Home Auto-immune disease Rheumatoid arthritis – foods that trigger, and diet that helps

Rheumatoid arthritis – foods that trigger, and diet that helps


In my last post I talked about how a low carb diet can be miraculous for those with an auto-immune disease. Although reducing carbohydrates reduces blood sugar and insulin levels, and consequently inflammatory markers, this is unlikely to be the main reason a low carbohydrate diet works in reducing auto-immune disease.

I’ve blogged in the past about my own experience: For many years I followed a reduced carbohydrate diet, and joint inflammation although reduced would come and go. It wasn’t until I cut out grains that it went away for good. I replaced grains with other carbohydrates – starchy root veg and fruit. To this day the amount of carbohydrates makes no difference to me in terms of joint inflammation, it is purely the foods I eat. Here is my story on Robb Wolf’s blog “The Zone diet – better with paleo foods”

Grains and nightshades can trigger auto-immune disease in susceptible people.

As part of my post grad nutrition science study I interviewed a woman, Lesley (late 50’s) whose Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) reduced dramatically as a result of changing her diet: Here are excerpts from the interview:


When did you first get diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis?

2008 is when I was diagnosed, but I had the symptoms for some time before that – and was putting it down to gym injuries, a multitude of things, RSI, you name it, it was 2008 when the rheumatologist confirmed it through a blood test – the anti-CCP antibodies – that I definitely had it.

At what time did you actually change your diet to a paleo style diet?

Well I didn’t change it for a while – I tried quite a few things, I started paleo in the beginning of 2011.

And prior to starting paleo, what kind of symptoms were you experiencing – what were your issues?

Extreme, extreme pain, just about everywhere, sort of a roving – I called it a ‘hunt and peck’ thing, at times I couldn’t walk, it was really bad in my knee, I had a walking stick, then it would go from one knee to the other knee, then it would go to my arms, all over the place. It was actually quite bad there for a while.

What do you mean by ‘hunt and peck’?

Hunt and peck means where is it going to go next, there, then it will move to there, and then it would, then the pain would go, then it would move around the body, hunt and peck is probably not a good analogy but – yeah.

And were you on any medication to control your symptoms?

The rheumatologist I was under gave me anti-inflammatories, pain relief, and was wanting me all the time to go onto the strong drugs, I can’t remember what they were, and I kept refusing and saying I wanted to try to control it through diet. I no longer go to a rheumatologist ‘cause I wasn’t very happy with him. He kept telling me in a very condescending way that “well – that’s very nice dear, but you’re afflicted quite badly with this RA and it’s only going to get worse and you need to address it with these drugs” and the really strong drugs that you have to have your liver tested every month to ascertain what the damage is, and I refused and slowly my blood tests were starting to improve when I was – this is before paleo – I went on a diet that was, (because I didn’t know about paleo), I still included grain and still included dairy but it got rid of / no artificial preservatives and no artificial food, and it started to improve and he just said “no – you are in remission” – at that stage and then I went onto paleo, and I didn’t talk to him too much about it, and he told me / announced that I was in remission, and I just have never gone back to him.

How did your diet change from what you were eating?

Well I completely eliminated the grain, and the dairy and I’d already eliminated the preservatives and any unnatural food so previously I was eating real food except it was grain – I was still eating Vogel’s bread , that sort of thing, so I removed everything . So it’s basically fruit, vegetables and protein. (Animals and seafood)

I started about the 4th or 5th of January 2011. So I was ina lot of pain, and pain is a good motivator /or the elimination of pain.

…once I’d eliminated it (grains) – within 2 weeks I was SO much better.

And do you need to take any painkillers at the moment?

No, very occasionally I will take some ibuprofen which is an anti-inflam if / when it’s really cold or I have had something that I perhaps shouldn’t have.

What other things do you notice besides the joint pain reducing?

I was sleeping better, and I lost quite a bit of weight, which was unexpected really, but I probably would have lost about 15 kg

I went to the doctor the other day for a check-up and had another blood test the anti-CCP and it is probably the most decisive test they can do to diagnose RA, when I was first diagnosed – a strong positive is 60 units – and I was actually 195, and then a year later I was down to 175, my test now was 40 units.

Do you have difficulty in maintaining your diet?

Only very very occasionally, when I see someone eating something that I used to enjoy, and I have a few pangs and I think “Oh yes that would be nice” but – no, I’m normally pretty focussed.

What I do is I look at a piece of Vogel’s bread that I see someone having and I associate that with pain, because some of the pain that I used to get was really quite horrific and if anyone asked me to explain what the pain was like for example in my arm I can recall this because it just happened over Christmas, it’s like someone having a hand drill and drilling inside of your bone where your bone marrow is sort of – so that’s the level of the pain that it can get at times, so that is quite a motivator to not have!


Another woman I interviewed with autoimmune arthritis noticed this about potatoes and grains:

“I noticed though over the years that some foods would trigger greater inflammation and joint pain, but it was really hard to narrow down what that was. It felt that whenever I had a heavy meal, say like a lamb roast or something then it would have a real bad reaction and I was put that down to red meat, but since I’ve been on paleo and I’ve stopped potato there’s been a marked improvement, like seriously.

