Fact or fiction? These foods aggravate arthritis symptoms

It’s truly frustrating that research and funding into arthritis is given such short shrift compared to other chronic diseases. After all, it’s the No. 1 leading cause of pain and disability in the U.S. And each year, it costs approximately $300 billion in medical expenses and lost work. 

Plus, the problem is only getting worse. In fact, it’s estimated that almost 80 million adults in the U.S. will suffer from arthritis within the next 20 years. 

So, today, let’s focus on the different types of arthritis…and what they have in common. Then, I’ll share some common myths about diet—and the causes of one type of debilitating arthritis pain…  

Inflammation is a common factor in both types of arthritis

As you may know, there are two main types of arthritis: osteoarthritis (OA) and rheumatoid arthritis (RA). 

OA is the more common form, as it’s associated with aging, excessive exercise, and injury. It’s ultimately caused by chronic inflammation and wear-and-tear on your joints and most commonly affects middle-aged and older people. Symptoms can include stiffness, pain, and decreased range of motion—which often flare up after heavy activity. 

(Interestingly, the modern rate of OA is twice as high as the rate experienced during the prehistoric, agrarian, and industrial eras—even though we live far less strenuous lives. In my view, these higher rates directly relate to the modern epidemic of excessive exercise [or “excess-ercise,” as I call it] and long distances running on hard, artificial surfaces.) 

RA, by comparison, is a far less common condition. In fact, experts estimate just 0.6 percent of the population suffers from RA. And it typically first strikes in younger people between the ages of 30 and 50 years. 

RA is considered an “autoimmune disorder,” in which the body’s immune system mistakes its own tissues for foreign invaders. When it mounts an attack to destroy these “invaders,” it often first targets the cartilaginous tissues, such as synovial tissues that line the joints.  

These attacks cause joint inflammation, pain, swelling, and even disfiguration. And they most commonly affect the joints in the hands and feet—usually to an equal degree symmetrically on both sides of the body. (So, if your joint pain and inflammation are one-sided, it’s important to look for other causes.) 

Additionally, RA symptoms can also include fever, fatigue, muscle aches, and nodules. These symptoms typically flare up in the morning or after a period of low activity. 

As the condition progresses, RA can also affect other parts of the body, such as the heart, lungs, kidneys, and vascular system. And in rare cases, it can affect the lymphatic system, gastrointestinal (GI) tract, or urinary system. 

Of course, we still know very little about what causes RA. And over the years, stories about how certain foods can trigger or aggravate RA have transitioned from folklore to accepted fact.  

But there’s actually no scientific basis for the following six myths… 

The top-6 myths about food and RA  

Myth #1: Nix the nightshades. People with RA (and other autoimmune disorders) are commonly advised to avoid foods from the nightshade family (eggplant, peppers, potatoes, and tomatoes).  

I suppose this notion may stem from superstitions in Europe that these plants are distantly related to the “deadly nightshade.” Indeed, when Spanish explorers brought nightshade vegetables back to Europe with them from the Americas, beginning in the 1500s, people were reluctant to consume them.  

But there’s no real scientific evidence demonstrating that these foods pose a problem for RA…or that they increase inflammation in any way. 

On the contrary, the brightly colored members of the nightshade family contain loads of important nutrients, including vitamin C and carotenoids, which help reduce inflammation. Tomatoes, in particular, contain high amounts of lycopene, a potent carotenoid that’s relatively rare to find and acts as an antioxidant in the body. 

Myth #2: Cut out citrus. People with RA also commonly think they should cut citrus fruits from their diet. But here again, there’s no scientific evidence to suggest that citrus fruits cause harm to RA patients. Rather, these colorful fruits are high in beneficial nutrients like B and C vitamins, which are important for healthy joints.  

Not to mention, research consistently shows it’s critically important to get five servings of fruits and vegetables per day. So, if you cut out all nightshades…and then citrus fruits too…you’ll without a doubt have a much more difficult time reaching that important, daily target.  

Myth #3: Ditch the dairy. One of the most ridiculous myths about RA involves the recommendation to eliminate dairy. Yet again, there’s no scientific evidence that you can improve RA by cutting cheese, milk, or yogurt. In fact, if you cut out these healthy, whole-milk products…you may feel worse and put yourself at greater risk of other diseases!  

That’s because you’ll be missing out on key nutrients that your body needs, like calcium—which you should get only from dietary sources, not supplements. You’ll also miss out on essential fatty acids (which must also come from the diet) that help support a healthy, balanced immune system, including the all-important gastrointestinal (GI) microbiome. Plus, eating full-fat dairy supports good bone and cartilage health, which is critical to healthy joints! 

Myth #4: Reach for raw foods. One study back in the 1990s found that people with RA who followed a raw, vegan diet, with some probiotics added, reported some temporary relief from their nagging symptoms.  

But this extreme, restrictive approach did not slow the progression of the disease…which doesn’t surprise me much. Remember, eliminating whole categories of foods works against the benefits of a healthy, balanced, inflammation-controlling diet. 

Myth #5: Add apple cider vinegar. Some people seem to think drinking apple cider vinegar works as a natural remedy for joint pain. Some say it’s because of the beta-carotene. But there’s no evidence that beta-carotene, by itself, works to help RA. And there’s only a small amount of beta-carotene in apple cider vinegar, anyway.   

Of course, you can get healthy amounts of beta-carotene and other carotenoids by adding (and not cutting out) yellow-orange-red fruits and vegetables (such as peppers and tomatoes) to your diet instead.  

Myth #6: Dine on “drunken raisins.” Some people seem to think eating gin-soaked raisins can help relieve RA pain. Supposedly, the sulfur used to preserve the raisins can reduce joint damage. And the juniper berries infused in the gin help reduce inflammation.   

This folk remedy probably won’t hurt you, but there’s no scientific evidence it will stop RA, either. Sure, the juniper and other ingredients infused in gin have medicinal properties, but there’s still no science showing that taking them in gin-soaked raisins actually works well for RA. 

Find a knowledgeable, natural practitioner in your area 

So, now that you know what signs to look for—and what not to eliminate from your healthy, balanced diet—I encourage you to find a health practitioner who’s knowledgeable about natural treatments for arthritis.  

The American Association of Naturopathic Physicians is a good place to start. You can search their database of physicians here 

In addition, you can learn more about all the natural approaches shown to combat the inflammation, pain, and swelling from both OA and RA in my Arthritis Relief and Reversal Protocol. Click here to learn more about this online learning tool, or to enroll today. 

P.S. Now that we’ve squashed some myths about RA, tomorrow, I’ll go over some science-backed, natural truths regarding the disease…all of which actually DO help alleviate RA pain, swelling, and tenderness. So, stay tuned!