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Foods That Cause Arthritis Flare-Ups

By Clay McNight ; Updated August 14, 2017

It was thought for many years that diet could not influence arthritis. But research and clinical trials have now shown that this inflammatory disease can in fact be treated, as well as aggravated, through diet. Foods that may cause the most trouble for individuals with arthritis, which produces painful swelling of the joints, include those from the meat and dairy groups. Avoiding gluten may also be beneficial in controlling arthritis flareups.

Disease Background

Arthritis is a class of disease that includes both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Osteoarthritis involves the loss of cartilage in joints, particularly knees, fingertips, spine and hips as well as the overgrowth of bone in the joints. More than 20 million Americans are afflicted with osteoarthritis, with most of them over the age of 45. More than 2 million Americans suffer from rheumatoid arthritis, a much more aggressive form of arthritis. Painful and inflamed joints are characteristic of rheumatoid arthritis. The role of diet may be important in controlling the symptoms of both rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis.

Vegetarian Research

Avoiding meat may have the most profound effect on controlling the symptoms of arthritis, as demonstrated in a study published in 1999 in "The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition." The study tested the effects of a gluten-free, vegan diet for 3.5 months and then a lacto-vegetarian (allows dairy, excludes meat and eggs) diet for nine months on patients with rheumatoid arthritis. At the end of the study, the patients in the vegetarian groups showed significant improvement when compared with the control group.

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Vegan and Gluten-Free Research

A study published in the "Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine" in 2002 tested the effects of a very low-fat, vegan diet on arthritis patients. The result was a significant decrease in all measures of rheumatoid arthritis symptomology, except for morning stiffness. A study published in "Rheumatology" in 2001 also tested the effects of a vegan, gluten-free diet compared to a well-balanced nonvegan diet for one year. A greater number of patients in the gluten-free, vegan group experienced improvement in symptoms compared to the control group. According to these studies, the foods most likely to induce arthritis flareups are animal foods and gluten.

Survey Says

The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine highlights a 1989 survey of more than a thousand arthritis patients that revealed foods thought to aggravate arthritis symptoms. According to the survey, the top foods were red meat, fats, sugar, salt, caffeine and nightshade plants, such as tomato and eggplant. The committee also lists 10 major arthritis trigger foods to avoid. They include dairy products, corn, eggs, meat, wheat, tomatoes, potatoes, citrus fruits, nuts and coffee.

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