How a Lack of Nutrition Impacts Rheumatoid Arthritis

While many people may associate inadequate nutrition with third-world countries, it can and does occur in developed countries such as ours. Certain conditions can make eating, along with the absorption of nutrients, difficult. Rheumatoid arthritis is one of those conditions, and people with this disease need to pay particular attention to their diets to avoid becoming malnourished.

One problem is that rheumatoid arthritis sufferers who experience chronic inflammation produce cytokines, a cell protein that speeds up metabolism. A higher metabolism translates into more calories burned, which means more nutrients are required to keep the body functioning. This fact, coupled with the difficulty some rheumatoid arthritis sufferers have buying and preparing food due to joint pain and stiffness, means that many rheumatoid arthritis patients may be shortchanging themselves when it comes to proper nourishment. Also, some rheumatoid arthritis sufferers feel that certain foods or food groups, such as dairy and meat, aggravate their symptoms.

Although these foods may be considered healthful and nutritious for the general population, rheumatoid arthritis patients may feel compelled to cut them out of their diets completely, leading to nutritional imbalances.

Ironically, the very medications that some rheumatoid arthritis sufferers take to alleviate their condition also can cause nutritional inadequacies. Methotrexate, a commonly prescribed rheumatoid arthritis drug, often causes folic acid deficiency. Other arthritis medications may cause gastritis (inflammation of the stomach lining) or peptic ulcer, both of which may reduce a patient's desire to eat.

If eating a better diet isn't possible for rheumatoid arthritis patients, it's fine to bump up nutritional stores with supplements. A multivitamin is a good first step, as rheumatoid arthritis sufferers commonly lack a variety of nutrients including vitamins C, D, B6, B12, and E; calcium; folic acid; magnesium; zinc; and selenium.


Johns Hopkins Arthritis Center