During a visit to my orthopedist I made a confession: “I stopped eating gluten and—this might sound a little crazy, but—a lot of my joint pain disappeared.
She smiled broadly and said, “You’re not the first person to say that.”
I stopped eating gluten because couple of friends suggested it might relieve some unexplained symptoms I was experiencing, like fatigue and mild joint pain. I had strong doubts, but my primary care doctor and I had run out of ideas (I was waiting to see a specialist), so I figured I had nothing to lose.
Within a week of going on a gluten-free diet, my fatigue, joint pain, and many other symptoms disappeared.
The Connection Between Gluten and Joint Pain
It turns out, researchers have long known that people with autoimmune forms of arthritis, such as rheumatoid arthritis and psoriatic arthritis, are at higher risk for celiac disease,1, 2 an autoimmune disorder triggered by gluten.
More recently, medical experts have begun to acknowledge the connection between gluten and joint pain described as non-pathologic (unrelated to disease).
Both my orthopedist and primary care provider agree that my gluten-free diet is probably keeping my joint pain and other symptoms of inflammation in check.
Wait, Don’t Go Gluten-Free Yet…
Before you throw away your pasta and cereal in search of joint pain relief, consider these factors:
- Going gluten free isn’t for everyone.
Whole grains are a recommended part of a healthy diet. No research suggests everyone should start eating a gluten free diet. But for people experiencing painful joint inflammation, eliminating gluten and other “pro-inflammatory” foods may be one treatment approach to consider.
- Food products labeled “gluten free” aren’t necessarily healthy.
It’s almost always better to eat whole foods as opposed to processed foods that are gluten-free, but still full of sugar or saturated fats. For example, skip the gluten-free sugar cereal and make yourself a bowl of gluten-free oatmeal or a fruit smoothie for breakfast.
- Eating a gluten-free diet isn’t a magic bullet.
Adopting other healthy habits, such as making time for exercise, is essential to eliminating joint pain.
- A health professional can help.
It’s always a good idea to tell your doctor about lifestyle changes, including a change in diet. A doctor may refer you to a registered dietician who can recommend certain foods, helping ensure you get enough nutrients and fiber in your gluten-free diet.
- You might experience gluten withdrawal.
Many people report that their inflammatory symptoms initially got worse after starting their gluten-free diet. This withdrawal stage can last days or even weeks, so you may not want to go gluten-free right before a big event, like a vacation, holiday, or the start of a new job.
No single treatment or lifestyle habit can eliminate the symptoms of arthritis, but going gluten-free may be an option worth trying as part of your overall treatment plan.
- Rath, L. The Connection Between Gluten and Arthritis. The Arthritis Foundation. http://www.arthritis.org/living-with-arthritis/arthritis-diet/anti-infla... Accessed August 20, 2015.
- Barton SH, Murray JA. Celiac disease and autoimmunity in the gut and elsewhere. Gastroenterol Clin North Am. 2008;37(2):411-28, vii.