Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) is a chronic autoimmune illness that affects millions of people throughout the world. While there is no cure for RA, dietary choices can help manage its symptoms. This article will discuss the foods that people with RA should avoid to prevent inflammation and discomfort.1
Rheumatoid arthritis: an overview
Rheumatoid Arthritis is a disorder in which the immune system incorrectly attacks the synovium, the lining of membranes that surround the joints. As a result, there is inflammation, pain, and joint deterioration. The inflammation associated with RA can impact multiple organs and induce systemic symptoms, making appropriate management critical.1 To further understand the complexities of this illness, it is necessary to first examine its core aspects:
RA is an autoimmune illness, which means that it develops when the immune system incorrectly recognises the body's own healthy tissues as foreign invaders. The immune system especially attacks the synovium, a thin membrane that lines the joints, in the case of RA.2 This ongoing immune system assault causes chronic inflammation within the synovium.
Inflammation of the joints:
The main symptom of RA is joint inflammation. When the immune system targets the synovial lining, it sets off a chain reaction that causes inflammation in the afflicted joints. This inflammation causes mild to severe redness, warmth, swelling, and pain.
Joint deformities and damage:
The persistent inflammation associated with RA can cause cartilage, bone, and other joint tissues to erode over time. This procedure can cause joint abnormalities, decreased mobility, and severe discomfort. Furthermore, if left untreated, RA can cause severe joint damage.2
RA does not affect only the joints. It is a systemic condition, which means it can affect portions of the body other than the musculoskeletal system. Inflammation can occur in the eyes, heart, lungs, and blood vessels. RA can also cause systemic symptoms such as fatigue, fever, and weight loss.3
Remissions and flares:
RA frequently has a variable course, with times of increased disease activity known as "flares" interspersed with periods of reduced symptoms known as "remissions." The unpredictable nature of these flares can make controlling the illness difficult.
Influence on quality of life:
Because it is chronic and potentially debilitating, RA can have a substantial influence on an individual's quality of life. Daily tasks may become difficult, and the emotional toll of chronic pain and incapacity should not be overlooked.
Inflammation and its relationship to RA
Inflammation is at the heart of Rheumatoid Arthritis, fueling the condition's pain, swelling, and joint deterioration. While prescription drugs are frequently used to manage inflammation, dietary choices have emerged as an important element in affecting its intensity and influence on the body.3
How dietary habits can affect inflammation
Our everyday food has a big impact on the levels of inflammation in our bodies. Food contains a wide range of chemicals that can either stimulate or reduce inflammation. Here's a closer look at how nutrition can either promote or reduce inflammation:
Omega-3 fatty acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are rich in fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, and trout, as well as flaxseeds and walnuts, and are known for their anti-inflammatory qualities. These good fats have been found to lower the body's production of inflammatory chemicals, potentially aiding in the relief of RA symptoms.4
Trans fats, on the other hand, are known inflammatory promoters and are commonly found in processed and fried foods. These synthetic fats not only cause inflammation but also lead to a variety of chronic disorders. Trans fat reduction is an important step in RA diet management.
Antioxidant-rich substances such as vitamins C and E, beta-carotene, and selenium can help fight inflammation by neutralising damaging molecules known as free radicals. Fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds are high in antioxidants. Incorporating them into your diet can help to reduce inflammation.4
Fibre-rich meals such as whole grains, legumes, fruits, and vegetables might reduce inflammation. They aid in blood sugar level regulation, without which they can worsen inflammation. Fibre also fosters a healthy gut microbiota, which has been related to decreased inflammation.
The importance of keeping a healthy weight
Aside from the direct impact on inflammation, keeping a healthy weight is critical for people with Rheumatoid Arthritis. Excess body weight puts additional strain on the joints, which can exacerbate RA symptoms and limit general mobility. Consider the following crucial points:
Each additional pound of body weight exerts additional strain on the joints, especially the weight-bearing ones like the knees and hips. This added strain can exacerbate pain and suffering in RA patients who already have joint inflammation and degeneration.5
Inflammatory fat tissue:
Adipose tissue, or body fat, is a metabolically active material that can create inflammatory chemicals known as cytokines.
