You can stay flexible when you eat more fiber and avoid the joint pain and stiffness that come with osteoarthritis, shows a new study.
While previous studies have long linked the consumption of fiber with physical health benefits, ranging from lower cholesterol to improved heart health and better blood-sugar control, the new study from Tufts University researchers adds another health-boosting benefit to the list.
“This is the first study to show that consuming more dietary fiber is related to lower risk of painful knee osteoarthritis,” lead researcher Dr. Zhaoli Dai told Reuters. “Changing diets by increasing intake of dietary fiber seems to be one of the most economic ways to reduce the risk of knee osteoarthritis.”
More than 30 million adults in the United States suffer from osteoarthritis, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). A degenerative disease, osteoarthritis leads to pain, stiffness and swelling when cartilage and bones within a person’s joints begin to wear down.
The study authors found that people who consumed less fiber tended to have poorer diets overall, which could be a signal that joint degeneration is more likely.
“Like metabolic diseases, there is a strong link between obesity, inflammation and knee [osteoarthritis], where obesity both increases loading in weight-bearing joints,” write the study authors.
For the study, the researchers assessed fiber-consumption levels of about 6,000 people and tracked the health outcomes of those people for up to nine years. They found that total dietary fiber intake ”was inversely associated” with the risk of developing osteoarthritis in the knee.
“Our results consistently showed that in two prospective U.S. cohorts with different study designs and study populations, those who consumed higher fiber intake were less likely to develop [symptomatic osteoarthritis] or to experience worsening knee pain during the study course regardless of socioeconomic or obesity status,” report the authors in the Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases.
The researchers report that multiple factors may be at play when it comes to fiber consumption. For one, they state that those who consume more fiber are likelier to adhere to healthy dietary standards in general. Those who consume more fiber tend to have a lower body mass index, note the study authors.
But regardless of the precise mechanism, the researchers attribute better joint health to more fiber.
“These data demonstrate a consistent protective association between total fiber intake and symptom-related knee [osteoarthritis],” conclude the authors.
Foods High in Fiber
Adding more fiber to your diet doesn’t have to be a challenge. You simply have to know where to find fiber-rich foods and incorporate them into your daily meals.
“Dietary fibres are carbohydrates, primarily from plant-based foods such as cereal grains, fruits and vegetables, and nuts and legumes,” note the Tufts researchers.
Eating more fresh fruit, such as pears and apples, can boost your fiber levels. You’ll also find high fiber levels in oatmeal, brown rice and multi-grain cereals.
Richard Scott is a health care reporter focusing on health policy and public health. Richard keeps tabs on national health trends from his Philadelphia location and is an active member of the Association of Health Care Journalists.