Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease that causes pain, inflammation, and stiffness in the joints. If you are one of the more than one million people with rheumatoid arthritis, I want you to know that you can reduce your inflammation with a rheumatoid arthritis diet plan, work your way down to the autoimmune spectrum, and reverse your condition!
Conventional medicine will tell you that there is nothing you can do except take harsh medications that sometimes come with awful side effects. In functional medicine, we aim to get to the root cause of your autoimmunity so you can take back your health. Conventional medicine failed me, and it is my mission to not have it fail you, too.
I’m going to give you my rheumatoid arthritis diet plan and tell you the foods to eat and the foods you should avoid. My goal is to empower you and provide you the tools I wish I had when conventional medicine failed me during my personal struggle with autoimmune disease. Before I talk about the rheumatoid arthritis diet plan, let’s review what happens when you have rheumatoid arthritis.
What is Rheumatoid Arthritis?
Autoimmune disease develops from a constant state of inflammation. What do I mean by that? Our modern lifestyles have led to nearly everyone having at least some inflammation. Some inflammation here and there is nothing to worry about. Being in a state of chronic inflammation keeps your immune system on high alert, which leads to it mistaking healthy tissue as foreign invaders.
The five factors that I identified in my patients that lead to chronic inflammation are diet, leaky gut, toxin exposure, infections and chronic stress, or a combination of them. Chronic inflammation is the underlying cause of autoimmune disease, including rheumatoid arthritis.1
Rheumatoid arthritis happens when your immune system mistakes your joints as a foreign invader and begins attacking them, causing painful inflammation and allowing fluid and immune complexes to build up in the joints. Normally these immune complexes filter out of your blood on their own, however they tend to settle into different joints and cause local inflammation and tissue damage when there is a build-up. This is what causes the characteristic swelling and pain that incomes from rheumatoid arthritis.2
Rheumatoid arthritis typically begins in smaller joints such as toes, fingers, and hands. After a while, it can progress into larger joints such as the wrists, ankles, knees, and hips. Let’s discuss signs of rheumatoid arthritis
Signs and symptoms
Symptoms and the severity of them varies from each person. Common signs of rheumatoid arthritis include:3
- Joint pain in one or more joints
- Swelling and tenderness
- Stiffness of joints
- Deformity in the joints of fingers
- Unexplained weight loss
- Frequent urinary tract infections
- Nodule or stiff bumps under the skin
If you are experiencing any of the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, talk with your functional medicine practitioner and have them order tests. Rheumatoid arthritis can be diagnosed through blood tests and digital imaging such as an x-ray or MRI.
So, what causes rheumatoid arthritis? I mentioned the five factors I saw in patients with autoimmune disease. The most common factor I saw in my clinic with patients with rheumatoid arthritis was a bad diet, particularly gluten. Gluten is the number one cause of leaky gut, which is a precursor to autoimmune disease.
Since diet is such a prevalent factor in autoimmune disease, it’s important to have a rheumatoid arthritis diet plan. First, I’ll tell you about the foods you should avoid.
Rheumatoid Arthritis Diet Plan: Foods to Avoid
As part of your rheumatoid arthritis diet plan, you will want to avoid foods that cause inflammation such as gluten and dairy, sugary beverages, and processed foods. Here are the foods to avoid with your rheumatoid arthritis diet plan:
Grilled, Broiled, or Fried Meats
Grilled, broiled, or fried meats are high in Advanced Glycation End-products (AGEs). AGEs are compounds that form when proteins or fats combine with sugar in the bloodstream. This process is called glycation. This can also occur when meat is heated to extreme temperatures.4
These compounds are toxic and cause an inflammatory response.5 To avoid consuming too many AGEs, it is best to limit your intake of grilled, broiled, or fried meats. When cooking meat, try using alternative cooking methods for meat, such as steaming, boiling, or baking.
Foods Full of Omega-6 Fatty Acids
Omega-6 fatty acids are the only type of fatty acids your body cannot make.This is a type of polyunsaturated fat found in vegetable oils, nuts and seeds. However, many processed foods are high in omega-6 fatty acids. Some omega-6 fatty acids, such as conjugated linoleic acid, have many health benefits such as supporting weight loss. However, too much can lead to inflammation and heart disease.6
Refined Sugars and Artificial Sweeteners
Refined sugar and artificial sweeteners are inflammatory foods that can lead to leaky gut syndrome. Consuming sugary foods leads to increased production of AGEs, which cause oxidative stress and spikes levels of inflammatory markers such as C-reactive protein (CRP). Refined sugars are found in many processed and packaged foods, including cookies, cakes, candy, and soft drinks. It’s not the end of the world if you indulge in a sweet treat from time to time. However, consuming too much sugar can lead to inflammation, diabetes, and obesity.
Gluten and Dairy
As I mentioned earlier, gluten is one of the factors that is considered to contribute to the development of rheumatoid arthritis. Remember also that it is the leading cause of leaky gut.