Finally, the significance of nutrition in the management of Rheumatoid Arthritis is multidimensional. It includes the potential to actively control inflammation through food choices, as well as the crucial need to maintain a healthy weight to reduce joint stress and promote general well-being. Individuals with RA can make substantial efforts towards managing their illness and improving their quality of life by making informed dietary selections and taking a holistic approach to health.5
Foods to avoid if you have rheumatoid arthritis
Fried and processed foods
Trans fats, which are known to induce inflammation, are frequently found in processed meals. Furthermore, they are heavy in salt, which contributes to water retention and increased discomfort in RA sufferers.6
Sweets and sugar
Inflammation has been linked to excessive sugar consumption. Sugary drinks, in particular, should be avoided because they might aggravate RA symptoms.
Red meat and high-fat dairy products
Saturated fats present in red meat and high-fat dairy products can lead to inflammation and, in some cases, precipitate RA flares. These foods should be consumed in moderation.
Rheumatoid arthritis and gluten
While the association between gluten and RA is still being debated, some RA patients report gluten sensitivity. Adopting a gluten-free diet may alleviate symptoms for certain people.
Vegetables of the nightshade family
Nightshade vegetables, such as tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants, contain alkaloids to which certain RA patients may be sensitive. Personal reactions to certain foods can help determine if they should be limited.6
Common food additives to avoid
Aside from specific meals, RA patients should be wary of food additives that can cause inflammation. Artificial sweeteners, MSG (Monosodium Glutamate), food colouring, and preservatives are examples of these. Reading food labels thoroughly can assist in identifying and avoiding these substances.
The importance of a healthy diet in RA
A healthy diet is essential for controlling RA symptoms. Anti-inflammatory foods, including fatty fish, nuts, seeds, fruits, and vegetables, can help reduce inflammation. The Mediterranean diet is frequently suggested for RA patients due to its anti-inflammatory qualities.
Individuals suffering from RA should seek the advice of a trained dietitian. They can provide tailored advice based on individual dietary choices and sensitivities.6
To summarise, controlling rheumatoid arthritis requires more than just medication; it also necessitates careful attention to food choices. Individuals living with RA can dramatically improve their quality of life by avoiding foods that promote inflammation, knowing personal sensitivities, and adopting an anti-inflammatory diet.
Keep in mind that RA is a highly individual condition, so what works well for one person may not work for another. The key to effectively controlling RA is to consult with healthcare professionals and make smart dietary decisions.
- Firestein GS. Evolving concepts of rheumatoid arthritis. Nature [Internet]. 2003 May [cited 2023 Sep 15];423(6937):356–61. Available from: https://www.nature.com/articles/nature01661
- Radu AF, Bungau SG. Management of rheumatoid arthritis: an overview. Cells [Internet]. 2021 Oct 23 [cited 2023 Sep 15];10(11):2857. Available from: https://www.mdpi.com/2073-4409/10/11/2857
- American College of Rheumatology Subcommittee on Rheumatoid Arthritis Guidelines. Guidelines for the management of rheumatoid arthritis: 2002 Update. Arthritis & Rheumatism [Internet]. 2002 Feb [cited 2023 Sep 15];46(2):328–46. Available from: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/art.10148
- Yasar S. How dietary habits can affect abnormal protein buildup in the brain. Neurology [Internet]. 2023 May 30 [cited 2023 Sep 15];100(22):e2321–3. Available from: https://journals.lww.com/10.1212/WNL.0000000000207413
- Controlled investigation into aetiology and clinical features of rheumatoid arthritis: report of scientific advisory committee of empire rheumatism council. BMJ [Internet]. 1950 Apr 8 [cited 2023 Sep 15];1(4657):799–805. Available from: https://www.bmj.com/lookup/doi/10.1136/bmj.1.4657.799
- Kjeldsen-Kragh J, Borchgrevink CF, Laerum E, Haugen M, Eek M, Førre O, et al. Controlled trial of fasting and one-year vegetarian diet in rheumatoid arthritis. The Lancet [Internet]. 1991 Oct [cited 2023 Sep 15];338(8772):899–902. Available from: https://linkinghub.elsevier.com/retrieve/pii/014067369191770U