Arthritis is caused by inflammation that targets your joints. People living with arthritis often have swelling and stiffness in places like their hands, knees, ankles, and hips. This stiffness can sometimes impact daily activities.

There are many types of arthritis, but the two major categories are inflammatory arthritis and non-inflammatory arthritis. Inflammatory arthritis is typically caused by an overactive immune system. Non-inflammatory arthritis, like osteoarthritis, is more about the wear and tear of joints over time.

Typically, arthritis symptoms are treated with medication, and in some severe cases, surgery.

But medication and surgery aren’t the only things that can help manage your arthritis. What you eat may also have an impact on how severe your arthritis symptoms can become.

Certain foods can help fight inflammation and support optimal immune function. Other foods, like sugar and alcohol, may irritate arthritis symptoms.

Gluten, a collective term that refers to proteins found in wheat, barley, rye, and triticale (a cross between wheat and rye), may also cause a flare-up of arthritis symptoms, particularly in individuals who are also living with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), a type of inflammatory arthritis.

If you’re living with inflammatory arthritis like RA, you’re living with an autoimmune disorder. While the direct cause of most autoimmune disorders is unknown, it’s thought that genetic and environmental factors contribute to RA development.

The chronic inflammation associated with RA leads to bone erosion and cartilage destruction. This can significantly impact quality of life. And, like other immune disorders, inflammatory arthritis can eventually affect other areas of your body and lead to the development of other disorders.

Celiac disease is another type of autoimmune disorder. When you’re living with celiac disease and you eat foods that contain gluten (a protein found in rye, wheat, and barley), the proteins trigger an immune response.

This causes inflammation in the small intestine, affecting its ability to absorb nutrients. This inflammation typically manifests into symptoms like diarrhea, abdominal pain, and bloating.

Since gluten can leak into your bloodstream, individuals living with celiac disease may have pain and inflammation in other areas of their bodies, like their joints. Severe, untreated cases of celiac can also cause:

In the same way that inflammatory arthritis can lead to the development of other inflammatory disorders, if you have celiac disease, you’re at risk for developing another autoimmune disorder. In fact, the older you are when you’re diagnosed, the more likely you are to develop another disorder.

According to the Celiac Disease Foundation, if a child is living with celiac, there’s a 1.5 to 6.6 percent chance of them also developing juvenile arthritis. RA and thyroid disease, two other autoimmune disorders, are also linked to celiac.

Additionally, celiac disease can sometimes be misdiagnosed as arthritis, especially if the only symptom is joint pain.

While there’s a clear connection between celiac disease inflammation and gluten, could there also be a connection between inflammatory arthritis and gluten?

At the moment, researchers aren’t entirely sure. While some studies have shown that a gluten-free diet may benefit people living with RA via an absence of inflammation caused by gluten, more research into the area needs to be done before any definitive conclusions can be made.

According to the Arthritis Foundation, there’s no one diet recommended for people living with arthritis, but concentrating on the following foods can help manage disease activity:

  • fruits
  • vegetables
  • fish
  • nuts
  • beans

This is because these foods all have anti-inflammatory properties. Limiting processed foods and saturated fats, can also help.

While individuals with celiac have to follow a strict gluten-free eating plan in order to avoid flare-ups, avoiding gluten isn’t a general recommendation for people with arthritis. There just isn’t enough evidence to support a connection between gluten and arthritis inflammation across the board.

But there’s a personalized nature to autoimmune disease triggers. If you find that eating less gluten, or no gluten, eases your inflammatory arthritis symptoms, then it could be a viable option for managing flares. Talk with your doctor before starting a gluten-free diet to make sure they understand your thought process.

Inflammatory arthritis and celiac disease are both autoimmune disorders that involve inflammation. While there are specific dietary choices that may help lower overall inflammation in the body, avoiding gluten may not be necessary (unless you’re diagnosed with celiac disease, specifically).

On the other hand, if you’ve talked with your doctor and believe that avoiding most or all gluten-containing foods may help ease your arthritis symptoms, it could be a viable personal choice.