Can a Low-Carb Diet Treat Osteoarthritis of the Knee?

Man with joint pain in the knee
Man with joint pain in the knee
Researchers examined whether a low-carb diet can relieve the pain associated with knee osteoarthritis. Review their findings.

A lifestyle modification may help relieve the pain associated with knee osteoarthritis (OA), according to a study published in Pain Medicine.

Opioids, pain relievers, and anti-inflammatory drugs carry unpleasant side effects for many patients with persistent knee OA. Noting the need for alternative forms of pain management, researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) tested the efficacy of 2 dietary interventions: one low in carbohydrates and one low in fat.1

Adults aged 65 to 75 with knee OA followed one of the dietary interventions or continued to eat as normal for 12 weeks. Every 3 weeks, the researchers assessed the participants’ functional pain, self-reported pain, quality of life, and depression levels. They also examined serum levels for oxidative stress before and after the intervention.

The investigators found that the low-carb diet reduced levels of functional pain and self-reported pain compared with the low-fat and regular diets. Participants who followed the low-carb diet also showed reduced oxidative stress.

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The authors concluded that lowering oxidative stress through a low-carb diet may provide relief from pain and offer an alternative to opioids.

“Many medications for pain cause a host of side effects that may require other drugs to reduce,” said Robert Sorge, PhD, assistant professor at UAB and lead author of the study. “Diet will never ‘cure’ pain, but our work suggests it can reduce it to the point where it does not interfere with daily activities to a high degree.”2


  1. Strath LJ, Jones CD, George AP, et al. The effect of low-carbohydrate and low-fat diets on pain in individuals with knee osteoarthritis [published online March 13, 2019]. Pain Med. 2019. doi:10.1093/pm/pnz022
  2. Greer T. Study: low-carb diet provides relief from knee osteoarthritis. The University of Alabama at Birmingham. March 22, 2019. Accessed April 24, 2019.