Do Certain Foods Cause Arthritis?

Other than individual food allergy or food sensitivity, there has been no causal relationship between food and arthritis proven by large scientific studies or widely accepted. It can be difficult for arthritis patients to sort through testimonials, new research results, and fraudulent diet claims while trying to determine what foods are best to eat and which are best to avoid.

Research Remains Inconclusive

Researchers have been studying the diet-arthritis connection for more than seventy years, but any substantial link has yet to be found. Certain foods have been shown to exacerbate symptoms in some rheumatoid arthritis patients, but their elimination produced short-term results, not long-term results. It was also not possible to distinguish the short-term benefits that were observed from possible spontaneous remission of disease symptoms or from the placebo effect.

In 1990, Dr. Richard Panush published a study in the Journal of Rheumatology that is often referred to in discussions about diet and arthritis. Dr. Panush concluded that a small number of rheumatic disease patients (probably not more than 5 percent) have “immunologic sensitivity” to food.

Gout Does Have a Dietary Link

Gout, however, is the exception. Gout, unlike other types of arthritis, has been linked to diet. Gout is caused by excess uric acid in the body. Uric acid is the final by-product of purine metabolism. Purines, which are found in all human tissue, are also found in many foods.

Excess uric acid, also called hyperuricemia, can be caused by an overproduction of uric acid by the body or the underelimination of uric acid by the kidneys. Foods that are high in purines can raise uric acid levels in the blood and cause gout attacks.

Purine-rich foods should be avoided in favor of a diet that includes foods with low to moderate purines. The following foods are considered purine-rich according to the American Medical Association:

  • Alcoholic beverages (especially beer)

  • Yeast

  • Anchovies, sardines in oil, herring, fish roe

  • Liver, kidneys, and other organ meat

  • Legumes, including dried beans and peas

  • Meat extract, including gravy and consommé

  • Cauliflower, asparagus, spinach, and mushrooms


People who have had a gout attack or have chronic gout are advised to avoid a diet that is high in purines. It is not recommended that all purines be eliminated from your diet, since purines are found in all foods which contain protein.

Are There Any Foods You Should Avoid?

Since diet hasn't been tied to the cause of arthritis or the cure for arthritis in any way which would apply to the majority of arthritis sufferers, dietary recommendations are broad.

Arthritis patients should avoid a diet high in fat. They should also limit intake of sugars and salt, alcohol (check with your doctor to see if you are allowed alcohol), and size of food portions. Lupus patients should avoid alfalfa sprouts, since they have been associated with a lupus-like syndrome in monkeys.

Generally, recommendations are for people with or without arthritis and aim to improve general health and maintain ideal weight.

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