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Dietary Habits Increase Risks for Rheumatoid Arthritis

Researchers determine whether dietary habits are linked to an increased likelihood of developing rheumatoid arthritis.

Rheumatoid arthritis is a disease wherein the body’s immune system attacks the joints, creating inflammation within them.

This inflammation can damage cartilage, leading to loose, unstable, and painful joints.

Inflammation due to rheumatoid arthritis commonly affects the hands, feet, wrists, elbows, knees, and ankles. It can also affect the heart and lung systems.

Moreover, despite conflicting results, researchers suggest that diet may influence an individual’s risk for rheumatoid arthritis.

A study published in Clinical Rheumatology determined whether certain diets impacted the development of rheumatoid arthritis (RA).

Researchers recruited 500 patients with RA and 500 participants without RA. The patients were recruited from three clinics at the University of Medical Sciences in Iran.

They conducted a survey to establish a relationship between diet and the disease. The survey asked about the participants’ consumption of different beverages and items within the nutritious and non-nutritious diet list.

Items in the survey included:

  • green tea,
  • coffee,
  • fruits,
  • vegetables,
  • full-fat milk,
  • and fried foods.

Participants with rheumatoid arthritis had different dietary habits

The scientists found that healthy participants drank more green tea and coffee per month than those with rheumatoid arthritis.

They also found that around 64% of RA participants drink soda compared to 59% of healthy participants.

The researchers also found significant differences in the consumption of non-nutritious food items between the two groups.

Participants with rheumatoid arthritis consume more of the following:

  • full-fat milk,
  • fried food,
  • butter,
  • saturated solid oils,
  • and spicy foods.

 The study also noted that RA participants and healthy participants do not differ with regard to nutritious diet consumption.

High-fat intake increased the risk of rheumatoid arthritis

Further analysis of the data shows that increased consumption of coffee and green tea, more than or equal to eight cups per month, is associated with decreased chances of developing RA.

On the other hand, increased consumption of full-fat milk and solid oils per month resulted in an increased risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis.

Current explanations for these relationships highlight the chemical and biological features of these foods.

The scientific literature suggests that coffee contains materials and molecules that detoxify cell components, repair damaged DNA, and prevent malignant cell transformation.

In the case of full-fat milk, high-fat diets stimulate the immune system by allowing toxins (endotoxins) to enter the bloodstream, causing increased inflammation.

Green tea, much like coffee, acts as an antioxidant that prevents the effects of inflammation and reduces DNA damage.  

These associations imply that a change in diet in the right direction can potentially prevent the development of RA.

Future studies should determine the type of diet needed to decrease inflammation, treat rheumatoid arthritis, and provide support for a causal link between diet and the development of rheumatoid arthritis.


  1. Rambod M, Nazarinia M, Raieskarimian F. The impact of dietary habits on the pathogenesis of rheumatoid arthritis: A case-control study. Clinical Rheumatology, 2018;1-6.
  2. What is Rheumatoid Arthritis? Arthritis Foundation. Updated October 15, 2021.



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