Gluten is a protein that occurs naturally in certain grains such as wheat, rye, and barley. Because casein, a protein found in dairy products, and gluten have similar molecular structure, your immune system cannot tell the difference between gluten and casein, so it attacks both. Gluten and dairy are two foods I recommend everyone remove from their diet, not just a rheumatoid arthritis diet plan.
Preservatives and Artificial Flavors
Most processed foods contain preservatives and artificial flavors to improve the taste of the food product and prolong the shelf life. The most common is monosodium glutamate (MSG), which is added as a flavor enhancer. MSGs, and other preservatives, are toxic and can cause inflammation.
Alcohol can cause leaky gut, which I mentioned is one of the precursors to autoimmune disease. In moderation, alcohol might be fine. Red wine contains resveratrol, which is a free radical scavenger and facilitates an anti-inflammatory response. However, red wine can cause problems if you have Candida overgrowth and is extremely high in sugar, and is a byproduct of yeast fermentation. If you have RA, it’s best to remove alcohol from your rheumatoid arthritis diet plan.
Now that I’ve told you the foods to avoid, I’m going to tell you about the foods to enjoy that will help fight inflammation.
Rheumatoid Arthritis Diet: Foods to Enjoy
Fortunately, by reducing your inflammation you can work your way back down the autoimmune spectrum, reverse your autoimmunity, and obtain optimal health. There are a number of foods that can help reduce inflammation on a rheumatoid arthritis diet plan, including:
Red superfoods such as raspberries, beets, and cherries are packed with free radical scavengers and phytonutrients, which helps reduce inflammation. There are more than 25,000 phytonutrients found in red superfoods. One of those is carotenoids, which gives red superfoods their color. Carotenoids act as antioxidants in your body, fighting off free radicals that can cause oxidative damage.
A great way to get more red superfoods in your diet is by using Organic Reds. It tastes just like fruit punch! I personally formulated Organic Reds with a fruit punch flavor using only certified organic natural flavors and certified organic monk fruit extract for just enough sweetness.
Blueberries are packed with vitamin C, a powerful free radical scavenger. Eating blueberries can also lower your risk for heart disease, and their benefits extend to facilitating a healthy immune system response. Phytonutrients known as anthocyanins give blueberries their characteristic hue. When buying blueberries, the darker the better!
Ginger is another anti-inflammatory powerhouse. It has been used for thousands of years to treat digestive upset, nausea, diarrhea, arthritis and even heart conditions.7 In addition to being anti-inflammatory, ginger also supports your immune system and can reduce damage caused by oxidative stress.
Salmon is full of Omega-3s, which supports a healthy immune system response. Numerous studies have shown the benefit of fish oil supplementation in patients with rheumatoid arthritis. Eating salmon or other fatty fish is a great way to get more omega-3s in your diet. However, you could eat fish for every meal and not get the full benefits of omega-3 fatty acids. I recommend adding an Omega-3 supplement to your rheumatoid arthritis diet plan.
Avocados are another healthy fat option that can be easily incorporated into your rheumatoid arthritis diet plan. This superfood is high in monounsaturated fats (MUFAs). The most predominant MUFA in avocados is Oleic acid, which is linked to reduced inflammation in the body. Unlike most fruits, avocados are also a good source of vitamin E, a micronutrient that has anti-inflammatory effects and is linked to decreased risk of joint damage in osteoarthritic patients.
Leafy greens including arugula, kale, spinach, and chard are the undeniable superstars in the world of nutrition. Low in calories, yet high in fiber, vitamins, and phytonutrients, the benefits of leafy greens are incredible for your health in more ways than you would even suspect. Leafy greens have numerous benefits for your health including supporting bone health, gut health, healthy aging, and fighting belly bloat.
One of the most promising benefits of leafy greens is that it supports your immune system. Dark leafy greens such as moringa leaf facilitates a healthy response to oxidative stress caused by free radicals which, if left untreated, can lead to autoimmunity and heart disease. Studies specifically mention broccoli, arugula, and kale as vegetables that facilitate a healthy immune system response.
Bone broth is a natural source of glucosamine and is high in the amino acids glycine and proline, which support joint health. The collagen in bone broth helps repair your gut lining, is a free radical scavenger and promotes optimal bone mineral density.
You can make your own simple and inexpensive bone broth at home. If you’re busy like I am, you can’t do this all the time! Chicken–flavored Bone Broth Collagen is a nutritional powerhouse and fortunately, it’s also delicious. I formulated my certified organic Bone Broth Collagen to be a savory treat, just like a bowl of homemade chicken soup.
Last, yet certainly not least, is turmeric. Turmeric is a root or rhizome plant native to India. It is full of carotenoids, curcuminoids, and essential oils called ‘tumerones. The most abundant curcuminoid in turmeric is curcumin. Many studies on curcumin show how it supports a healthy inflammatory response.
It is important to understand that turmeric is very low in curcumin, with only about 2-5% curcuminoids by weight. Curcumin is also poorly absorbed by our bodies, and much of the curcumin we get by eating turmeric is rapidly metabolized and eliminated. For this reason, I recommend also taking a curcumin supplement in liposomal form to support a healthy immune response.
