Effect of Healthy Eating on Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis is a crippling autoimmune disease affecting all joints in the body. It is found more in women than men. The cause of the disease is unknown and there is no cure. Researchers are looking at patient’s diets to see if a relationship exists between food and the risk of developing this chronic disease.


Lu Bing, MD, Dr.PH, assistant professor of medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School presented two studies at The American College of Rheumatology’s annual meeting. These studies showed that a person’s diet does affect the chance of developing rheumatoid arthritis.

One study showed that a typical western diet high in red meats, refined and processed foods can increase a person’s risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis whereas a Mediterranean type diet, emphasizing fruits, vegetables, fish and poultry can lower the risk. This and previous studies did not determine that individual nutrients or food groups made a difference in the cause of this disease.

The second study examined the overall effect of diet on rheumatoid arthritis. From a team of female nurses ages 25 to 42, the researchers followed 93,859 women without RA. Every four years, from 1991 to 2011, these women reported what they ate.

During the time of the study, 347 women from the group developed RA at an average age of 49.

From the women’s questionnaire data two dietary patterns evolved; the western and prudent diet, the latter is based on the Mediterranean diet.

After taking into consideration body mass index, total calories per day consumed, habits, physical activity, alcohol consumption and socioeconomic factors, the findings revealed that women on the prudent diet had a lower chance of developing RA while those on the western diet were at an increased risk.

An additional analysis of this study revealed that when those on a western diet adhered to specifics given in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which recommend better food choices, consuming fewer calories and exercise to maintain a healthy weight, could also reduce the risk of getting RA.

Although the data did not reveal solid evidence that diet played a role in developing RA, it showed only that an association existed between a healthy, prudent diet and fewer calories to lower the risk of developing this disease. The consensus was that further research is necessary to find a definite answer.

All chronic diseases can benefit from a well-planned, healthy, diet. A healthy diet calls for plenty of vegetables, high-quality animal products and enough calories to maintain a perfect weight as well as exercise and positive thinking.

The Arthritis Foundation’s dietary recommendations for this type of diet are to eat fish at least twice a week to obtain omega 3 fatty acids. Omega 3 fatty acids have shown to lower inflammatory proteins; C-reactive protein and interleukin-6. Fish oils reduce joint swelling and stiffness.

It is best to choose cold-water fish, such as salmon, sardines, herring, anchovies and mackerel.

Nuts and seeds are recommended for their anti-inflammatory properties. Best sources are walnuts, pine nuts, pistachios and almonds.

Varieties of fruits, especially blueberries, and vegetables should be eaten frequently. Recommended beans are small red beans, kidney beans and pinto beans for their antioxidant content.

Good sources of whole grains are oatmeal, brown rice and quinoa. Grains containing gluten are not recommended since these can cause inflammation.

In the past, vegetables of the nightshade family, tomatoes, potatoes, peppers and eggplants, which contain the chemical solanine, were not recommended for RA sufferers. Since these are healthy vegetables not to be avoided, it is best to test yourself with an elimination diet. If you notice flare-ups, stop.