But the biggest thing for me is – and I don’t call it cheating, but sometimes I go “stuff it I ‘m going to a piece of wholegrain toast with avocado on it” and as soon as I do my joints start to play up and my hands will swell.”

She started with a strict 30 day auto-immune paleo protocol and what she notices now is that if she eats “..a bit of bread a bit of potato a bit of the night-shade group, and I’m at the stage now that I just don’t touch it because the effect is immediate – within 5 minutes”

She has no problems with other root veg “so I’ve just swapped that for kumara, pumpkin, parsnip and carrot mash type thing and then I’m fine.”

What results have you noticed from changing to an auto-immune paleo diet?

“I’ve lost a lot of weight, probably 2 trouser sizes so I know that’s good for me. I’m sleeping an awful lot better.

I’ve noticed certainly the joint pain decrease, less inflammation, my wrists and ankles are no longer swollen, I can do physical activities I couldn’t before. I am sleeping better and in general I’m nowhere near as lethargic as I used to be, so I’ve got far more energy. I have absolutely no intention of not eating like this from now on because the benefits and I actually don’t miss anything anyway”


For more on grains and nightshades and other foods that trigger the auto-immune cascade I suggest you visit “The Paleo Mom” who describes how and why these foods cause problems: http://www.thepaleomom.com/autoimmunity/the-autoimmune-protocol




  1. Hi, I would like to know more about your research , I have Bad R A, I am on Prenesone for yrs, I took strong Drugs lost my Kidney, Problems with my lungs, So now I am trying different foods and exercise, Starting to feel better already, please keep in touch, Thank You Loretta.

  2. me and my son is having hla 27 and suffering from ancholising spondolising my son is taking sulphasalzine since 2003 if paleo food will help us i am purely vegetarion plse help us

  3. Hi Julianne, i was recently diagnosed with RA and have been following the paleo diet on and off for a while. I am eating more anti inflammatory foods now, but i am wondering are tomatos a really no go food? and whats the deal with pork? is that all pork or just the fatty parts of pork that arent good? etc bacon? The veges i have been eating are all anti inflammatory and have been helping with my swollen knees. I am also wondering about beef and lamb… if they are an option to eat or not :-\

    • The research I’ve done shows people can react to any number of different foods – the best approach to start with is the paleo auto-immune protocol, there are many anecdotal reports of that working well – thepaleomom.com has lots of guides. Do that for 30 days very strictly. If things don’t improve – other foods are that are more commonly reacted to are beef and citrus.
      I’m trying to collate info at the moment. Will do a post soon hopefully

  4. Dear Julianne,

    I’m researching help for Diabetes and Rheumatoid Arthritis and find your posts inspiring. We produce wholefood & bio-available supplements to help with both these ailments.

    One of the supplements we produced (EasyBetic) with an aim to help diabetes. A client of ours with Rheumatoid Arthritis made us aware that it has helped him due to the Ceylon Cinnamon concentrate in it. So I decided to research. He also takes Bio Red Krill Oil, a pure bio-available form of Omega3 and has reported good results. Have you any thoughts or info about these ingredients helping?

    Thanks in advance! I am putting together a resource of paleo blogs for my clients and will include this as reference, great work and a valuable blog.

    Kind regards,

    Matt O’Gara

  5. I was diagnosed with RA for about 5 years and am on methotrexate. Lately, I’ve had flare ups in my feet and hands and the dosage has been increased.Not happy with this. I would like to try the paleo diet but am concerned about the weight loss. My BMI is the right range so do not want to lose weight. Comments?

    • Just make sure your food is calorie dense, so starchy root veg, lots of healthy fats, adequate protein – a palm size at 3 – 4 meals a day to maintain lean mass. Don’t make the mistake of filling up on non starch veggies as they are nearly all fiber and water and low in calories.

  6. I have had severe RA and Fibro for over 20 years. I take Arava and Actemra infusions every weeks. Six months ago I started on the Autoimmune Protocol Paleo diet because despite my medication treatment, I continued to have at least 1 flare-up a week and took 1000mg/day of Naprosyn for inflammation. Since following the AIP diet, I have had no flare-ups!!!! No need for Naprosyn and have had a reduction in my Arava and Actemra. Nightshades, grain carbs and dairy does cause inflammation for me within an hour. So glad I have been able to control my RA with diet. Wish I had known about trigger foods to my RA years ago. Added plus is I lost 40 pounds and feel great.

  7. Hello Julianne! I know this article has been up for sometime but I was wondering how one knows if one has RA rather than just arthritis or is all arthritis considered RA? There is arthritis in my family and my mother had Crohn’s. I don’t have Crohn’s but I do have extreme foot pain and stiffness when I’ve been sitting like even for a meal in a restaurant. I am 59 btw. I will look into the autoimmune protocol.

    • Many people do have a positive response to a paleo diet for other arthritis. A diet that is anti-inflammatory will make a difference. Some of my clients found gluten was a trigger for their joint problems. No harm in trying it out – I would recommend that.

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