Could gluten be causing your joint pain, RA, or arthritis?
All types of pain, from back pain to frozen elbow, RA to osteoarthritis can have a variety of causes and triggers which includes damage, injury or poor posture. Sometimes, however, this doesn’t tell the full story.
Food ‘intolerances’ can play a huge part in all these types of pain, and gluten is one of the foods that is a common trigger, and that we often recommend removing as a trial, for two to three weeks.
Anecdotally, we find that some of our clients get immediate and sometimes a quite profound improvement on a gluten-free diet. However, if removing gluten does reduce your pain, we still wouldn’t recommend just cutting it out without establishing WHY gluten may have caused a problem in the first place.
What about a food intolerance test for gluten?
There is a highly specialised test called the CYREX test, which is by far the most appropriate test for anyone who suspects they may have a problem with gluten or has coeliac disease in the family. I would also recommend this food intolerance test for anyone who experiences tingles or numbness in response to eating gluten. I would not recommend relying on any other type of food intolerance test in this instance.
What does the research say?
Arthritis has often been alluded to as something associated with coeliac disease, but definitive data regarding its prevalence is lacking. Some more anecdotal research exists in connection with non-coeliac gluten sensitivity, but in this area, we use symptoms as our guide.
Nevertheless, a 15-year-old girl with inflammation of the knees and ankles for three years before a diagnosis of coeliac disease explored a gluten-free diet. The arthritis resolved promptly after gluten removal suggesting that it was associated with the bowel disorder.
In another study, a group of RA patients had their symptoms go into remission when put on a gluten-free high-protein diet.
In an experiment of 18 patients with rheumatoid arthritis, all improved on a gluten-free diet, often within two weeks after the beginning of the dietary restriction of cereal grains, although sufficient details of this study is missing (so we can’t ascertain what exactly improved).
Should I just stop eating gluten if it gives me pain?
Although a gluten-free diet may for some people be the holy grail – for others, it may help only partially. In these cases, you might want to explore other food intolerances too, such as nightshades vegetables, or dairy. We wouldn’t advise you to exclude lots of food groups without consideration to the impact on your nutrition and health (not to mention the stress levels) so we would only recommend you do this whilst working with a nutrition practitioner.
It’s important here to note that, some people will get no effect at all when removing gluten. In these cases you would want to keep looking for other factors such as insulin levels (HbA1C which is often measured by your GP) and low antioxidant levels, which are other potential sources of inflammation.
If removing gluten has worked great for you – you still don’t want to just leave it there. This may be highlighting a problem with your microbiome, which is ‘reacting’ to what you’re eating. In these cases we would want to test your microbiome, and perhaps add some specific probiotics or prebiotics.
Curiously, if you find you can eat white bread such as bagels, croissants or pasta without a severe reaction but react terribly to brown bread or high fibre products, this could indicate SIBO, which can easily be explored via a simple breath home test kit.
In all scenarios, establishing what's going on is important, as you want to ensure that you know what if you need to stay away from gluten long term, or if it can be reintroduced at a later stage!
Find a nutritionist dealing with Food allergy and food intolerance
All therapists are verified professionals.