Rheumatoid Arthritis Diets: Can They Really Help?

By Ashley Henshaw. May 7th 2016

The idea of a special diet that relieves arthritis symptoms is nothing new. According to the John Hopkins Arthritis Center, researchers have been studying this idea since the 1930s. But does a diet like this really work? In this article, we’ll explore the foods and dieting tips often recommended for rheumatoid arthritis patients while also exploring the findings from the most recent studies on this topic.

Which Foods To Eat

The following are some of the foods often suggested for rheumatoid arthritis patients in order to reduce symptoms:

  • Omega-3 fatty acids: Among those who suffer from arthritis, the main component of their diet thought to affect their symptoms is fish oil. Also known as a dietary n-3 or omega-3 fatty acids, this supplement is thought to alleviate some of the inflammation and pain associated with arthritis. Fish oil is a common source of omega-3 fatty acids and is widely available in bottled or encapsulated form. However, omega-3 fatty acids can also be added to the diet by eating salmon, anchovies, rainbow trout, herring, mackerel, Pacific oysters, flaxseed and walnuts.
  • Vitamin C: This antioxidant is recommended for healthy cartilage in the joints. Although it’s available in supplement form, it’s better to receive this vitamin from natural sources to avoid high doses. Vitamin C is found in sweet peppers, grapefruit, strawberries, pineapple, mangos, cabbage, kale, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, lemons and kidney beans, to name a few.
  • Carotenes: Though to be good at fighting off inflammation, carotenes are powerful antioxidants found in many foods, including sweet potatoes, apricots, butternut squash, pumpkin, carrots, cantaloupe, spinach and kale.
  • Bioflavanoids: Another antioxidant with anti-inflammatory effects, bioflavonoids can be found in foods like onions, apples, apricots, blackberries, blueberries, cherries, strawberries, plums, broccoli, cherry tomatoes, kale, leeks and cocoa powder.
  • Selenium: This mineral is also an antioxidant and is thought to fight off arthritis symptoms. Selenium can be found in lean beef, turkey, whole grains, whole-wheat pasta, tuna, tilapia, crab, oysters, wheat germ and Brazil nuts.
  • Extra-virgin olive oil: The polyphenols in extra-virgin olive oil are helpful for protecting against inflammation. This oil is especially useful for substitutions in cooking, particularly for replacing vegetable oil or butter.
  • Certain spices: Some of the very best spices for fighting inflammation are turmeric and ginger. These spices can be added to foods and beverages to help arthritis sufferers.

Do Rheumatoid Arthritis Diets Actually Work?

Numerous studies have been performed to determine whether the foods listed above as a part of specialized diets for rheumatoid arthritis really make a difference in the symptoms that patients experience. Unfortunately for arthritis sufferers, there have been no conclusive findings from these studies that indicate whether certain foods either exacerbate or decrease symptoms.

There have been promising results in certain areas, however. When it comes to consuming fish oils, there may be a link to reducing joint inflammation in people with rheumatoid arthritis. However, more research is necessary before this can be considered a direct link, and even then, most people should only start taking supplements under the advice of their doctor.

In addition, food allergies may play a role in the symptoms a person with arthritis experiences. Recent studies have found that people with rheumatoid arthritis tend to have higher levels of antibodies to certain foods than those who don’t have the condition. This means that they may be more likely to have allergic reactions to such foods.

In most cases, the foods that these individuals were allergic to include milk, eggs, cereal, pork and codfish. The allergic reactions to those foods may exacerbate symptoms, so it’s important to watch for certain foods that might make you feel worse. If you believe you have a food allergy, see you doctor for allergy testing and adjust your diet accordingly. In the case of food allergies, it’s quite possible that a diet change to exclude that food could relieve some arthritis symptoms.

Alternatives For Reducing Symptoms

Although there is no promise that adding certain foods to your diet will help with arthritis symptoms, there are some other changes you can make which may help you feel better, such as:

  • Lose weight: Extra points just add more pressure onto your weight-bearing joints, which can make arthritis pain and inflammation worse. Lose weight in a healthy manner and you will likely feel less severe symptoms and experience increased mobility.
  • Exercise regularly: Taking some time to exercise can keep joints flexible. Try water aerobics or swimming since the water allows for less pressure on the joints while getting in some good exercise.

Bottom Line

There may be certain diet changes you can make that affect your rheumatoid arthritis symptoms, but that doesn’t mean you should make those changes on your own. Always ask your doctor before switching up the foods you eat to relieve arthritis symptoms to make sure that you’re still consuming a complete and healthy diet.


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