The benefits of a Mediterranean diet have long been extolled by arthritis researchers. A study from the Cochrane Collaboration in 2009 found that olive oil and the Mediterranean diet may reduce pain following a 12-week trial.
As detailed in a recent article in British newspaper, Sunday Express, olive oil is rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, also found in oily fish such as tuna and salmon. Omega-3 works as an anti-inflammatory and helps reduce swelling and pain in arthritic joints.
Sunflower oil, on the other hand, contains Omega-6 fatty acids. While small quantities of Omega-6 are not harmful and should be ingested as part of a balanced diet, Omega-6s are known to cause inflammation, thereby worsening arthritic swelling and pain.
The Arthritis Foundation website suggests consuming 2 to 3 tablespoons of olive oil daily. Alongside Omega-3, olive oil also contains oleocanthal, a natural compound which works in a similar way to NSAIDs (non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory drugs), by reducing the effect of enzymes that cause inflammation. A common NSAID used for arthritic pain is ibuprofen, which, like most medication, can have unpleasant side effects. Taking regular NSAIDs increases the risk of kidney failure and stomach ulcers.
Oleocanthal was discovered to reduce inflammation in a 2005 study. It found that extra virgin olive oil contains the same enzymes as drugs like ibuprofen, despite the molecular structure of oleocanthal and ibuprofen being completely different. Dr. Gary Beauchamp, who led the study, found that the more astringent the olive oil, the more oleocanthal it is likely to contain. When sipped, the oil should cause a burning sensation in the throat.
Eating olive oil as part of a Mediterranean diet has other health benefits indirectly linked to arthritis symptoms.
Followers of an olive oil-based, Mediterranean diet have been found to lose weight, which eases tension on arthritic joints. There is a decreased risk of heart problems and serious diseases such as cancer.