A review of the effect of diets for people with rheumatoid arthritis was conducted by researchers in the Cochrane Collaboration. After searching for all relevant studies, they found 15 studies done by other researchers. Their findings are summarised below.
What is rheumatoid arthritis and what diets have been tried?
Rheumatoid arthritis is a disease in which the body’s immune system attacks the lining of the joints. Usually, the joints of the hands and feet are affected first. Joints will become swollen, stiff and painful. There is no cure for RA at present, so treatments aim to relieve pain and stiffness, and improve the ability to move.
To improve symptoms, some people have tried to change what they eat by following a wide variety of special diets. Some people will try to not eat anything for 7 to 10 days to see if it makes a difference. But usually people will try to limit or increase only certain foods. The most common diets tried are vegetarian or vegan, Mediterranean, ‘elemental’ , or elimination diets. Vegan diets do not include meat, fish, eggs and milk products, while some vegetarian diets allow eggs and milk. Mediterranean diets usually include a small amount of meat, more fish, more fruits and vegetables and olive oil. Elemental diets are usually liquid diets that contain nutrients that are broken down to make digestion easier. Elimination diets are used to find foods that might be the cause of symptoms. People usually eliminate foods they think are causing symptoms, and then add in the foods one at a time and see which ones cause symptoms.
What the research says
It is uncertain whether diets improve pain, stiffness and the ability to move better.
Instead, diets may be difficult to stick to, and people may lose weight on these diets even though they did not plan to.
– people who follow special diets may lose 3 kg (6 ½ pounds) more than people who do not follow special diets, even though they did not plan to.