Why Diet Won

Why Diet Won’t Cure RD

If you have rheumatoid disease, chances are good that someone, somewhere, has suggested that changing your diet somehow might make everything all better.

It might have been your mother. Or an aunt. Or an uncle. Your sister or brother might have mentioned it. One of your co-workers might have brought it up. Even a stranger, someone you happened to strike up a conversation with, might mention a change to your diet to fix your RD.

If you’re like me, it’s gotten increasingly hard over the years not to sigh and roll your eyes. Just about anyone who’s had this disease for any length of time has tried making diet changes of all kinds, hoping to make it go away.

But the fact is that diet just won’t do it.

Why? Because diet has nothing to do with RD. We don’t get it because of what we eat. RD is an autoimmune disease. Researchers and scientists don’t know why some people get it and others don’t, any more than they can explain why some people get multiple sclerosis or type 1 diabetes or psoriasis and others don’t.

Autoimmune diseases occur when the body’s immune system attacks and tries to destroy, for some reason, its own tissues as if they were malicious foreign invaders like it does bacteria or viruses. In RD’s case, the tissues the body attacks are mainly the joints and their surrounding tissues, but it may and often does attack organs as well, such as the heart, the lungs, the vascular system, and the eyes. Over time and without aggressive medical treatment, RD can certainly cripple and sometimes, it kills.

Diet – not a cause for RA

Researchers have come up with a list of possible causes for RD, including unknown environmental factors, viruses, genetics, gender, and even smoking. Except not always. Not all humans get it. Not all women, and not all smokers. People who have relatives with RD might not have it themselves. Their kids might not, either. It’s still a mystery.

But diet is not one of the possible causes of RD. That’s not to say that some foods, for some people, might not aggravate the inflammation the disease causes, or trigger a flare, because some foods might—or might not.

If you slash all the sugar from your diet, you might have fewer flares. If I do the same, I might not. There’s no way of knowing.
After my RD diagnosis, I started reading everything I could about rheumatoid disease, I discovered that some people believed that plants from the nightshade family could make RD worse. Conversely, they believed that if you avoided eating those plants, you’d feel better. (Nightshade plants include tomatoes, potatoes, and eggplants, among others.)

So, of course, I stopped eating them.

Unfortunately, depriving myself of most of my favorite foods—spaghetti, tomatoes in salads, pizza with red sauce, baked, fried, boiled, and mashed potatoes, and eggplant parmesan—made absolutely no difference to how my joints felt.

So, although I was disappointed that my RD didn’t take a powder, I was glad that I could continue to enjoy hash browns with my eggs and bacon when I went out for an occasional breakfast.

Here’s another fact: RD is incurable. The good news is that there are medications available now that can slow or even halt the progression of the disease, easing symptoms, preventing joint destruction and disability, and even saving our lives.

Can diet make a difference in how you feel, at least?

Yes. Yes, and yes. When you eat a healthy diet daily—lots of veggies, a few good carbs like whole grain breads, brown rice, etc., plant-based fats like olive oil, and moderate proteins in the form of lean meat, fish, and beans—your body is just plain going to feel better, even with RD in the mix. That’s just a fact of life. You can even enjoy the occasional sweet treat without risk or guilt.

If you mix that healthy daily diet with as much movement as you can manage, making allowances for painful joints by stretching and moving everything that doesn’t hurt, you’ll feel even better. And let me add how much doing these things can lift your self-esteem and confidence.

I’m not saying that eating right and exercising will cure your RD. They won’t—nothing will. But they’ll make you healthier, stronger, lighter on your feet, happier, calmer, and more able to handle whatever RD can throw at you.

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

Comments

View Comments (14)
  • Jessica
    2 years ago

    Hi all,
    I agree with Wren. RA is not caused by your diet, nor gets cured by it. However, changing your diet to a healthier one; it does improve your RA symptoms and inflammation. Avoiding food that causes or worsen your inflammation is the best way to go. Sugar for example, causes inflammation….in my personal experience, red meat can increase my joints pain and inflammation; and because I don’t want to give it up completely, I can only eat it once or twice a week. I also started to add more wild caught salmon to my diet, since is high in Omega 3, which also helps with inflammation.

    Since I was first diagnosed back in March of 2016, I have been managing my RA with diet, turmeric pills, ginger in my teas, exercise and a very healthy diet. I am currently not on medication. Since my first diagnosis, I have had only one flare, then it went away and had 0 pain. A year after since my diagnosis, a mild flare showed up attacking mainly my feet and my index right finger. I have been managing the pain and inflammation with Oxaproxin. I wanted to mention that my liver pain and burning disappeared shortly after I started a cleansing diet mainly based on veggies, berries (especially blueberries) and lean poultry and salmon.

    My doctor has ordered pacquanil but I am holding off on it for now. I know it can damage the back of my eyes, so I would have to see a ophthalmologist regularly to monitor my eyes. For now, I have
    Decided to manage my RA with exercise, antiinflamatories, and a healthy diet.

  • Richard Faust moderator
    2 years ago

    Hi Jessica. I think many agree that while diet won’t cure RA it can help in the right circumstances. The trick is figuring out what diet is best or you. In this article one of our contributors writes about experimenting with foods to figure out what is best as an individual: https://rheumatoidarthritis.net/living/food-experiments/.

    Also, you mention eye concerns, so thought you might be interested in this article from one of our contributors on taking care of the eyes, including with plaquenil: https://rheumatoidarthritis.net/living/eyes-on-the-prize/. Best, Richard (RheumatoidArthritis.net Team)

  • Jessica
    2 years ago

    Can RA affect your liver?

