rheumatoid arthritis

Researchers determine whether certain foods may be linked to an increased likelihood of developing rheumatoid arthritis.

According to the Arthritis Foundation, 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.

In a recent study published in Clinical Rheumatology, Masoume Rambod and colleagues wanted to determine whether certain diets impacted the development of rheumatoid arthritis (RA). For the study, they recruited 500 patients with RA and 500 participants without RA. They recruited these patients from three clinics of the University of Medical Sciences in Iran from 2015 to 2016.

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 significantly different dietary habits

Rambod found that the difference between the intake of green tea, coffee, and soda was significantly different between participants with RA and participants without RA. They found that healthy participants drank more green tea and coffee per month than those with RA. They also found that around 64% of RA participants drink soda compared to the 59% of healthy participants.

Regarding diets, the researchers found significant differences in the consumption of non-nutritious food items between the two groups. Participants with RA consume more full-fat milk, fried food, butter, solid oils, and spicy foods than the healthy group. The study also noted that RA participants and healthy participants do not differ with regards to nutritious diet consumption.

More full-fat milk and solid oils increased the risk of developing 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 RA.

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 detoxifies cell components, repairs damaged DNA and prevents malignant cell transformation. In the case of full-fat milk, high-fat diets stimulate the immune system by allowing toxins (endotoxins) to enter the blood stream, 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.

Rambod and his colleagues propose that future studies in nutrition must aim to determine the type of diet needed to decrease inflammation and treat rheumatoid arthritis and provide support for a causal link between diet and the development of rheumatoid arthritis.

Written by Michael Cruz, Hons. BSc


(1) Rambod, M., Nazarinia, M., & Raieskarimian, F. (2018). The impact of dietary habits on the pathogenesis of rheumatoid arthritis: a case-control study. Clinical Rheumatology, 1-6.
(2) “What Is Rheumatoid Arthritis?” Www.arthritis.org, Arthritis Foundation, www.arthritis.org/about-arthritis/types/rheumatoid-arthritis/what-is-rheumatoid-arthritis.php.

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