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Gluten-Free Diets & Arthritis

By Rachel Nall

Gluten is a form of protein in foods that contain wheat, barley and rye. While many people can eat gluten with no problems, for others, gluten contributes to inflammation in the small intestine. This can cause a number of unpleasant symptoms, including joint pain. While eating a gluten-free diet isn’t for everyone, a study from Sweden’s Karolinska Instituet indicates that a gluten-free diet could help rheumatoid arthritis sufferers.

Gluten-Free Diet Significance

To eat a gluten-free diet, you must avoid certain foods completely. These include barley, bulgur, kamut, rye, wheat and spelt. Many processed foods also contain gluten, including cookies, breads, cakes, pastas and sauces. Unless a product is labeled as “gluten-free,” avoid it if you are following a gluten-free diet. You can, eat foods like corn, cornmeal, polenta, quinoa and rice. Foods like fruits, vegetables, fresh meats and potatoes that have not been processed do not contain gluten.


The Karolinska Instituet study, which was published in the March 2008 issue of “Arthritis Research & Therapy,” studied 66 rheumatoid arthritis patients. Rheumatoid arthritis is an inflammatory autoimmune disease that causes joint pain and swelling in the body. The participants were assigned to eat either a vegan diet with gluten-free foods or solely a vegan diet. Participants were checked for factors known to cause inflammation, such as cholesterol levels, after three and 12 months of participation. At the study’s conclusion, researchers found that a gluten-free vegan diet was the most effective in reducing inflammatory substances in the body.


When research participants ate a vegan gluten-free diet, they experienced increased levels of protective antibodies in the blood, which help to fight off inflammatory factors that contribute to rheumatoid arthritis. While the researchers have not distinctly defined the mechanism by which a gluten-free diet helps reduce inflammation, Johan Frostegard, one of the study’s lead researchers, theorized that a fewer blood fats helped to reduce the causes of rheumatoid arthritis.


Two chief forms of arthritis exist: rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis is different from rheumatoid arthritis because it is a degenerative condition that takes place due to the wear and tear on your joints over time. Because osteoarthritis is the result of physical changes to a joint, a gluten-free diet may not effectively rebuild the joints. However, for some patients, a gluten-free diet causes joint pain. Therefore, a gluten-free diet may reduce some pain experienced by those who already have arthritic joints.

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