A Gluten-Free Diet for Rheumatoid Arthritis

You might not think about a gluten-free diet unless you have celiac disease (gluten allergy). Swedish researchers want you to think again — especially if you have rheumatoid arthritis.

Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic inflammatory disease that has been linked to an increased risk of heart disease, heart attack, and stroke.

A recent study from Karolinska University Hospital in Sweden looked at diet in patients with rheumatoid arthritis. Researchers divided rheumatoid arthritis sufferers into two groups: one group ate a vegan and gluten-free diet (vegetables, fruits, nuts, no wheat proteins, and no animal products like meat, cheese, or eggs); one group ate a well balanced diet with foods from every food group in moderation.

Researchers checked in with participants after three months and again after a year. After a year’s time, the people following the vegan and gluten-free diet showed reduction in some risk factors for heart disease, including:

  • Losing an average of nine pounds
  • Reducing body mass index (BMI) from 24.1 to 22.7
  • Lower total cholesterol and LDL (bad) cholesterol — the kind of cholesterol that clogs your arteries
  • Higher levels of an antibody that protects against the buildup of plaque in the arteries

Keep in mind that this was a small study. The researchers didn’t look at heart disease events or the actual development of heart disease — they only looked at modifiable risk factors. However, Karolinska University Hospital is planning future studies that will explore different elements of the gluten-free and vegan diets to see which choices offer the most benefit.

If you do want to try a gluten-free, vegan diet to lower your risk of heart disease associated with rheumatoid arthritis, make sure you get your protein and other essential vitamins and minerals from other sources. Include nuts and seeds, soy milk, dark green leafy vegetables, and tofu enriched with calcium.