What is psoriatic arthritis?

Psoriatic arthritis is a chronic autoimmune disease that causes joint pain and stiffness. It’s often related to psoriasis, a condition that causes red, raised, and scaly patches on your skin. According to the National Psoriasis Foundation, 85 percent of people who develop psoriatic arthritis experienced psoriasis first.

If you have psoriatic arthritis, your immune system mistakes healthy cells in your joints and skin for foreign invaders. As a result, your immune system attacks those cells. This can cause joint inflammation, skin symptoms, and fatigue.

Psoriatic arthritis has no cure, but your doctor may prescribe medications to help treat your symptoms. In some cases, they may also recommend lifestyle changes. For example, if they suspect that gluten triggers your symptoms, they may advise you to avoid it. According to the National Psoriasis Foundation, up to 25 percent of people with psoriasis may also be sensitive to gluten. When they eat foods that contain gluten, a type of protein found in certain grains, their immune systems overreact.

Gluten is a form of protein found in:

  • wheat, including ancient forms of wheat, such as spelt and Khorasan
  • barley
  • rye

Oats are often contaminated with gluten because many oats are processed alongside wheat or other gluten-containing grains. Bread products, baked goods, and pastas are common sources of gluten. It can be found in less obvious foods and ingredients, including many sauces, salad dressings, and seasoning mixes.

If your doctor suspects you have a gluten sensitivity that triggers the symptoms of psoriatic arthritis, they may advise you to follow a gluten-free diet. Before you make any change to your diet, talk to your doctor. They can help you understand the potential benefits and risks.

If you can’t tolerate gluten, you may have celiac disease or non-celiac gluten intolerance.

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease. If you have it, your immune system responds to gluten by attacking the inner lining of your small intestine. It can cause a wide variety of symptoms, including:

  • gas
  • bloating
  • constipation
  • diarrhea
  • damage to your small intestine
  • weight loss
  • anemia
  • joint pain

If you don’t get treatment for it, it can potentially lead to serious complications. Your doctor may order blood tests and perform a biopsy of your colon to help diagnose celiac disease. You need to be eating gluten on a regular basis for these tests to work.

If you experience symptoms when you eat gluten but get negative results on tests for celiac disease, you may have non-celiac gluten intolerance. No single medical test allows your doctor to diagnose this condition. If they suspect that you have it, they may advise you to cut foods that contain gluten from your diet for several months. If your symptoms lessen over this period, they may encourage you to add gluten back into your diet. If your symptoms increase after you start eating gluten again, it’s a sign that you have a gluten intolerance.

Gluten intolerance, psoriatic arthritis, and other psoriatic conditions trigger abnormal immune responses in your body. While more research is needed, some experts believe a connection between gluten intolerance and psoriasis exists. For example, a study published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology found that people with celiac disease had a heightened risk of experiencing psoriasis before and after their diagnosis. According to researchers in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, several studies suggest that celiac disease and psoriasis share some common genetic and inflammatory pathways.

If you have both gluten intolerance and psoriatic arthritis, eating gluten might trigger symptoms of both conditions. Your doctor may encourage you to avoid gluten in your diet.

You need to remove all products that contain wheat, barley, or rye from your diet if you want to have a gluten-free diet. You also need to avoid oats that aren’t certified pure or gluten-free. Ask your doctor or dietitian for a list of foods and ingredients that commonly contain gluten. For example, malt is made from barley and found in many prepackaged products.

You’ll need to read ingredient lists and ask about menu items at restaurants. It may seem like a big change at first, but you can eat lots of foods on a gluten-free diet. For example, you can still eat:

  • fresh fruits and vegetables
  • dried legumes, such as lentils and chickpeas
  • gluten-free grains, such as rice, corn, and quinoa
  • poultry, red meat, and seafood

If you don’t have a dairy or lactose intolerance, you can also eat dairy products.

If your doctor suspects that gluten is contributing to your symptoms of psoriatic arthritis, they may advise you to cut it out of your diet. But if you show no signs of a gluten intolerance, avoiding gluten might do more harm than good. Following a restricted diet can make it harder to get the nutrients you need for optimal health. Always talk to your doctor before cutting gluten from your diet.

Some research findings point to a connection between psoriatic arthritis and gluten intolerance. More research is necessary to determine just how strong that link is.

Talk to your doctor if you think you might be sensitive to gluten. They may encourage you to cut gluten from your diet. Alternately, they may advise you against following a gluten-free diet. The most important thing is to find a treatment plan that works for you.