People with rheumatoid arthritis are often given all kinds of well-intentioned, unsolicited advice, especially regarding which foods they should or shouldn't eat.
Now a study has been conducted to back up some of these claims about dietary fixes.
While rheumatoid arthritis (RA) doesn’t yet have a cure, certain foods and food products may help to ease symptoms of the ailment.
The Arthritis Foundation has kept a running list on its website of foods to eat and avoid if you live with RA.
To compile the list, Dr. Bhawna Gupta, along with Shweta Khanna and Kumar Sagar Jaiswal, at the Disease Biology Lab in the School of Biotechnology at KIIT University, reviewed existing research on food and nutrition for RA.
In a statement to the press, Gupta said, “Supporting disease management through food and diet does not pose any harmful side effects and is relatively cheap and easy.”
What are the foods?
The foods on the list were grouped in eight categories: fruits, cereals, legumes, whole grains, spices, herbs, oils, and miscellaneous.
- The fruits recommended to help alleviate RA symptoms and disease activity were prunes, grapefruits, grapes, blueberries, bananas, pomegranate, mango, peaches, and apples.
- Cereals that made the cut included whole oatmeal, whole-wheat bread, and whole rice.
- The whole grains section added corn, rye, barley, millet, sorghum, and canary seed.
- Legumes mentioned in the review were black soybean and black gram.
- Herbs like sallaki (also known as shallaki) and ashwaghandha also made the cut.
- Also thrown in the mix were spices like ginger and turmeric, along with olive oil, fish oil, borage seed oil, yogurt, green tea, and basil tea.
The authors of the review appeared to be proponents of the Mediterranean and vegan diets.
Different diets for different people
People must bear in mind that even those with the same disease are unique and should be cautious before adding or eliminating any foods from their diet.
Some RA patients may have comorbidities that limit them to a medically restricted diet.
One example is celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder that prevents patients from eating gluten contained in wheat, barley, oats, and rye. Some celiac patients even avoid corn gluten.
Other RA patients may have food allergies that, for example, cause them to not be able to eat citrus fruits, nuts, or fish.
The best bet is for patients to discuss their diet with their rheumatologist and perhaps a dietitian, nutritionist, or health coach.
The authors say they hope the list convinces doctors and researchers to start considering food as part of a treatment plan for autoimmune disorders like RA.
Several people with RA told Healthline they notice a difference in symptoms depending on what kind of foods they’re eating.
“For me, red meat and dairy severely increased my RA symptoms. Since I went on a plant-based diet (a recommendation from my rheumatologist), I have noticed a decrease in inflammation and swelling in my joints,” said Sarah Kocurek from Texas.
Amy Lynn Millican of Alabama agreed: “I stay away from red meats and dairy also. I’ve noticed a difference, although I still have my rainy-day flares,” she said.
Danielle Pumilia of Washington added, “Alcohol definitely makes my RA flare.”
“I feel better if I eat gluten-free, dairy-free, lots of fiber, low nightshades, no GMOs, and organic. As well, I must take my vitamins and, also, if my iron gets low, I take blackstrap molasses. Drink lots of water and take turmeric,” said Natalie Gerbon of the United Kingdom.
Gerbon wasn’t the only person who reported eating gluten-free as a way to help reduce RA flares.
Ann Marie Kenna, originally from Minnesota and now residing in Australia, said, “I am gluten-free, which has made an incredible difference to my inflammation. I also limit sugar and alcohol.”
While it may vary from patient to patient, many rheumatologists recommend that RA patients reduce intake of dairy, nightshade vegetables, white flour, and white sugar.
Some recommend that patients try plant-based, Mediterranean, or gluten-free diets as well.