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Can Your Diet Help Relieve Rheumatoid Arthritis?

If you have rheumatoid arthritis (RA), you’re always on the lookout for ways to manage your symptoms. While there’s no diet proven to ease the pain, stiffness, and fatigue that go with the disease, some foods can help lower inflammation. And because these foods are good for you, they may help you feel better overall.

Does the Mediterranean Diet Help?

The traditional Mediterranean diet is loaded with fruits, vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats, beans, and fish. A study that followed women who ate this way for 6 months found they had less joint pain and morning stiffness and better overall health than a group who didn’t.

Why? These foods have compounds that keep inflammation in check. Veggies, beans, and whole grains are high in fiber. Fish contain omega-3 fatty acids -- salmon, herring, sardines, and anchovies have the most. The American Heart Association recommends eating fish twice a week.

The diet also relies on olive oil, a healthy fat, to take the place of whole dairy products like butter. That’s good for people with RA, because olive oil also stops the chemicals that cause inflammation. It works much the same way as ibuprofen does.

The fruits and vegetables in the Mediterranean diet are full of antioxidants that also help ward off inflammation. Look for deep or bright colors. Think blueberries, blackberries, squash, sweet potatoes, carrots, tomatoes, peppers, oranges, broccoli, and melons.

Will Going Gluten-Free Relieve Joint Pain?

Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley, as well as many packaged and restaurant foods. If you have celiac disease and eat gluten, your small intestine gets inflamed. This prevents you from absorbing nutrients.

How does this relate to RA? Joint pain and inflammation are also common symptoms of gluten sensitivity. And research does show links between the two diseases.

Before you decide to cut out gluten, talk to your doctor or a dietitian. Gluten-free foods can be low in fiber and may lack key nutrients. They can also be high in fat and calories.

What Supplements Are Good for RA?

It’s always best to get your nutrients from food, but some supplements may be worth a look. Always talk to your doctor before you add them to your diet. Some don’t mix well with certain medications. A list of popular ones includes:

  • Folic acid, or folate, is a B vitamin that helps your body make red blood cells. If you take methotrexate, your doctor will probably tell you to take folic acid to hold off the drug’s side effects.
  • Calcium and vitamin D are important additions to your diet, especially if you take corticosteroids (like prednisone) that can cause bone loss. Check with your doctor to see how much you need.
  • Fish oil and gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) each lower the need for pain relievers in some people with RA. Fish oil offers the same omega-3 fatty acids as fish. GLA is an omega-6 fatty acid that comes from plants. You may hear it called evening primrose oil, borage seed oil, or black currant.

Spice Things Up

If you’re not afraid to add some spice to your diet, you might try turmeric or ginger. Check with your doctor if you’re taking blood thinners though -- turmeric can stop blood from clotting.

Alcohol and Rheumatoid Arthritis

If you take any RA medication, ask your doctor if it's OK for you to drink alcohol. Avoid alcohol if you take methotrexate, because liver damage could be a serious side effect.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by David Zelman, MD on August 15, 2014
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