthritis has no known cure, treatments exist that minimize pain and maintain joint health.

In an interview with Reuters Health, lead author, Dr. Zhaoli Dai of Boston University School of Medicine, said: “The current average fibre intake among U.S. adults is about 15 grams. This is far below the recommended level, which is 22.4 grams for women and 28 rams per day for men 51 years and above.”

In the study, Dai’s team looked at diet and arthritis risk over time in two groups of participants. The first group is the Osteoarthritis Initiative and included 4,796 men and women with OA or at risk for OA. According to Reuters Health, people “who consumed the most dietary fibre at the start of the study were 30 percent less likely than those who ate the least fibre to develop knee pain, stiffness or swelling due to OA, or to worsening of OA, during four years of follow-up.”

The second group is the Framingham Offspring Study group, which included 1,268 adults in their early 50s. The people who consumed the most fibre had a 61 percent lower risk of knee OA symptoms nine years later compared to those who at the least fibre.

Dietary fibre intake could help ease knee arthritis symptoms by reducing inflammation and helping people maintain a healthy body weight, both associated with arthritis. Fibre also acts as a pre-biotic, helping promote the growth of beneficial microbes in the gut, which in turn reduces inflammation.

Dai concludes: “This is the first study to show that consuming more dietary fibre is related to lower risk of painful knee osteoarthritis. Changing diets by increasing intake of dietary fibre seems to be one of the most economic ways to reduce the risk of knee osteoarthritis.” Older adults who are overweight or obese should consider increasing their fibre intake.

Below is an excerpt from Dietitians of Canada’s Healthy Eating Guidelines for Increasing your Fibre Intake:

Steps You Can Take

Most people can meet their fibre needs by eating a variety of healthy foods including vegetables and fruits, whole grains, legumes like dried beans, peas and lentils, nuts and seeds. See Canada’s Food Guide for more information on serving sizes and number of servings.

Picture of whole grainsGrains

  • Eat at least six servings of whole grain products every day. Examples include rolled oats. Barley, brown rice, quinoa and whole wheat breads, breakfast cereals and pasta.
  • Use whole grain bread, rolls, pita or bagels when making toast or sandwiches.
  • Replace at least half of the white flour with whole-wheat flour in your recipes.
  • Add 15-30 mL (1-2 Tbsp) of bran, ground flax seed or a very high fibre cereal to your cereal in the morning.

Vegetables and Fruit

  • Eat at least seven servings of vegetables and fruit every day. Aim for 1-2 servings of fruit and vegetables at every meal and snack.
  • Eat the peels of your vegetables and fruits whenever possible.
  • Try having fruit as a snack or as a dessert. Pears, raspberries and blackberries are top choices for fibre. Guava, persimmon and kumquat are exotic high fibre fruits worth trying.
  • Eat vegetables and fruit instead of drinking juice.

Legumes

  • Add barley, beans, peas or lentils to soups, stews and casseroles. For example, add black beans to spaghetti sauce or lentils to soup.
  • Roast chickpeas or steam edemame (soybeans in a pod) for an easy snack.
  • Use legume-based dips (ex: hummus, white or black bean dip) for veggies instead of sour cream based.

Nuts and Seeds

  • Add toasted nuts, sesame seeds, sunflower or pumpkin seeds to salads and cereals.
  • Sprinkle on pasta dishes and stir-fries.
  • Grab a handful of nuts (60 mL (1⁄4 cup) as a quick snack.

Read Food Labels

  • Compare products and pick the one with the most fibre. Be sure you are comparing the same serving sizes.
  • Check for grams of fibre. High-fibre foods have four or more grams of fibre per serving.
  • Look for ingredients such as bran, whole grain whole wheat, oatmeal or rye flour.
    Increase the fibre in your diet slowly to avoid gas, bloating and diarrhea.
  • Divide fibre-containing foods throughout the day at both meals and snacks.
  • Drink plenty of fluids.

Click here to read the full fact sheet.