Foods That Can Make Your Rheumatoid Arthritis Better

Patient Expert
View as:|
1 of 14
Next
iStock

There hasn’t been much research into the effects of foods on rheumatoid arthritis (RA). A recent survey revealed that approximately one quarter of those with RA responded to different foods, either negatively or positively. More rigorous scientific research is needed to clarify the effects of food on RA. A recent review of studies by researchers at KITT University in India provided scientific evidence of the impact of specific foods and diets on RA.


iStock

Elemental diet

This diet consists of the simplest forms of food: glucose, vitamins, and essential amino acids. It is hypoallergenic and may be less antigenic to the immune system, that is, less able to trigger the production of antibodies. People with RA may experience an improvement in symptoms, but this is not reflected in blood tests and disease activity resumes when going back to a regular diet. This research does seem to indicate that food antigens may play a role in triggering RA and in its progression.


iStock

Elimination diet

An elimination diet can help you identify whether certain foods or food additives are involved in your condition and if you are allergic to certain foods. It involves the exclusion of a certain foods, as well as keeping a food and symptom diary for the duration of the elimination diet. Certain biologics target specific inflammatory proteins called TNF-alpha and IL-1. These same proteins may increase when you eat allergenic foods. Eliminating such food items may help reduce inflammation.


iStock

Vegan diet

Research into effects of veganism and vegetarianism on RA have shown mixed results are mixed, with some apparent positive indicators, especially from veganism. The KITT study found similar results, indicating that vegan diets have the potential to reduce disease activity and symptoms. The researchers indicate that this could be due to the removal of certain foods from the diet, which may have reduced immune-reactivity in the gastrointestinal tract.


iStock

Fasting

Subtotal fasting takes place over a short period of time (7-10 days) and allows for a lower caloric intake consisting of herbal broth and tea, as well as vegetable juice, with additional vitamins and minerals. This appears to lower T-cell activation, temporarily serving as an immunosuppressant. Studies seem to indicate that subtotal fasting followed by a vegan diet has the potential to show a decrease in RA symptoms, as well as lowered inflammation markers.


iStock

Mediterranean diet

There is significant evidence that the Mediterranean diet with its focus on fresh vegetables, Omega-3s, fish, vegetables and fruit, can improve symptoms caused by inflammation. One of the central components in this diet is olive oil, which has the same anti-inflammatory effects as fish oil. Furthermore, using a diet that includes olive oil may help prevent the development of RA. Mouse models show that olive oil can also reduce pre-inflammatory cytokines, and may interfere with RA progression.


iStock

Fiber and whole grains

Dietary fiber is the remnants of food not digested in the small intestine, which then ferments in the large intestine. This interaction with the microflora has a positive effect on your health. There are conflicting pieces of evidence regarding the impact of fiber and whole grains on RA, but the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved these for promoting intestinal health and reducing the risk of heart disease. As RA is systemic and affects organs, including dietary fiber in your meals could be important for your health.


iStock

Fruit

One of the reasons an apple (or other fruit) a day keeps the doctor away is that it contains important substances called phytochemicals. Research has shown these play a role in reducing symptoms in different conditions, including arthritis, asthma, diabetes, and heart disease. There is evidence that dried plums, cherries, red grapes, and more can reduce “oxidative stress and inflammation” in individuals with RA.


iStock

Spices

A number of different spices have been identified as potentially playing a role in reducing inflammation, especially ginger and turmeric. A combination of this was shown to guard against extra-articular or systemic effects of RA. As well, mouse models have shown that curcumin and cinnamon bark have been shown to inhibit certain inflammatory cytokines that are involved in RA.


iStock

Herbs and green tea

Specific plants have also been shown to have a positive impact on inflammation in RA. Drinking green tea may be beneficial for inflammatory arthritis, cancer, and other conditions. Specific herbs may also be useful. The Ayurvedic tradition uses specific herbs to treat inflammation and RA. These include Sallaki and Ashwagandha.


iStock

Fatty acids

You may have heard of the importance of omega-3 fatty acids in combating inflammation. This compound is a crucial aspect of the Mediterranean diet and can also be bought in supplement form in fish oil capsules. Omega-6, found in borage seed oil, has a similar potential for fighting inflammation. These types of fatty acids have the potential for helping individuals with RA experience reduced symptoms.


iStock

Using diet and specific foods in your treatment regimen

Before you ditch your medications and completely change what you eat, remember that using different diets or particular food items to treat your condition can be tricky if you are not an expert. It’s important to involve your doctor in this approach. You may also consider consulting a nutritionist or dietitian, as well as a specialist in complementary and alternative treatment, such as a licensed doctor of naturopathy.


iStock

Food (and research) comes with limitations

The research into the effects of food does have some limits. For instance, findings for the use of certain foods are contradicted by other studies. As well, much research is still in the mouse-model stage, which means it has yet to be applied to human beings. Additionally, although certain diets and food items have been found to be useful for fighting inflammation, the result tends to be in terms of reducing symptoms, rather than fully suppressing them.


iStock

The role of food in the treatment of RA

The KITT study researchers do not see diet as the answer in itself. They point out that there is building evidence that indicates changes in the microbiome play a significant role in the triggering of RA, as well as the progression of the condition. They therefore believe that it is important for rheumatologists to include “diet therapy” to supplement existing treatment, but not to replace it. More research on food and RA is needed — the KI TT study is only the second assessment of its kind.