Arthritis causes chronic joint inflammation that can spread to other parts of the body. Researchers are finding more evidence to link sugar and arthritis, and sugar is known to worsen symptoms in people with the condition.
Some types of arthritis include rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, psoriatic arthritis, and gout.
Many people believe that sugar is bad for arthritis. Anecdotally, people with arthritis often say that
Research generally backs this up. Eating excess sugar causes the body to produce more cytokines, which are inflammatory proteins. People with arthritis already have high levels of cytokines, so increasing inflammation can make them feel worse.
In contrast, a 2018 study found that people with arthritis who consumed a higher quality diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fish had lower inflammation and disease levels.
Read more to learn about how sugar affects people with arthritis, how to reduce excess sugar intake, and more.
People generally should consume excess processed sugar in moderation. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025 recommends keeping added sugars below 10% of a person’s total daily calories.
People with arthritis may want to be particularly conscious of their sugar intake.
It is important to note that this was a survey that merely represents an association reported by the participants. The study also involved primarily white women, so it is not representative of the larger population of people with arthritis.
Researchers have been studying how sugar affects the body in order to understand how sugar may increase a person’s risk of developing arthritis or worsen existing symptoms of the condition.
Some studies and findings include:
Gut microbiome disturbances
The gut microbiome is the ecosystem of bacteria and organisms in the digestive system.
Several studies suggest that the gut microbiome of people with arthritis may be different than those of people without arthritis. This has been studied in people with both
Sugar may cause, and worsen, inflammation in the body. A
Because people with arthritis already have a lot of inflammation in their bodies, anything with the potential to increase that inflammation can be harmful
Other research seems to confirm the link between arthritis and sugar consumption.
This association persisted even when researchers controlled for other dietary and lifestyle factors.
However, sugar may not be solely to blame. According to a 2018 study, a diet high in processed foods that includes sugar may be just as damaging. Researchers found that a standard Western diet, defined by high sugar intake, low fiber, and high saturated fat, may increase inflammation.
The researchers also emphasized that this type of diet can increase insulin resistance and obesity, which are both risk factors for rheumatoid arthritis.
The previously mentioned studies show not just that sugar is harmful, but that the type of diet that tends to include lots of sugar –– one high in processed, fatty foods –– can also worsen arthritis symptoms.
People with arthritis should focus on reducing sugar while adding nutritious foods to their diet. They can try adding foods like:
- fruits and vegetables
- lean protein sources
- legumes, nuts, and seeds
- unsweetened beverages, especially water
Making dietary changes is hard, so it is important to go slowly and focus on making consistent, positive changes. Some people may find it useful to replace existing foods with more nutritious alternatives. They can try:
- replacing desserts with sweet fruits like mangos or watermelon
- reading ingredient labels and paying close attention to added sugar
- eliminating sweetened beverages
- eating smaller portions of desserts and sweet treats
People should focus on eating a balanced, nutritious diet. There is no need to eliminate entire food groups and cut out sugar completely.
Fixating on eating perfectly can make healthy eating more difficult. In some cases, it may even lead to disordered eating.
For people looking to learn which foods to cut down on, the following list may be useful. Some foods to eat in moderation include:
- sweetened beverages
- trans and saturated fats, which studies often link to arthritis
- beverages or foods with added sugars
- sweet desserts, especially daily or in large portions
- alcohol, especially in large quantities
- Keeping a log of arthritis symptoms: This can help a person identify factors that worsen symptoms.
- Talking to a doctor about arthritis medication: While pain medication is one option, disease-modifying agents can reduce and slow inflammation in autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis.
- Taking a self-management workshop: These classes teach people about strategies for managing arthritis and tactics to advocate for themselves.
- Getting moderate exercise: Physical activity can ease arthritis pain and prevent secondary pain from a sedentary lifestyle.
- Maintaining a moderate weight: Excess weight puts more pressure on the joints, which can worsen arthritis symptoms.
Research has linked high sugar consumption to worse arthritis symptoms.
However, studies have also shown that standard Western diets, high in processed foods, also have a detrimental effect.
People with arthritis can try eating a nutritious diet, cutting down on sugary, processed foods, and maintaining a moderate weight.
This may improve their symptoms, helping them to live a more comfortable and active life.