There is no specific diet for people with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). However, scientists believe that some foods may help ease the swelling that causes pain and stiffness.
This article explains what RA is and looks at some of the foods that might help relieve the symptoms. It also investigates whether some foods make RA worse and highlights some other ways that people can manage their symptoms.
RA is an autoimmune condition. This means that a malfunction of the immune system causes it.
More specifically, RA occurs when the body’s natural defenses attack the joints. This leads to painful swelling called inflammation. RA usually affects the joints in the hands, wrists, and knees. Sometimes, it can affect several joints at once.
The symptoms include painful aching or stiffness in the joints. People may feel extremely tired and weak, and occasionally, the condition can cause a low grade fever. Over time, RA can damage the joints permanently.
RA is a chronic, long-term condition, and there is currently no cure. Most people will have periods of remission, during which they have few or no symptoms. Other times, their symptoms will get worse. Doctors call these periods flare-ups.
People with RA can usually manage the condition by taking medications and making certain lifestyle changes.
Some experts believe that diet can help prevent flare-ups and manage the symptoms of RA. There is no specific diet that research has shown to help people with RA, but some foods may help control the painful swelling and support the immune system.
Fruits and vegetables
Nuts and seeds
Nuts and seeds are useful for fighting inflammation. Walnuts, pine nuts, pistachios, and almonds are great sources of monounsaturated fat, protein, and fiber.
Experts recommend eating around one handful of nuts and seeds per day.
Beans are packed with antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds, including:
- folic acid
People with RA could try adding pinto beans, black beans, red kidney beans, or chickpeas to their diet.
Fiber is very important for heart and gut health. It can also help lower inflammation.
Some food sources of fiber include:
- wholegrain cereals
- brown rice
- wholegrain pasta
- fruits and vegetables
The Arthritis Foundation note that fats play a role in inflammation. As a result, people with RA should try to avoid trans fats. These are often present in baked goods, margarine, and fried foods.
Fats that people with RA should try to limit include:
- omega-6 fatty acids, such as sunflower, safflower, corn, and vegetable oils
- saturated fat from coconut oil
- saturated fat present in cheese, butter, and meat
Processed foods — such as some ready-made meals, fast food, and cookies — are often high in these fats. It is best to avoid these food items as much as possible.
The Arthritis Foundation also recommend that people with RA remove nightshade vegetables from their diet for 2 weeks to see whether or not they notice any difference in their RA symptoms.
Nightshade vegetables include eggplant, tomatoes, peppers, and potatoes. However, scientists need to do more research to investigate this theory before drawing any conclusions.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offer the following advice to people living with RA.
Use arthritis management strategies
Many community and patient advocacy groups offer RA self-management courses and workshops. These tend to be free or inexpensive to attend.
During these workshops, people usually learn ways to manage pain, exercise safely, and stay in control of their condition.
When a person has RA, getting regular physical activity eases pain and helps the joints work better. It can also help people with the condition stay healthier for longer.
The CDC recommend getting at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity every week.
Maintain a moderate weight
Having excess weight places pressure on the joints. In turn, this can make RA pain worse and prevent people from being active.
Losing just 1 pound (lb) (0.45 kilograms [kg]) of body weight will take 4 lb (1.8 kg) of pressure off the knee joints, for example.
The best way to lose weight and keep it off is by eating a healthful, balanced diet and exercising regularly.
Work with a doctor
People with RA should speak with a healthcare provider regularly. There are lots of treatment and management strategies available.
By working with their doctor, people with RA can usually maintain a high quality of life.
There is currently no cure for RA. It is a long-term condition that causes painful swelling in the joints.
Some scientists believe that certain foods can help with the symptoms. This is because some foods contain antioxidants, which support the immune system. Others contain compounds that may fight inflammation.
Some other ways to manage the symptoms of RA include staying active and maintaining a moderate weight.