You Are What You Eat: New Theories About Rheumatoid Arthritis
April 18, 2000 -- Rheumatoid arthritis sufferers take note or take it with a
grain of salt but eating cereal grains such as wheat, rye, barley, oats and
corn, or legumes, such as beans and peas, may produce changes in gut structure
that promote the development of the disease in susceptible people. That's
according to a paper published in the current issue of the British Journal
"Our theory helps us begin to understand the connection between joint
inflammation and gut inflammation that's been a universal clinical finding for
years," lead author Loren Cordain, PhD, tells WebMD. He and his colleagues
have developed a theory about "how diet can interact with gut tissue as
well as components of the immune system to promote the development of
[rheumatoid arthritis] in certain individuals," he says. Cordain is a
professor in the department of health and exercise science at Colorado State
University in Fort Collins.
People who may be susceptible to developing rheumatoid arthritis would be
those with genes that predisposes them to the disease. "We're not saying
that everyone with this genetic make-up would develop the disease, but if the
circumstances were right, they would," says Cordain.
The right circumstances could include consuming foods such as cereal grains
and beans, which are high in a substance called lectins. Lectins can cause
changes in the wall of the digestive track, which allows some of the material
normally kept inside the gut to leak into the body. The material can then
prompt the immune system into attacking the body's own joints, resulting in
Cordain says, "What we need now are good [studies] where we test whether
a diet that doesn't contain lectins and perhaps some other foods will reduce or
[improve] the symptoms of [rheumatoid arthritis]. Some anecdotal reports
indicate that it will."
Carol Henderson, PhD, RD, LD, tells WebMD, "There's no doubt there's a
role for large [studies] looking at the role of diet in the development and
management of [rheumatoid arthritis], and the NIH seems to be moving in that
direction." However, she's unsure about what actually causes the disease.
"We aren't even close to establishing a clear link between genetics and
rheumatic diseases," she says. Henderson is assistant professor in the
department of nutrition at Georgia State University in Atlanta and was not
involved in the study.
Jaya Venkatraman, PhD, was also not involved in the study but tells WebMD,
"As far as a causal role for diet in [rheumatoid arthritis], I'm not
familiar with any research establishing that link." However, she adds,
"We do know that some people with [rheumatoid arthritis] who go on
vegetarian diets or substitute fish" in their diets report feeling better.
She too says that more research is needed. Venkatraman is professor in the
department of physical therapy, exercise, and nutrition sciences at SUNY at
- Researchers have known about a connection between joint inflammation and
gut inflammation, and now suspect that diet may play an important role in these
- A new theory suggests that eating cereal grains can encourage the
development of rheumatoid arthritis, a disease in which the immune system
attacks the body's own joints.
- Researchers say cereal grains contain a substance known as lectins, which
can emerge from the digestive track and into the body, prompting an immune
response, which eventually leads to an immune system attack on the joints.