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Foods That Make Rheumatoid Arthritis Worse

By Melissa Lind ; Updated August 14, 2017

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease where the body is actually destroying its own cells. Certain foods are thought to be inflammatory, which may increase the damaging immune activity. Avoiding certain food groups may help to decrease the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis.


Gluten is a protein complex contained primarily in wheat, but also in some other grain products such as barley and rye. Gluten allergy contributes to the development of an inflammatory condition known as celiac disease, which has led natural health practitioners to propose that elimination of gluten from the diet will help with other inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis. Elimination of gluten grain-based foods such as wheat breads, pastas and pastries may decrease the chance of increased inflammation. Products such as rice, corn and legume-based flours may be substituted.


Dairy products are known to cause lactose intolerance in people who cannot digest the milk sugar. One of the first mechanisms of the immune system is the presence of IgE in the digestive tract, so consumption of a food that is not well tolerated may increase the activity of inflammatory processes and the immune system. In addition, dairy products contain the protein casein, which may be intolerable for some people. Substitution of dairy products with soy-based products such as soy milk, yogurt and cheeses may be advisable.

Red Meat and Poultry

Red meat and poultry are high in omega-6 fatty acids, which have been shown to increase inflammation. On the other hand, omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to reduce inflammation. Reducing the amount of red meat and poultry in the diet and replacing it with oily, meaty fish high in omega-3 fatty acids such as salmon or tuna may help to reduce inflammation.

Nightshade Vegetables

Nightshade vegetables including tomatoes, peppers and potatoes are thought by some to increase inflammatory responses in the body. Though no clinical studies are yet available in 2010 to support this claim, some claim to have experienced relief by eliminating nightshade vegetables from the diet.

Refined Sugars

Excessive consumption of refined sugars, including white sugar, brown sugar and corn syrup, may increase the acidity of the body. Some natural health practitioners have recommended that refined sugar be avoided in cases of inflammatory disease such as rheumatoid arthritis. Substitution with natural sugar alternatives such as stevia, agave nectar, fruit juice concentrates and honey may help to reduce inflammatory processes. An overall reduction of any type of sugar can also be recommended to avoid rapid increases in blood sugar, which may interfere with inflammatory processes.

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