Rheumatoid arthritis is a debilitating autoimmune disease in which joints become inflamed and painful. It is the second most common form of arthritis in the UK.
Although no specific diet is recommended for people with rheumatoid arthritis, people who eat a lot of red meat are slightly more at risk of the condition. There is also some evidence that adopting a vegetarian diet may help relieve symptoms.
The latest study in the journal Frontiers in Nutrition reviews some of the evidence linking diet and rheumatoid arthritis. It also seeks to explain the molecular mechanism that can lead to certain foods or diets aggravating or relieving symptoms.
It says the role of diet may be particularly important for rheumatoid arthritis since people with the condition often experience stomach and bowel problems such as constipation, diarrhoea, bloating, and nausea.
The researchers conclude that people with rheumatoid arthritis should consider the benefits of a vegetarian or vegan diet. They advocate eliminating any foods that could potentially cause an allergic reaction, introduce more polyunsaturated fatty acids, found in oily fish, plant-based oils and walnuts.
"We believe that an ideal meal can include raw or moderately cooked vegetables (lots of greens, legumes), with addition of spices like turmeric and ginger, seasonal fruits, probiotic yoghurt; all of which are good sources of natural antioxidants and deliver anti-inflammatory effects," the researchers write.
They add: "The patient should avoid any processed food, high salt, oils, butter, sugar, and animal products."
The authors conclude that incorporating these items into the diet "may not cure the patients" but "may help to reduce their disease activity, delay disease progression and reduce joint damage".
'More needs to be learnt'
Commenting on the study in an emailed statement, Dr Natalie Carter from Arthritis Research UK, says: "Research has shown that maintaining a healthy weight and eating a Mediterranean-style diet can be beneficial for some people with arthritis. In particular, omega-3 fatty acids from oily fish have been shown to help with symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis.
"Rheumatoid arthritis affects over 400,000 people in the UK. The pain and fatigue caused by the condition can have a drastic effect on a person’s life and it's true that there are things people can do beyond medication, including exercise and making changes to diet, that help with symptoms and improve health.
“This is why we are investing in research that, for example, looks into the role that gut bacteria plays in the development of rheumatoid arthritis. We do believe that more needs to be known before recommendations can be made in that area."
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