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Volume 38, No. 2

Diet & Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) affects approximately one percent of the adult population, and females are two to four times more susceptible than males.1 This disease is characte r ized by per s istent inflammation of the synovium, (a membrane lining in freely moving joints that secre tes fluid), destruction of bone and cartilage, and possible functional disability.

Numerous case studies have shown that RA symptoms can be alleviated with grain-free diets.2-5 Likewise, withdrawal of food during fasting has reduced aspects of the disease.6 A more recent experiment also showed significant improvement in sore joints when RA patients followed an elemental diet (a purified diet of amino acids, sugars, fatty acids, vitamins and minerals) for three weeks.7 In the only controlled study of elemental diets to treat RA, patients showed improvement in grip strength.8

This link between diet and RA may depend on substances crossing the gastrointestinal barrier and entering circulation. In genetically susceptible individuals, this may result in RA symptoms. There is considerable evidence that intestinal permeability may be increased in patients with RA,9-10 particularly when the joint disease is active.11 Patients with RA have also shown a high frequency of intestinal bacterial,12 particularly anaerobic bacteria.13-14 Although this connection is not entirely clear, there is convincing evidence that antibiotic therapy helps rheumatic activity.15-16

The Lectin Connection - Common dietary staples, such as cereal grains, beans, and legumes, contain lectins. Lectins have anti-nutritional properties that influence enterocytes (cells that line the intestinal wall) and lymphocytes (cells in the blood, lymph, and lymphoid tissues).17-18 Because lectins are able to cross the gastrointestinal barrier rapidly and enter circulation intact,19 they may be able to interact directly with synovial tissue that is impacted during RA.

Many lectins derived from bean species negatively affect intestinal structure and function.20 Lectins from peanuts produce similar results.21 Lectin activity has also been found in wheat, rye, barley, oats, maize17 (corn) and rice.22

In Conclusion - These studies indicate that eliminating lectins may help alleviate RA symptoms. Because the Paleo Diet focuses on foods that our Paleolithic ancestors were likely to eat, cereal grains, beans and legumes are all replaced with healthier choices.

Editor's note: This article is based on a review article titled "Modulation of immune function by dietary lectins in rheumatoid arthritis" published in the British Journal of Nutrition in 2000 by Loren Cordain, L. Toohey, M. J. Smith and M. S. Hickey.

Information copyright 2002-2009 Paleo Diet Enterprises, L.L.C. All rights reserved. For more information and to sign up for a free Paleo Diet email newsletter, visit References truncated, please email NOHA at to obtain

complete references:
1. Grossman JM & Brahn E (1997
2. Shatin R (1964)
3. Williams R (1981)
4. Beri D, Malaviya AN, (1988)
5. Lunardi C, Bambara, et al(1988)
6. Kjeldsen-Kragh J, et al. 899–902.
7. Haugen MA, et al. (1994)
8. Kavanaghi R, et al. (1995)
9. Katz KD & Hollander D (1989
10. Mielants H (1990)
11. Smith MD, et al. (1985)
12. Henriksson AE, et al. (1993)
13. Benno P, et al. (1994)
14. Eerola E, et al. (1994)
15. Trentham DE, et al. (1995)
16. O'dell JR, et al. (1997)
17. Liener IE (1986)
18. Pusztai A (1993)
19. Pusztai A, Greer F & Grant G (1989)
20. Liener IE (1986)
21. Ryder SD, et al. (1992)
22. Tsuda M (1979)

Article from NOHA News Journal, Winter 2009

*The American Nutrition Association was formerly known as the Nutrition for Optimal Health Association [NOHA].

For informational purposes only - not intended as medical advice, diagnosis or treatment, nor an endorsement by the American Nutrition Association®. Use permitted for non-profit and non-commercial uses or by healthcare professionals in their practice, with attribution to Other use only with written ANA℠ permission. Views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the ANA℠. Works by a listed author subject to copyrights as marked. © 2010 ANA℠