Eating for Joint Health

Change Your Diet and Strengthen Your Joints

When all my joint-related troubles began a few years back, I was focused only on physical movement – which stretches to do, which exercises to avoid, should I wear a splint, etc.

I failed to realize that I was approaching my joint health in a narrow-minded and one-dimensional fashion. Another aspect of living that can affect our joints is our diet. These are the building blocks – the shipping freight of our anabolic processes – that our bodies use to rebuild our damaged cartilage, ligaments, and tendons.

So why not feed our joints the best possible nutrients to maximize its resilience and health?

For the past few years, I’ve also discovered that diet and nutrition is a treacherous frontier. For the newbies, like me back in the day, we barely have the slightest idea of where to start. For the experts, new research and new theories are discovered each day, turning last year’s “health food” into “junk food”.

I’m still trying to figure out the best way to eat, but after each experiment I do with my diet, I learn something important about how eating affects my body. I’ve actually learned quite a few things by this time, so let me list off the things I’ve learned that can help heal our joints.

Avoid Allergenic Foods

When you induce an allergic reaction, you systematically inflame your body. For some people, certain food groups can cause these allergies which lead to inflammation. Chronic inflammation of the joints eventually turns into degradation and loss of collagen, pretty much reducing the strength and density of your joints over time.

While I can’t tell you what your body can and can’t handle, I’ll tell you what I avoid. I ultimately cut out grains (anything made with flour), legumes (beans and peanuts), industrial oils (vegetable oils), and any combination of those foods (burgers, burritos, pizza, french fries).

For other people, dairy might be a huge issue. It’s fairly unique and n=1, as I know people who eat crap, but are super-healthy.

Maximize Nutrient-Intake

Without all of the vitamins and minerals we need, our bodies will not be 100% optimal at rebuilding collagen and healing our joints. Off the top of my head, vitamins c and e, and the mineral zinc, are needed for tissue healing and collagen synthesis. Sure, we can take a multivitamin supplement, but why not get nutrition from the right sources (AKA our food?).

This means eating nutrient-dense foods. I’ll list you a few examples: eggs, milk, cheese, liver, steak, and all sorts of colorful fruits/vegetables and their juices.

This also means avoiding foods that bind to vitamins and minerals – right now, I’m thinking raw egg whites (avidin), nuts, and grains (phytic acid).

Eat Your Carbs

As someone who followed the paleo lifestyle like I was part of some cult, I avoided carbohydrates and sugar. Scratch that, I didn’t avoid them. I FEARED them.

I thought eating a fruit salad would increase my body fat, reduce my lean muscle mass, induce diabetes, decrease my brain’s function, create a fungal overgrowth in my blood, and a host of other ridiculous claims. Not only was I paranoid for nothing by believing any form of sugar is evil, I was possibly hurting my joints further.

This is because sugar is needed to rebuild our joints. In collagen synthesis, glucose is required for one step in collagen synthesis. It is used in glycosylation – the division of a compound by attaching glucose to the newly-split ends.

Who knows if you need just 50 grams or 500 grams of carbohydrates, but a little more can’t hurt if you’re low carb. So instead of eating 16z of steak for dinner, cut that in half and add in a bowl fruit.

Avoid Fasting

I used to be an avid proponent of intermittent fasting, particularly the 24-hour variety. There supposed health benefits are hard to ignore, and I was hooked – until I found out that fasting can decrease the rate of collagen synthesis.

In one study performed in guinea pigs, the rate of collagen synthesis sharply drops after 24 hours. Eek! That doesn’t sound good at all!

My guess as to why this happens is that our metabolisms are a sum of catabolic and metabolic activities, and  fasting is hugely catabolic. Increase catabolism without increasing anabolism, and you will get atrophy of the body’s structures. While human studies still need to be performed, I have a feeling that fasting will decrease the rate of collagen synthesis in humans.

While I’m not against fasting at all, I decided that it was another stressor for my body that I didn’t want to risk. I’m sure if my lifestyle was always 100% healthy (regarding sleep, eating, mental stress, etc.), the decrease in collagen synthesis would probably be minimal. However, no one’s perfect so I’m not taking that chance.

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  1. Photo Credits
    Wood joint. Author: Jordanhill School D&T Dept.

  2. That´s some really helpful informations, because I´m currently trying to have better joint, beacouse they pop so much often and it really scares me a lot.

  3. Pingback: Strengthening Joints Through Exercise - Mark Pieciak

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