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Will Gluten-Free Diet Ease Arthritis Pain?

Joint pain is common, but one possible cause is less common. Will following a gluten-free diet ease arthritis? One reader reports benefit.
Gluten free red prohibition symbol illustration with text.

If you suffer from joint pain, you may have wondered why. Most people never get an explanation. Perhaps the doctor suggests that “wear and tear” has broken down the cartilage. When the doctor ends by saying the joint is currently “bone on bone,” patients might justifiably feel that it doesn’t explain very much. While celiac disease is not behind most aching joints, it should be considered as a possible cause of joint pain. To treat celiac disease, a person must conscientiously avoid all gluten. Will following a gluten-free diet ease arthritis pain?

A Link Between Gluten and Arthritis:

Q. Has anybody ever told you that going gluten-free helped their arthritis? Both my husband and I got this benefit.

About twenty years ago, before gluten was a “thing,” I was trying to boost my energy. I went on a diet eliminating all dairy, legumes and grains. After about three weeks my energy was only a little better, but I realized that my hands no longer hurt. My husband had been having painful joints in his hands too, so he eliminated all three foods and his hands got better as well.

We then experimented by adding back certain foods one by one and found that it was the gluten-containing grains alone that caused our pain. After many years of strict avoidance, we find that we can now enjoy a slice or two of good quality bread occasionally without repercussions.

How Could a Gluten-Free Diet Ease Arthritis Pain?

A. Two conditions might be relevant in your case. The first is celiac disease. People with this autoimmune disorder cannot tolerate gluten at all. When they consume it, they may suffer a range of symptoms, including fatigue and abdominal discomfort as well as bone and joint pain (Canadian Journal of Gastroenterology, Aug. 2013). You and your husband should be tested, but the test works best after several weeks eating gluten-containing foods.

The second condition is non-celiac gluten sensitivity, which can also cause joint pain as well as many other symptoms (Annals of Nutrition & Metabolism, Nov. 26, 2015). Your strategy is perfect for this type of problem.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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  • Pulido O et al, " Clinical features and symptom recovery on a gluten-free diet in Canadian adults with celiac disease." Canadian Journal of Gastroenterology, Aug. 2013.
  • Catassi C, "Gluten sensitivity." Annals of Nutrition & Metabolism, Nov. 26, 2015. DOI: 10.1159/000440990
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I have gone gluten free and it hasn’t increased my food budget.

I agree with the reader above. I am elderly and retired and could not afford a gluten free diet. I do not eat many fresh vegetables and fruits because they are so expensive. If I had to choose between buying a tomato at a dollar or a box of pasta I would choose the pasta. Legumes are out because I have hyperkalemia.

I had nasal polyps and was able to get rid of them simply by putting a pinch of sodium bicarbonate into a saline squeeze bottle, two squirts in each nostril morning and night. You can get saline nasal spray at any pharmacy. Use the larger size.

Wheat is highly inflammatory, even if you’re not sensitive to it, and that can and does impact arthritis pain. I see it in many clients.

I’ve known that I’m gluten intolerant (not Celiac) for about thirteen years, and since I didn’t have arthritis thirteen years ago, I can’t address how going gluten-free might affect it. However, I’ve gone completely off grain twice, and both times I’ve noticed a reduction in pain. One caveat is that being grain-free can cause a magnesium deficiency. I find that taking a magnesium supplement also helps, especially with my muscle pain and stiffness.

I have had coeliac disease for over 30 years, and in the last 3 or 4 have developed joint pain in my hands and my left thigh. So I don’t think a gluten free diet stops the pain. I have also been dairy free for 18 months now.

Graedons: Please reconsider your misleading answer to this reader’s thoughts on gluten. It is doubtful that she or her husband have either celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity. If they had either one, they would not be able to “enjoy a slice or two of good quality bread occasionally without repercussions.” My wife has non-celiac gluten sensitivity, and if she ingests even the tiniest fraction of gluten, she gets very ill to her stomach. The reader who wrote this is obviously noting benefit from excluding gluten from her and her husband’s diet, but I can guarantee you that they are NOT gluten-sensitive or celiac.

Got the money to afford a gluten free diet?

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