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.