Many individuals suffering from Rheumatoid Arthritis seek changes in their diets to help alleviate their symptoms. A simple online search yields so many suggestions: Autoimmune Protocol, Inflammation Diet, Vegan, Gluten-Free, Paleo, Primal, to name a few. Do any of these diets work? I have been diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis for about a year and am sharing my personal experience with these different diets. Remember, this article does not substitute medical advice. Before starting or stopping any diet, always consult your doctor first.
I’ll cut to the chase and tell you off the bat, a gluten-free diet is the only diet that has helped alleviate, but not eliminate, some of my symptoms. A gluten-free diet is one that eliminates any foods containing the gluten protein, such as: wheat, barley, rye, and many others. Rheumatoid Arthritis is characterized by, among other things, swelling of the joints. Those who are affected with Celiac Disease experience an inflammatory response to gluten that can also cause joint swelling. In an “Arthritis Today” article, the Director of the Mucosal Biology Research Center at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, Alessio Fasano, MD, stated: “The most accredited theory is that gut inflammation triggered by gluten causes activation of T lymphocytes that can eventually migrate to joints, causing local inflammation and, therefore, joint pain.”
That overlap has caused some with Rheumatoid Arthritis to choose to go gluten-free to see if it will help their joint swelling. Personally, I have found a great deal of improvement in my join swelling when I eliminate gluten from my diet. Within an hour of eating foods with gluten, I feel my hands and feet swell. So while there is not yet concrete evidence that the two are connected, I personally have found relief.
Paleo Autoimmune Protocol
Everywhere you look, there is mention of the Paleo diet or Primal diet. The Paleo diet, or caveman diet, includes lean meats & seafood, fruits & vegetables, seeds & nuts, and plant or nut-based oils. It excludes dairy, grains, starches, legumes, beans, fatty meats, sugars, salt & processed foods, among others. The Autoimmune Protocol goes a bit further by also eliminating eggs, tomatoes (nightshades), eggplant, peppers, nuts and seeds. As the HealthLine article by Ann Pietrangelo describes, this is due to the “assumption that grains, legumes, and dairy are lined to the development of autoimmune diseases such as Rheumatoid Arthritis.”
There are many research articles, such as the study by Mount Sinai School of Medicine , that describe the correlation between processed and/or fatty foods and increased health risks. So it is no surprise that eliminating those foods from my diet has helped me to feel better, overall. But, since I am a vegetarian (for well over 12 years), it has been near impossible to completely follow the Paleo Autoimmune Protocol (PAIP). My main protein source is beans, yet that is excluded in the PAIP. I have eliminated processed foods, potatoes & tomatoes. I have personally found no Rheumatoid Arthritis symptom relief from this diet.
Arthritis Inflammation Diet
An online search for Arthritis Inflammation Diet will likely bring you to Dr. Weil’s website. He is well known for his research on the subject. Dr. Weil’s Anti-Inflammatory Diet is quite well detailed on his site. It is based on the theory that certain foods cause bodily inflammation and chronic inflammation leads to chronic illnesses, such as Rheumatoid Arthritis. Dr. Weil’s website goes into more depth, but the 4 general tips are:
- “aim for variety”
- “include as much fresh food as possible”
- “Minimize your consumption of processed foods and fast food”
- “Eat an abundance of fruits and vegetables”
When first diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis, I met with a Registered Dietitian to seek advice on my diet. She explained that she has not found enough evidence of Rheumatoid Arthritis symptom relief in any dietary plan, except the Arthritis Inflammation Diet. She provided me with an info-graphic showing me what the Arthritis Inflammation Food Pyramid should look like for me. I have found this program easy to follow and quite intuitive. Really, it’s a guide to healthy eating. Whether you have arthritic inflammation or not, many can benefit from such a diet program. I continue to follow Dr. Weil’s Anti-Inflammatory Diet and also eat gluten-free. I am certainly not symptom free, but these dietary plans, along with medication, has helped to alleviate my Rheumatoid Arthritis symptoms.