Can Food Reduce Rheumatoid Arthritis Symptoms?

The Mediterranean diet has been found to provide significant health benefits.

A new study published in Frontiers in Nutrition listed 33 foods proven to reduce the symptoms and progression of rheumatoid arthritis (RA).

The authors suggest that patients incorporate these foods into their diet; however, they do not suggest stopping drug therapy in favor of the diets.

"Regular consumption of specific dietary fibers, vegetables, fruits and spices, as well as the elimination of components that cause inflammation and damage, can help patients to manage the effects of rheumatoid arthritis," said researcher Bhawna Gupta, MD. "Incorporating probiotics into the diet can also reduce the progression and symptoms of this disease."

The study suggests that patients with RA should not drink alcohol or smoke, and they should switch to a Mediterranean and vegan diet. The authors advise that patients should do so with the advice of their physician or dietician.

Patients with RA experience pain, swelling, and stiffness in the joints, which can result in significant disability. First-line therapy includes disease-modifying specialty drugs. Some studies have shown that patients with RA may need additional support to achieve treatment goals. In these cases, patients may benefit from the dietary approach.

Physicians have long recommended patients with RA eat a Mediterranean diet, vegan diet, or a fasting diet of 7 to 10 days, according to the authors of the current study.

"Supporting disease management through food and diet does not pose any harmful side effects and is relatively cheap and easy," Dr Gupta said. "Doctors, physicians and dieticians can use our study to summarize current proven knowledge on the links between certain foods and rheumatoid arthritis. Knowing the nutritional and medicinal requirements of their patients they can then tailor this information for the betterment of their health."

The authors noted that prior research shows dried plums, blueberries, pomegranates, whole grains, ginger, turmeric, specific oils, and teas can reduce the symptoms and progression of RA, according to the study.

The authors found that these foods lowered inflammatory cytokines, reduced joint stiffness and pain, and reduced oxidative stress, which all affect progression.

"Our review focused on specific dietary components and phytochemicals from foods that have a proven beneficial effect on rheumatoid arthritis," Dr Gupta said. "Pharmaceutical companies may use this information to formulate 'nutraceuticals'. Nutraceuticals have an advantage over chemically-tailored medicines as they are not associated with any side effects, originate from natural sources and are cheaper."

The authors suggest that patients adopt these diets or eat the foods in addition to RA therapy to improve symptoms and reduce the risk of progression.

"We reviewed research from several laboratory experiments under different conditions,” Dr Gupta said. “Dietary components vary according to geography and weather conditions, so patients should be aware of their nutritional requirements, allergies and any other food-related disease history. We strongly suggest the general public consult doctors and dieticians before following any diet program or food compounds discussed in the study."