Does a gluten-free diet help rheumatoid arthritis and other autoimmune diseases? As a Rheumatoid Arthritis patient for 15+ years and a blogger for the past 5, I get asked this question a lot and I am here to offer you my experience with figuring out if a gluten-free diet helps Rheumatoid Arthritis and autoimmune diseases. I’ve even included a FREE Food and Symptom Daily Tracker at the bottom of this post so you can determine how your diet impacts your body.
Now I’m only speaking from my personal experience, I am NOT a doctor and my opinion does not replace professional medical advice. Your experience may, and likely will, be different than mine as it seems no two RA or autoimmune disease patients are exactly the same. The bottom line? It is definitely worth a try to see if a gluten-free diet helps alleviate your pain and symptoms from your autoimmune disease. You might be astonished at the results, like I was.
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Does a Gluten-Free Diet Really Help RA?
So does a gluten-free diet help Rheumatoid Arthritis and other autoimmune diseases? As my tax professor in college said, the answer to every tax question is “it depends.” And I think the same is totally true for questions about Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA).
When I first heard that a gluten-free diet could help my RA symptoms a few years ago, I was totally skeptical. First, I didn’t think I could give up breads, pastas and baked goodies to find out if it helped. I have three underweight boys who honestly need the carbs to put on weight. Second, I really didn’t think food had a connection to my pain. I didn’t understand the scientific connection between my gut health and this disease. Truth is, I really hoped that a gluten-free diet wouldn’t work so I wouldn’t have to give up gluten and complicate my life any more than it already is.
So I tried a gluten-free diet half-heartedly. I didn’t read labels and completely eliminate gluten from my diet. I didn’t give the diet a long enough trial. I gave the gluten-free diet a shoddy effort and not surprisingly, nothing changed in my pain or symptoms.
But I happened across The Autoimmune Solution: Prevent and Reverse the Full Spectrum of Inflammatory Symptoms and Diseases* by Dr. Jan Myers in the library one day. I had never seen a book catered to autoimmune diseases and written by a doctor who is also an autoimmune patient. One of my biggest complaints about my former rheumatologist is she had no idea how it felt to deal with the physical pain, fears and mental depression that the chronic nature of autoimmune diseases can have.
But Dr. Myers, the author of The Autoimmune Solution*, did understand. Within a chapter, I realized that this doctor put down on paper all the deepest, darkest fears I had in my head that I don’t say out loud. I could relate to what she was saying. I cried as we tend to do when someone finally “gets” us.
More than just the emotional connection, Dr. Myers laid out precisely how gut health impacted our immune systems. It made me realize how many of my health problems (rheumatoid arthritis, allergies, asthma, acne and dandruff) related to my immune system’s response to the food I was eating. I knew now I had to give a gluten-free and elimination diet a better try to decide once and for all if it would help my pain and so many aspects of my health. I owed it to my boys and to myself to figure this out once and for all.
Now Dr. Myers’ recommended a diet that not only eliminates gluten but eliminates dairy, refined sugar, corn, soy, tomatoes and nightshade vegetables. That being said, it’s overwhelming to try and eliminate everything at once as Dr. Myers suggests. She does give menu plans and recipes to accomplish this diet but I knew my kids wouldn’t go for it.
A nutritionist I saw soon after recommended that I eliminate the three biggest triggers first (refined sugar, dairy and gluten) and see how it impacted my pain before eliminating other food groups. She suggested that I give up all 3 in the beginning and add back a group at a time after 2 months to see how my symptoms change.
During those 6ish months, I read every label of every item I bought to make sure I was avoiding sugar, dairy and gluten. It’s shocking really to read nutrition labels and find out how much added sugar and preservatives are in most of the things we buy.
I kept a wellness bullet journal where I tracked everything I ate and drank, how much I slept, what my morning pain was, the weather when I woke up, my pain levels throughout the day, my hormonal cycle, anything and everything that would help me figure out the connection between my food intake and how my body responded. It didn’t matter how minor it was, I wrote it down.
Within 2 weeks of eliminating sugar, dairy and gluten, I felt like a new person. No lie. My skin cleared up of it’s acne, which I have struggled with since puberty. I didn’t need my inhaler for my asthma due to allergies. I had tolerable morning pain. I had more energy to keep up with my active boys in the summer. My premenstrual cramps disappeared (seriously? who would have thought it!). My after-Remicade pain was manageable so I could still perform my mom duties (before the diet, I would be bedridden after Remicade infusions for at least a day or two).
A month later, my husband and I hiked 12 miles in Dupont State Forest and to the bottom of this amazing waterfall for our anniversary. See the people on the rocks near the bottom of the waterfall? I made it down there! Across slippery terrain and I didn’t fall in the water!….And I didn’t need ibuprofen at the end of the day. An AMAZING feat for my feet who previously struggled to walk one mile without pain. My husband said it was the first time since I got RA that I looked like my old self, the girl he fell in love with…priceless.
The elimination diet totally worked for me and I think it reset my gut and immune system. As the nutritionist suggested, I started adding back gluten to my diet for 2 months. My pain levels did not change much adding back gluten but my acne would flare up. I then removed gluten and added back dairy for 2 months, all my pain and symptoms came back. I even noticed that within a couple minutes of eating dairy, I start coughing and reaching for my inhaler. Clearly dairy was my biggest trigger. I removed gluten and dairy and reintroduced a little bit of sugar (less than 5g per serving). Sugar impacts my pain because as I gain weight, it puts more pressure on my joints but my pain is still not at pre-elimination diet levels. I still try to limit my sugar intake but I do cheat on sugar more than anything else.
It took a lot of trial and error to understand my body and my chronic illness. But being able to be the mom and wife I want to be, to feel like me again and not a prisoner of my disease has been worth the effort. I know now what my limits are with my diet. I know I can cheat and deal with the consequences but I know the better I eat, the better I feel. It’s not easy to maintain a gluten-free, dairy-free and sugar-free diet, but feeling amazing in my own body is it’s own reward.Does a #glutenfree diet really help #rheum and autoimmune diseases? See how a new diet helped me Click To Tweet
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FREE Food and Symptom Daily Tracker Printable
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