Can Anti-Inflammatory Diet Improve Rheumatoid Arthritis Symptoms?
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a systemic and chronic autoimmune disease. Your immune system mistakenly attacks your own body cells, leading to systemic inflammation and joint damage. Studies show that RA affects 0.5–1% of the world’s population. Severe inflammation destroys your joints slowly, leading to chronic pain and fatigue. Other complications in RA patients include impaired physical activities, work productivity, and day-to-day activities, and compromised emotional well-being. The life expectancy of RA patients is lowered by 5–10 years, compared to non-diseased individuals.1
First-line of treatment for RA is anti-inflammatory medications, but they come with unwanted side effects or are often expensive. An easy and economical intervention to be considered then would be a change in the diet of an RA patient. Pro-inflammatory food items like dairy and red meat are believed to exacerbate the symptoms of RA. In contrast, diets rich in vegetables, fruits, and fiber have anti-inflammatory properties and help reduce pain and inflammation in these patients.2
But how effective is an anti-inflammatory diet in rheumatoid arthritis?
The rationale behind an anti-inflammatory diet in RA is simple — it could influence the inflammatory activity, change the lipid profile, increase antioxidant levels, and alter the microflora of the intestine – all of which can help alleviate the symptoms in RA patients. Studies have explored the Mediterranean diet, low fat vegan diet and diets rich in unsaturated fat or probiotics and found them to have positive effects at alleviating pain and on inflammation markers of RA.1
For example, a 1-year intervention tested the effects of a 7–10 day fast, followed by 3.5 months of a gluten-free vegan diet and gradual adoption of a vegetarian diet for the remainder of the study period. Significant improvements were observed: number of tender joints, number of swollen joints, pain score, duration of morning stiffness and grip strength. These improvements were maintained after 1 year.2
Another study has compared vegan diets with omnivorous, lacto-ovo vegetarian, semi-vegetarian, and pesco-vegetarian diets and found that vegan diet lowers the risk of autoimmune diseases as this diet does not contain the inflammatory properties of animal products.2
Yet another study found that a gluten-free vegan diet decreases immunoglobulin G (IgG – it protects you from contracting infections) in RA patients. A Cretan Mediterranean Diet, rich in olive oil, cereals, vegetables, fruits, and legumes, also resulted in significant improvements in swollen joint counts in patients with RA.2
Your Food Plan3
Your rheumatoid arthritis diet can include one or more of the following:
- Berries (such as blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries)
- Dark green leafy vegetables (such as kale, spinach, and collard greens)
- Sweet potatoes
- Nuts (such as walnuts, almonds, pecans, and hazelnuts)
- Beans (such as red beans, pinto beans, and black beans)
- Whole grains (such as oats and brown rice)
- Dark chocolate (at least 70 percent cocoa)
- Oily fish (such as salmon, herring, mackerel, sardines, and anchovies)
- Omega-3-fortified foods (including eggs and milk)
Rheumatoid arthritis foods to avoid:
- Dairy products (such as milk, cheese, butter, and ice cream)
- Vegetable oils (such as corn, safflower, soybean, peanut, and cottonseed oil)
More studies need to be conducted, researching the positive effects of anti-inflammatory diets on autoimmune, chronic inflammatory diseases like rheumatoid arthritis. As an autoimmune disease, it is not possible to cure rheumatoid arthritis. Alleviation of symptoms is our best shot, and lifestyle changes like incorporation of anti-inflammatory diets are one of the easiest ways to achieve that.
- Winkvist A, et al. A randomized controlled cross-over trial investigating the effect of anti-inflammatory diet on disease activity and quality of life in rheumatoid arthritis: the Anti-inflammatory Diet In Rheumatoid Arthritis (ADIRA) study protocol. Nutr J. 2018;17(1):44.
- Alwarith J, et al. Nutrition interventions in rheumatoid arthritis: The potential use of plant-based diets. A Review. Front Nutr. 2019;6:141.
- Foods to eat on the anti-inflammatory diet. Check out. Accessed on 20 December 2020.