Many people with rheumatoid arthritis have tried the elimination diet – from excluding dairy and nightshade vegetables to wheat and other gluten products – to relieve the symptoms of RA. Can celiac disease cause rheumatoid arthritis?
The relationship between diet and RA is controversial, and the relationship between gluten and joint pain and inflammation is the best example. Proponents of a gluten-free diet for RA say this can eliminate joint pain, while researchers are still looking for evidence to support these claims.
Gluten and RA: Any combination?
Like rheumatoid arthritis, sensitivity to gluten – a protein found in some grains – is common in people of Northern European descent. Celiac disease is an extreme form of gluten sensitivity or intolerance in which the immune system reacts negatively to gluten and causes inflammation of the small intestinal mucosa.
People with celiac disease are more susceptible to autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus, but the exact relationship is still under investigation.
By eating gluten-containing foods, people who are sensitive to gluten or celiac disease can cause gastrointestinal symptoms and inflammation that can resemble rheumatoid arthritis. But these are two separate states caused by separate immune responses. Antibody profiles are different for rheumatoid arthritis.
The elimination of gluten from the diet may alleviate digestive pain and joint pain caused by gluten sensitivity in people genetically predisposed to gluten sensitivity, but this is unlikely to benefit others. A blood test can tell if you are sensitive to gluten or celiac disease.
How common is celiac disease in RA?
People with RA may be more prone to celiac disease or gluten sensitivity than people without this disease. One study notes that antibodies related to celiac disease and gluten intolerance appear more often in people with RA and Sjogren’s syndrome than people without these conditions.
Another study explains that RA and celiac disease appear to overlap. Researchers have revealed that people with celiac disease often have markers for RA (rheumatoid factors) and that people with RA often have symptoms of celiac disease. However, this does not mean that everyone with RA will be sensitive to gluten. Looking for tests for both RA and celiac disease, as soon as symptoms appear, can help doctors recognize the problem correctly and find the best treatment.
Elimination diets and RA
Rheumatoid arthritis is usually characterized by relapses in joint pain and other symptoms alternating with periods of remission. Many people think that some foods can trigger these outbursts, but the impact of dietary restrictions on RA is still uncertain and the research on it is too small to draw definite conclusions.
Still, many people try to eliminate diets that restrict certain foods that can cause RA symptoms, such as dairy products, citrus fruits, and nightshade vegetables, such as tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant.
There is nothing wrong with seeing what happens when you eliminate food from your diet, as long as your daily energy and nutritional needs are still met.
Patients with chronic diseases like to control some aspects of their lives and it is worth eliminating food. But aside from adding fatty fish or fish oils, it’s really not clear if diet changes are beneficial.