Should I try a Gluten-Free Diet for Rheumatoid Arthritis?

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gluten free diet for rheumatoid arthritis

Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) can cause swelling, pain and discomfort, all of which can worsen over time if not treated with proper medication, physical therapy, diet and exercise.

RA is the most common type of autoimmune arthritis caused by the body’s immune system not working properly, and attacking the tissue around joints in the hands, wrists and feet.

For many years it was regarded as one of the worst and most debilitating diseases out there. Today we know that detecting it early on, and applying small changes to your lifestyle, can make a significant difference long-term.

Recently, mass media has been publishing information about how a gluten-free diet can help ease the pain, and even treat, RA. In this article, we review what the research says regarding the connection between diet and the alleviation of pain and swelling in the joints caused by RA.

Defining a Gluten-Free Diet

For most people, gluten isn’t a toxin. Gluten is simply the name of the proteins found in wheat, rye, barley and triticale. It is the protein responsible for bread taking on a spongy texture, and also helps to keep it from falling apart.

You find gluten in wheatberries, durum, emmer, semolina, spelt, farina, farro, graham, rye, barley and triticale, among others. It is commonly found in breads, cereals, soups, pasta, sauces malts, beer, brewer’s yeast and more.

Some people cannot consume gluten without getting ill or feeling off. Of course, the most sensitive are people with Celiac Disease, an autoimmune disorder where gluten ingestion damages the small intestine. There is evidence that some people who don’t have Celiac Disease may have gluten sensitivities, even though the symptoms may be subclinical.

People with autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis are predisposed to suffering from more inflammation than others, which is why scientists started to suspect that eliminating inflammation-causing gluten could improve their health.

Gluten-free diets are those that avoid all of the foods mentioned previously, wheat and wheat products, rye, barley and triticale.

Does a Gluten-Free Diet for Rheumatoid Arthritis Reduce Symptoms?

Studies show, in a general sense, that there are multiple diet factors that influence inflammation. Studies suggest that plant-based diets, namely vegan diets, do positively influence the prevention and management of RA. This may be explained by the antioxidant and probiotic content of fruits and vegetables, as well as their fiber content.

Additionally, it is known that the long-term intake of fish and other sources of polyunsaturated fatty acids and vitamin D, like fish oils, also help to decrease the activity of RA.

When it comes to gluten, one study alludes to how traditional medicine has long known the connection between diet and chronic pain, but that there is limited evidence of the effect of one specific diet alone.

However, most studies combine a gluten-free diet with a vegan diet, to test effectiveness of dietary changes on RA. In all studies reviewed for this article, the gluten-free, vegan diet did indeed improve inflammation and pain.

If you have been affected by rheumatoid arthritis, you might want to take a close look at creating a specific rheumatoid arthritis diet, and talk to your dietician about removing any foods that may be causing inflammation.

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