Following a rheumatoid arthritis diet plan is the first step in reducing your symptoms and going backwards on the autoimmune spectrum. As a functional medicine doctor, I want to help you get to the root cause of your autoimmunity. I’m going to tell you about my proven method that I’ve successfully used with thousands of patients. I call it The Myers Way®.
The Myers Way® Approach to Rheumatoid Arthritis
The Myers Way® is a proven approach based in functional medicine, a medical approach that looks at how all the body’s systems interact and aims to get them functioning optimally. This approach rests on four pillars, each of which has been tested through extensive research and years of experience as a physician.
Pillar I: Heal Your Gut
To get to the root cause of your rheumatoid arthritis, we start with addressing your gut. I have used the 4R approach successfully with thousands of patients.
- Remove the bad – Get rid of inflammatory and toxic foods, and infections such as yeast overgrowth and SIBO.
- Restore what’s missing — Adding digestive enzymes and HCL to your daily regimen will help support optimal digestion and nutrient absorption, as well as assist your body’s intestinal repair and inflammation responses.
- Reinoculate with healthy bacteria — Restore beneficial bacteria with probiotics to re-establish a healthy balance of good bacteria to heal your gut.
- Repair the gut — Provide nutrients necessary to help the gut repair itself. Leaky Gut Revive® Max supports gut lining and your immune system. Drinking bone broth or adding collagen protein will also help to heal your gut.
Pillar II: Get Rid of Gluten, Grains, and Legumes
Once you’ve healed your gut, it’s time to make lifestyle and diet changes by eliminating foods that are causing inflammation and damage to your intestinal tract: Gluten, grains, and legumes! I also recommend that those with autoimmune diseases avoid vegetables in the nightshade family, which includes tomatoes, peppers, and potatoes. These plants are very high in lectins that damage the gut lining, easily enter the bloodstream, and do not break down in cooking.
Pillar III: Tame the Toxins
Most patients see improvement after addressing the first two pillars. When I saw a patient whose symptoms didn’t approve, I knew there was more work to be done. You are exposed to thousands of toxins every day, even if you don’t live in a polluted area or work in an industrial job. They’re found in the air you breathe, the water you drink, the food you eat, cookware, cosmetics, and cleaning products. While you can’t avoid toxins completely, the solution is to reduce your body’s toxic burden. You can do this by:
- Using clean skin care products.
- Buying clean body products.
- Cleaning your air by getting a HEPA filter for your home. I use AIRDoctor® air filters in my home.
- Clean your water by installing water filters on your sinks and shower taps. I, myself, have a full filtration system from Aquasana.
- Buy clean food and eat organic whenever possible. It can be expensive, so if anything, buy grass-fed beef, free-range chicken, and wild-caught seafood.
Pillar IV: Heal Your Infections and Relieve Your Stress
If your symptoms haven’t cleared up after addressing the first three pillars, then its time to dig deeper. The fourth pillar of The Myers Way® addresses your infections and relieving your stress. Adopt daily stress-relieving strategies. Here are a few of my favorites:
- Breathing: When you find yourself overwhelmed with stress, take a moment to connect with your breath. Concentrate on breathing in and out until your anxiety has calmed.
- Music: Listening to music can release endorphins and reduce your cortisol levels.
- Dance: Just moving your body can help you shake off your stress.
- Gentle exercise: Try yoga, or a long walk in a natural setting–changing your environment can also help you get away from your stress.
For total support, The Myers Way® Autoimmune Kit is a combination of four of the most important nutritional supplements for anyone concerned with autoimmunity. Your immune system is a complex puzzle influenced by many aspects of health. The integrity of your gut barrier, oxidative damage done by free radicals, toxic load and detoxification, inflammation, and much more all play a role in how your immune system functions.
Conventional medicine will tell you that you will live with rheumatoid arthritis for the rest of your life. I’m here to tell you that by following The Myers Way® and a rheumatoid arthritis diet plan, you can reverse your autoimmunity and obtain optimal health. As a functional medicine physician and autoimmune patient, I’ve seen the success of The Myers Way® first hand.
- 13 Ways Inflammation Can Affect Your Health. Amanda MacMillan. Health . 2015.
- Rheumatoid Arthritis. Cleveland Clinic . 2022.
- Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA): An Overview. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention. 2021.
- Foods You Should Avoid with Rheumatoid Arthritis. By Brianna McCabe. Hackensack Meridian Health. 2018.
- What Are Advanced Glycation End Products (AGEs)?. Mary Jane Brown, PhD, RD. Healthline. 2019.
- Omega-6 fatty acids: Can they cause heart disease?. Mayo Clinic. 2021.
- Anti-Oxidative and Anti-Inflammatory Effects of Ginger in Health and Physical Activity: Review of Current Evidence. Nafiseh Shokri Mashhadi, et al. International Journal of Preventive Medicine. 2013.