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Diet Considerations for Those Living with Rheumatic Illnesses

April 28, 2023 | Rheumatic Disease


Rheumatic illnesses represent a variety of conditions, including body-wide autoimmune and inflammatory conditions, as well as arthritic diseases. Although medical treatments and regular follow-up visits with your doctor are very important, a healthy diet, appropriate vitamins, and supplements can positively impact your well-being.


It is generally accepted that processed food, processed sugar, and “junk food” can harm the health and worsen outcomes for rheumatic patients. Although no single diet is recommended for everyone, many rheumatic patients can benefit from “The Mediterranean Diet.” There are several different versions of this diet, but the concept is to model your diet and lifestyle after communities in countries along the Mediterranean Sea, like Italy, Greece, Spain, Morocco, Algeria, and others.

Features of the Mediterranean diet include a daily intake of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains while avoiding simple carbohydrates. The diet also includes a regular intake of fish, poultry, eggs, beans, and moderate portions of dairy products like yogurt or feta cheese. This diet does not include heavy consumption of red meat. For a more detailed discussion on this diet, please listen to episode 22 of “ACR on Air,” the official podcast of the American College of Rheumatology.


Many over-the-counter supplements and vitamins promise relief of joint pain and inflammation; however, there is a lack of high-quality medical data to verify all those claims. Luckily, some supplements for rheumatic diseases have been studied. Curcumin, a derivative of the spice turmeric, can be taken orally to reduce joint pain. Some studies suggest 1500 mg to 2000 mg of curcumin per day can significantly reduce arthritic knee pain after four weeks of continuous use. Curcumin is generally well tolerated, especially if taken by capsule.

Omega-3 fatty acids, such as Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), can help reduce rheumatoid arthritis disease activity when combined with traditional treatments like Methotrexate. The studies suggest a daily dose of at least 2700 mg of the combined amount of DHA and EPA can be helpful when taken along with Methotrexate. Listen to Episode 21 of the ACR on Air podcast for an in-depth discussion of alternative and complementary treatments for rheumatic diseases.


Although they don’t directly impact arthritic pain, certain vitamins and minerals should be monitored if you do not feel well. This can include getting tested for Vitamin D, Vitamin B12, folate, magnesium, and iron levels. Check with your doctor to see if any symptoms you have may be related to vitamin or mineral deficiencies.

The most important takeaway is to be mindful of what our bodies consume. It’s easier to make a few changes to stick with rather than multiple changes at once. Make sure to let your doctor know about changes to your diet, your use of supplements, and how they make you feel.

Suleman Bhana, MD

About the Author

Suleman Bhana, MD

Dr. Suleman Bhana is a rheumatologist and employed by Pfizer, Inc. He was a former chair of the Communications and Marketing Committee of the American College of Rheumatology and is the budget director for the COVID-19 Global Rheumatology Alliance. He is also a co-founder of the #RheumJC Twitter-based journal club, and former co-host of The Rheumatology Podcast.

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