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Blueberries (??!!)

Blueberries (??!!)

There are people that I know and respect that tell me that diet affects their RA symptoms. Most frequently they avoid eating certain things that seem to worsen their RA symptoms or can even cause a flare.

I’m not one of those people. I’ve never been able to come to a cause-and-effect of what I eat and how my RA reacts. That doesn’t mean that I haven’t tried. With the close link between our digestive and our immune systems, this seems to be a logical approach. I’ve removed things like gluten and sugar and alcohol. I’ve added things like turmeric and tart cherry juice and have even tried gin-soaked raisins (mainly because I like gin and I like raisins). But I haven’t been able to see a discernible difference.

76 percent of us report no connection between diet and RA…

Turns out, I’m not alone. A recent survey published by Arthritis Care & Research (published by the American College of Rheumatology) and reported in MedPage Today, indicates that about 76 percent of us also report no connection – either improvement or worsening of symptoms.

But that means that 24 percent of us do.

The survey asked 300 participants about their symptom response to a list of 20 “inflammatory” and “anti-inflammatory” foods. Foods considered “inflammatory” included red meat, tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, diet soda, and beer, while fish, blueberries, strawberries, spinach, red wine, and chocolate have been popularly described as “anti-inflammatory.” (If anyone is doing testing on red wine and chocolate, I’d be happy to volunteer!)

This was a survey of patients. It wasn’t medically scientific in that they didn’t examine patients, have them eat specific foods, then re-examine them or do extensive lab tests. They simply asked RA patients how the foods affected their symptoms. It’s doubtful that all of the patients ate all 20 foods on the list so the answers are no doubt skewed a bit toward the more popular/accessible items. All this being said, the 300 respondents are enrolled in the Brigham RA Sequential Study, so there is every reason to have confidence in their answers. There were additional questions about lifestyle (exercise, sleep, etc.) and things like vitamin supplements, but the main focus was on how food connected to RA symptoms.

Blueberries and Fish

Interestingly (at least to me), the food most associated with improving symptoms was blueberries (11.1 percent), followed closely by fish (10.9 percent). The two foods most associated with worsening symptoms were sugar related with sugar-sweetened soda (12.7 percent) and desserts (12.4 percent). Another interesting result was that less than five percent reported caffeine affecting their symptoms. There is conflicting information on whether caffeine interferes with methotrexate, but for someone like me who uses methotrexate and drinks a moderate amount of caffeine, this anecdotal data is encouraging.

The most overwhelming result had nothing to do with food at all. More than 80 percent of the patients said that regular exercise and sleeping well helped improve symptoms.

My takeaway on all of this?

We all know that a well-balanced diet helps our overall health in numerous ways. Based on this survey, about one-quarter of us are more sensitive than others when it comes to specific foods affecting their RA symptoms (good or bad). Food is one of the easiest things to modify in your treatment plan. You’re the expert in your body and how you feel and taking control of your diet empowers you to make positive changes in your life.

And always, before you go too far off the reservation, discuss changes in your diet with your doctor. It’s well known that many foods (such as the innocuous grapefruit) can interfere with medications.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • Diane S
    2 years ago

    Not diet soda!!!!! I wonder if a Crystal Light in water is ok. I hate plain water, but the evidence suggests I need to make the switch.

  • Harry Gruene
    2 years ago

    Pineapple helped a tiny bit, as did removing nightshade foods out of my diet but the greatest help came from eliminating chicken meat and corn by the blood type diet by dr.D’adamo.

  • Anke Schliessmann
    2 years ago

    Thank you for the post, I really agree to what you are saying, food is one of the easiest things to modify in your treatment plan, well maybe not the easiest from mind perspective since you need to overcome cravings in the beginning of the process, but is so easy in the sense of things you can do on your own.
    I would like to add, whenever one tries out to leave out something from the diet, please make sure to stay with this for a while (some weeks) before you decide that it is not working. In some cases one day is really not enough for the body to clean out remaining rests that still sits in the cells, lymph, etc.
    But one can benefit to be brave to try a few things from the lists, one might have (developed) unknown food incompatibilities. I know so many that insist on go and ask for (partly strong) medicine at the doctors and reject the power of a well designed whole food plant based diet.
    But that doesn’t mean strong medications are not needed anymore, but there is at least the possibility as in my case to reduce the take in of e.g. strong pain killers from daily to extra-ordinary situations/flares. But the DMARD is still on my medication plan and there seems to be no way out of it from today’s perspective. I currently take the biosimilar Benepali (Etanercept) which is approved in Germany, and it is working well for me.

  • Richard Faust moderator
    2 years ago

    Thanks for writing Anke. Taking the time to see if changes in a diet (or for that matter any new treatment) have an effect is important. Sometimes with specific foods this is done through elimination. Foods are eliminated from a person’s regular diet to see if there is an effect and then added back one at time to see if original symptoms return. In this article one of our contributors talks about working with a nutritionist on various aspects of diet and nutrition, includuing elimination: Best, Richard ( Team)

  • Carla Kienast author
    2 years ago

    Anke: A great point that you need to give any diet change time to work. RA is a powerful disease and you may, indeed, need to continue with medications. But if we can make an improvement with lifestyle changes (diet, exercise, sleep, etc.) so much the better.

  • Tich
    2 years ago

    Anke, this is off-topic… but what is your opinion of the radon health spas in Germany, such as Bad Gastein. I understand they are an accepted medical therapy for inflammatory RA. Best regards.

  • Lawrence 'rick' Phillips
    2 years ago

    Dining on fresh fish and blueberries are almost worth it to have RA. Naw, I will not say that, but I do love both.

  • Wren moderator
    2 years ago

    When I first learned that “nightshade” plants (tomatoes, eggplants, poratoes) were supposedly no-nos if one had RA, I was devastated. If I had to give up Italian tomato sauces, baked potatoes and eggplant parmesan, what would I eat? Well, I did try avoiding those foods for a decent trial period, and thank goodness (I think) their absence made no difference to my RA symptoms. Over the years, I’ve discovered the same thing about the other “inflammatory” and “anti-inflammatory” foods. Nothing I eat seems to have to slightest effect on my RA, good or bad.
    That said, I always feel better overall when I eat with care, staying away from fried, greasy, or sugary foods. And vegetables of all kinds are always a win.
    One of my favorite breakfasts is plain yogurt with fresh blueberries. They may not make any difference in my RA symptoms, but they sure are delicious–and healthy! 🙂

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