Are we really what we eat? Nutrition and its role in the onset of rheumatoid arthritis

Autoimmun Rev. 2018 Nov;17(11):1074-1077. doi: 10.1016/j.autrev.2018.05.009. Epub 2018 Sep 10.


Accumulating research evidence suggests that individual dietary factors and dietary patterns might be implicated in the risk of development of rheumatoid arthritis (RA). This narrative review aims to present this evidence and provide nutritional recommendations for reducing RA risk in susceptible individuals. Overall, a 'Western' type diet rich in energy intake, total and saturated fat, an unbalanced ratio of n-3 to n-6 fatty acids, high in refined carbohydrates and sugar and low in fiber and antioxidants might increase the risk of RA both directly through increasing inflammation and indirectly through increasing insulin resistance and obesity, with the latter being a known risk factor for RA. On the contrary, consumption of long-chain omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, derived from fish and fish oil, is associated with a reduced risk of RA probably due to their anti-inflammatory properties. The Mediterranean diet (MD), rich in plant-based foods such as wholegrains, legumes, fruit, vegetables, extra-virgin olive oil and low in red meat consumption, might have the potential to reduce the risk of RA. Based on current research evidence, it is suggested that adherence to the MD enhanced with an increased consumption of fatty fish, reduced consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks and maintenance of a normal body weight, contributes to reducing the risk of RA. Further research on RA susceptibility will allow for more specific dietary recommendations to be made.

Keywords: Inflammation; Mediterranean diet; Metabolic syndrome; Nutrients; Obesity; Rheumatoid arthritis; Western diet.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / etiology*
  • Diet / adverse effects*
  • Humans
  • Nutritional Status
  • Risk Factors