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Can a Gluten Free Diet Help With RA?

Benefits of Eating Gluten-Free for Rheumatoid Arthritis

Traditionally, gluten-free diets are primarily used by people with celiac disease, where there is a reaction to gluten. Still, as more research is produced on the overall effects of gluten on the body, there is the possibility that removing the protein from your diet may minimize the effects of other chronic illnesses. Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is just one of these diseases. Learn more about the effects of gluten on your RA symptoms and how going gluten-free may help.


Gluten and Autoimmune Diseases

Both Celiac disease and RA are autoimmune diseases. Often genetic, these disorders cause immune responses to certain substances in the body. In the case of celiac disease, any gluten consumed triggers the immune system to attack the small intestine as the protein is processed through the intestinal tract. Going gluten-free is the only treatment available for celiac disease.

RA is certainly different than celiac disease, but it is also an autoimmune disorder. It is characterized by chronic inflammation within joint linings from the body attacking its own tissues. Not only are pain and swelling common with RA, but the disease can cause permanent joint damage when left untreated. Conventional medications are used in RA treatment, but it is also worth investigating complementary treatments.

Decreasing Inflammation in RA

Treating RA is important to help prevent joint damage. While there is no cure, medications are often used to help stop destructive inflammation. Still, there are other possible forms of inflammation relief that could help RA. The Arthritis Foundation reports that some RA patients experience less joint pain when they avoid gluten.

Other studies have revealed links between diet and RA symptoms. One study published in Rheumatology identified gluten as a possible aggravator of antibodies that increase RA inflammation. In fact, participants in the Oxford study were found to fare the best with a vegan, gluten-free diet.

Gluten-free diets are not only thought to possibly help decrease inflammation to stop RA-related joint damage: the effects may also help provide real symptom relief. This can be a welcome plan for many RA sufferers who struggle with daily pain. Such natural forms of pain relief may also decrease your dependence on medication. While conventional medications, such as NSAID’s and steroids may help, there are concerns over long-term side effects.

Removing gluten from your diet can lead to improved overall health and quality of life. Aside from decreased pain and inflammation, you might experience relief from symptoms related to gluten sensitivity. These include:

Another consideration is the general nature of autoimmune diseases. Once you have an autoimmune disease, your chance for developing another is greater. For this reason, it’s not uncommon for people to suffer from both RA and celiac disease. Also, while autoimmune disorders are genetic, you might not develop the exact same type as your parents. This explains why some parents have one disorder, such as celiac disease, while another family member might have RA or another autoimmune disorder.

Making the Switch to Gluten-Free

At its core, the gluten-free diet is primarily used by those with celiac disease. In such cases, gluten is not properly absorbed and can cause destruction in the small intestine. If you have another autoimmune disease like RA, it may be worth giving the gluten-free diet a try. While individual responses can vary, removing gluten certainly won’t cause any harm or worsen RA.

Following a gluten-free diet means you must avoid wheat, rye, barley, oats, and other grains—all of these contain the protein. There are also traces of gluten in seemingly safe foods and non-foods, ranging from medicines to even body products. You can look for products labeled “gluten-free,” or read labels carefully to avoid ingesting the protein.

  • Hafstrom, I., et. a. (2001, October). A vegan diet free of gluten improves the signs and symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis: The effects on arthritis correlate with a reduction in antibodies to food antigens. Rheumatology, 40 (10): 1175-1179. Retrieved from
  • Mayo Clinic Staff. (2014, October 29). Rheumatoid arthritis. Retrieved from
  • Rath, Linda. (n.d.). The connection between gluten and arthritis. Retrieved from
  • What is Celiac disease? (2013). Retrieved from

Author Bio: Kristeen Cherney is a freelance health and lifestyle writer. Her work has been published on numerous health-related websites, and she has previously experience as a communications and marketing professional. Kristeen holds a BA in Communication and an MA in English. She’s currently pursuing her doctorate in Rhetoric and Composition. When she’s not writing or studying, Kristeen enjoys walking, kick-boxing, yoga, and traveling.

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