  • Richard Faust moderator
    2 years ago

    Hi Jessica. On top of the excellent advice from Wren about speaking with your rheumatologist about your concerns, I thought you might be interested in this article from one of our contributors about monitoring the liver: https://rheumatoidarthritis.net/living/monitoring-the-liver/. With proper monitoring, your medication and overall treatment plan can be adjusted as need be to better look out for your liver health. Best, Richard (RheumatoidArthritis.net Team)

  • Wren moderator author
    2 years ago

    Hi, Jessica,
    RD doesn’t affect the liver directly, though it does cause systemic inflammation. Drugs for RD, however, can affect it. Ask your rheumatologist about that and about any drugs you’re prescribed if you’re concerned.
    I hope you’re well, Jessica. Thanks for stopping by and for commenting. 🙂

  • GingerS
    2 years ago

    Hello all, Reading your article struck home with me. Though we realize there is no cure for RA. I found adjusting my diet helped a lot with the inflamation I had in my right ankle and heel. I had planter faciitis of my inner right ankle and extreme pain in the ankle joint of my right foot. When I would walk. It felt like I was stepping on stones. When I adjusted my diet to sugar free and low carb. Not only did I start to lose weight (from the prednisolone) gain. The pain inflamation in my foot and ankle was relieved after months of pain, limping, ect. Though I realize this doesn’t work for everyone. It has worked for me. It is like it is always there in the backround. Waiting to reach up and bite me again. 🙂

  • Wren moderator author
    2 years ago

    Hi GingerS!
    It’s wonderful that adjusting your diet relieved your pain and inflammation! It’s so interesting that something as simple as avoiding sugar and simple carbs can, for some people, be so helpful. Your story inspires me–thanks so much for sharing it with us. I hope you’re still feeling well, and that you’ll stop by again soon and let us know how you’re doing. 🙂

  • Cari
    2 years ago

    I feel better when I eat healthy, but I can’t make a connection between what I eat and getting a flare. I get diet suggestions frequently, and also advice on which essential oil to use (which I think is particularly funny). If I didn’t know that people are sincerely trying to help, it would bug me, but I think for the most part they want to be helpful. Sometimes if I’m stressed or am too physically active it seems to trigger a flare, but then other times not. I think RD has a mind of it’s own, and it’s not nice.

  • Wren moderator author
    2 years ago

    Hi, Cari!
    Amen to that. I agree–RD has a mind of its own. I think that’s why I’ve always thought of mine as a dragon that has its own personality as it chews on my joints.
    I’ve never been able to find any particular association between what foods I eat and flares, either. But like you, I know I feel better when I’m eating with care and avoiding processed foods and too much salt and sugar.
    Thanks for commenting, Cari. I appreciate it. Sending my best wishes. 🙂

  • Lawrence 'rick' Phillips
    2 years ago

    Wait, you mean I can stop drinking the half gallon of pure vinegar every day to cure RA? Alright, I might be able to taste stuff again someday. 🙂

  • Wren moderator author
    2 years ago

    Hi, Rick!
    Vinegar? Half-gallons? Yuck! At least make it pickle juice so you can enjoy the pickles, too!
    Here’s to being able to taste and enjoy a normal, vinegar-free diet. Hope you’re feeling well, my friend. 🙂

  • Cmontelep
    2 years ago

    At first I thought you were saying that diet has nothing to do with RA, until I understood that you were saying foods can’t actually CAUSE RA. I’m 29 years old and have suffered with RA since I was first diagnosed at 12 months.  The RA has also decided to attack my eyes, as I’ve developed uveitis as well.  I have been able to maintain relatively good health until about 7 months ago when I had my first major flare as an adult, and it was unlike anything I had ever experienced. After seeing my rheumatologist, who suggested I take 4 separate drugs and then proceded to tell me the side effects of each one, I decided to take a different approach as I was willing to try anything that wouldn’t give me additional problems in the form of scary side effects. I’ve changed my diet, eliminating all dairy, white bread/flour, sugar, and trans fats.  I have a strict vitamin regimen I stick to every day, and have started drinking ginger water instead of my usual fruit juices.  I have also tried to include more leafy greens into my diet, as well as other fruits and vegetables, turmeric, fibrous foods, and whole grains.  Oddly enough, it ha’s made all the difference in the world. It’s crazy how I can physically see the swelling increase once I’ve eaten unhealthy foods.  It’s also rewarding and satisfying watching the swelling go down once I stick to the original strict diet.  I have noticed a significant change in my energy levels as well as an overall healthier feeling.  I can see, now more than ever, how diet directly affects your mental and physical health as well as the level of inflammation.

  • Wren moderator author
    2 years ago

    Hi, Cmontelep!
    It’s wonderful that you’ve been able to affect significant changes in your RD by controlling your diet like you have! I’m really impressed by your dedication to your health and by your willpower. It’s not easy to make such sweeping dietary changes. I’m glad you’re feeling so much better for it.
    Thanks very much for commenting. I hope you’ll stop by again soon and let me know how you’re doing. 🙂

  • Lauren Tucker moderator
    2 years ago

    Cmontelep,

    Thanks so much for commenting on this article and sharing your experience. We are so glad to hear that you are feeling better!
    We do like to keep in mind different treatments do work differently for everyone, but happy to hear diet has made all the difference.

    We are glad to have you part of the community.
    Warmly,
    Lauren (RhuematoidArthritis.net Team)

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