Friday, 19 October 2012

Arthritis Diet Myths

Last week, as part of National Arthritis Week, Arthritis Research UK set out to bust some of the myths around arthritis and I joined in with a feature in the Richmond and Twickenham Times. It was a really great campaign as there is still a huge amount of misunderstanding about arthritis. Even some of the doctors I see get confused between osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and psoriatic arthritis. Like me, I'm sure you find people say some pretty odd things to you out of confusion about the condition and even your nearest and dearest may struggle to understand it some times. My least favourite myths are the ones about diet though - over the last 10 years people have suggested that I could cure the arthritis by eating gin-soaked raisins, avoiding nightshade vegetables, cutting out wheat and dairy, only eating organic, fasting and consuming emu oil (yes, really!). I don't object to the idea that making healthy changes to your diet might help with some symptoms, I don't even object to the idea that for some people certain foods may exacerbate the condition but I really get annoyed when people suggest that you can simply cure arthritis with diet. Bluntly, it would be great if you could but you can't. Drinking emu oil can't grease your joints and no amount of carrots will cure crepitus. It's a serious medical condition and no whacky diet is going to kick it to the curb. To lay some of those myths to rest I've been digging about to find out what the scientific verdict is on them:

Avoiding nightshade vegetables - no clinical evidence for this myth. Some individuals may find a particular food makes them better or worse but vegetables from the nighshade family are packed full of anti-inflammatory anti-oxidants, phytochemicals and vitamins so cutting them out of your diet means you are missing out on their nutritional benefits.

Gin-soaked raisins, cider-vinegar etc - no evidence from any clinical trials. I'm afraid this one is all anecdote. Not going to do you any harm if you like eating your raisins with gin but it's probably only the alcohol relieving the pain!

Cutting out wheat - I've posted more extensively about this here. In a nutshell, probably not but it depends on what type of arthritis you have.

No starch/London diet/AS diet - one study has been conducted using this diet which did show positive results but it was with only a few patients and the benefits of cutting out starch haven't been found by other researchers. It's a very restrictive diet so definitely not one to try without discussing it with a dietician or doctor first.

Vegan diet - there is some evidence in favour of this for reducing symptoms in inflammatory arthritis based on a series of trials done by a Scandinavian research group. However, no-one else has replicated their results and a Cochrane Review suggested that patients on the diet actually were risking malnutrition in the long term as they weren't well-equipped to ensure they were eating a balance diet. It could be that the weight loss the patients on the vegan diet experienced actually helped reduce inflammation or possibly the diet itself. A vegan diet can be very healthy if its well-balanced so there is no reason to avoid one because of arthritis but probably no reason to choose to go vegan just for your arthritis either.

Diet does have a role in managing arthritis. Being a healthy weight and eating a balanced diet can help reduce some symptoms and improve your overall health. You can find my run down of how to have a healthy arthritis diet here.

Let me know your least favourite diet myths or whether you are actually a secret fan of gin-soaked raisins and emu oil salad dressings!


  1. I've never found that avoiding certain foods (such as nightshade vegetables) had any effect on my rheuma, for good or for bad. Even losing weight, which I've done in typical yo-you fashion, had any effect other than boosting my self-confidence. It's always nice to fit into smaller sizes and feel better about how you look. But skinny or chubby, my rheuma stayed the same. I even wore a copper bracelet for about a year, hoping against hope that it would actually do what it was promised it would do. Nada.

    Eating healthfully is alway good for you. But to expect that by deleting tomatoes from you diet and popping gin-soaked raisins you'll cure your autoimmune arthritis is bound to be disappointing. Thanks for an excellent article and blog post, Kate.

    1. Thanks Wren. I'm a bit worried the gin-soaked raisin council might come tell us off!

    2. Oooh Kate!! I really LOVED gin-soaked raisins! They are WONDERFUL over vanilla ice- cream! But that was it! Like Wren - I've tried the no nightshades - and if anything the stiffness was worse. And the early days of not being able to move were at a period when I was pretty much gluten-free because I lived in the UK and realised I am allergic to highly commercialised wheat. Omitting wheat in the UK equals gluten-free really - and there are loads of calories in anything baked. Here in Italy I eat bread made with pure rye, kamut and spelt - with no problems re the allergy. The PMR isn't any worse.

      I do a lot with a polymyalgia forum (also an autoimmune arthritis), trying womanfully to keep the wiffle out, and repeatedly sit wanting to bash my head against a brick wall ;-) Is it just wishful thinking that makes them want it to work?

      We actually had to ban one woman from the US who maintained she had achieved a cure with the most amazing vegan diet you could imagine - more than a few months on THAT and she'll be short of most things. She simply couldn't accept our cavils in order to keep the discussion realistic and got quite obnoxious. If she really had a bad case of PMR as she claimed she couldn't have done the shopping required, never mind the manual effort! And someone from the antipodes did something similar - though not 100% as she couldn't find anyone to give her the coffee enemas! My scientific mind boggles! She did go into remission in just under 2 years, but so do a quarter of our patients anyway.

      They sit there and whinge about putting on weight with pred - but when I hear what they eat I have to say I'm hardly surprised. But gin-raisins and all the other crazes - they'll have a go at that.

      And can I join Wren - thankyou for the excellent article and post.

    3. Hi Eileen - your comment made me laugh and groan in equal measure! Thanks for posting and sharing some of your favourites from the PMR forum. I'm so jealous of you living in Italy and having gelato though...even if you top it off with those darn raisins ;)



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