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Study investigates diet and rheumatoid arthritis

A recent study investigates the relationship between nutrition, diet, and rheumatoid arthritis, finding healthy food associated with lower risk.

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a systematic autoimmune disease that causes joint inflammation that can lead to joint damage, muscle loss, pain, and an overall loss of physical function. While many factors combined contribute to the development of rheumatoid arthritis, the main cause has not yet been identified. It is well known, however, that there is a relationship between diet and rheumatoid arthritis. Diet and nutrition are considered a modifiable risk factor, meaning that what you eat can influence your likelihood of developing rheumatoid arthritis in the future. Previous studies have shown that a diet high in protein and low in vegetables, olive oil, and vitamins was associated with a higher risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis. While many studies have focused on the impact of nutrition of single food items on rheumatoid arthritis, very few have assessed dietary patterns (or the combined nutrition of foods) on the disease.

In a recent case-control study published in BMC Nutrition & Metabolism, researchers studied how the nutrition and dietary patterns associated with a Middle Eastern diet influenced the risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis. Newly diagnosed rheumatoid arthritis patients (aged 19 – 69) were recruited in Iran and paired with two healthy control participants. The diets of each participant were obtained through a food frequency questionnaire.

The researchers discovered two major dietary patterns among their sample population: healthy dietary pattern and western dietary pattern. The healthy dietary pattern included foods such as fish, egg, fruit, low-fat dairy, and poultry whereas the western dietary pattern included foods such as red meat, processed meats, and organ meat.

The researchers found that those who followed a healthy dietary pattern had a lower risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis, while a western dietary pattern had a higher risk. The significant relationship found between nutrition, diet, and rheumatoid arthritis is consistent with previous studies that show a similar association. These findings may be explained by the known compounds and vitamins found in many healthier foods, such as fibre and antioxidants in fruits and vegetables, and omega-3 fatty acids in fish that provide a protective effect against inflammation. Less healthy foods, on the other hand, such as processed and red meats, can promote inflammation in the body.

This study provides strength to the growing body of evidence that a healthy diet may help to prevent rheumatoid arthritis, and particularly for Iranian populations for which there was less evidence prior to this present study. Overall, the findings from this study help to improve the understanding of the relationship between nutrition, diet and rheumatoid arthritis.

Written by Maggie Leung, PharmD


Nezamoleslami, S., Ghiasvand, R., Feizi, A. et al. The relationship between dietary patterns and rheumatoid arthritis: a case–control study. Nutr Metab (Lond) 17, 75 (2020).

Image by Goumbik from Pixabay 

Maggie Leung PharmD
Maggie Leung PharmD
Maggie is a registered pharmacist and has a PharmD from the University of Toronto. She currently works in the pharmacy informatics field as a clinician applications consultant. In her role, she supports the integration and optimization of technology in healthcare. She enjoys learning about the latest in scientific research and sharing that knowledge through her writing for Medical News Bulletin. Maggie is a big dog lover and enjoys traveling and spending time with her friends and family.


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