The Paleo Diet For Arthritis – Good Or Bad?

The Paleo Diet For Arthritis - Good Or Bad?

Dieting is something essential when you have arthritis. The right foods could improve your pain, while the wrong diet could make your symptoms a lot worse. But do certain diets help? Is there one that works better for people with joint problems?

Let’s take the Paleo diet. Its popularity has been increasing a lot lately, especially in people with health problems. So can this diet help arthritis? Is there any evidence that it’s effective? Or it will only worsen the pain?

I tried to analyze the Paleo diet for arthritis and find the pros and the cons about it. It has a few clear advantages, but there’s also a negative side. So that makes me think twice about recommending this diet for arthritis.



How This Diet Works

The word “paleo” comes from “palaeolithic” and it refers to the stone age, when people were living in caves and hunted to survive. Remember the Flinstones? They’re the typical paleo people. 

So that’s exactly what this diet encourages – eating like a caveman. This means that fresh foods are a must, while processed meals are totally forbidden. Just think about what foods cavemen had at that time – you’re allowed to eat all that, but nothing else.

What You Can Eat: Every kind of meat, fish, eggs, herbs, vegetables, fruits, seeds

What You Can’t Eat: Sugars, processed meat, ready-prepared meals, soda, diary products, grains 

Could It Help Arthritis?: At first sight, things look really positive. The Paleo diet actually promotes fresh foods, which are full of healthy nutrients. At that time, there was no processing, so all the foods were healthy and organic. These are always helpful for arthritis.

But if this diet is so beneficial, why doesn’t everyone with arthritis use it?

Well, things aren’t that simple. There are a lot of good things about this diet, but it also has a bad side, especially for arthritis sufferers. So let me give you the whole facts. In this way, you can get a good idea whether this diet is worth trying or not.



PRO #1 – Fish = Anti-Inflammatory

The Paleo Diet For Arthritis - Good Or Bad?Ancient people used to eat a lot of fish, so this food is among the top recommendation of Paleo diet. But it seems that cavemen knew a lot about joint pain.

Fish contains lots of nutrients and minerals, but some of them are really important for inflammation. I’m talking about Omega 3 fatty acids. You surely heard of them, as they are great in fighting inflammatory molecules and decreasing the swelling.

Arthritis is actually caused by swelling, so they seem like the perfect help. That’s why you can find lots of products for arthritis based on Omega 3 fatty acids. 

But you can’t only find them in fish. Any seafood contains high quantities of Omega 3 fatty acids, and so do nuts and certain seeds. These are all common foods in Paleo, so this diet isn’t just picking up random stuff.

Conclusion: When it comes to inflammation, the Paleo diet can help. It doesn’t have any studies behind, but they’re not even necessary. Everyone knows that Omega 3 fatty acids are good for inflammation, and they are present in most of the foods advised by this diet. So there’s a real connection.



PRO #2 – Antioxidants

The Paleo Diet For Arthritis - Good Or Bad?These substances are some of the best natural remedies for arthritis. How’s that?

Well, antioxidants reduce oxidative stress and free radicals. Free radicals are actually molecules that damage our body naturally. They’re actually behind the aging process.

However, free radicals can also cause joint and cartilage problems, leading to arthritis. That happens mostly as you get older, and guess what form of arthritis appears mostly in that category? Osteoarthritis.

That’s why scientists believe that oxidative stress has a lot to do with osteoarthritis. But as it’s a natural process, you can’t do much about it. 

The only thing that can help are antioxidants, which fight back free radicals. So the more antioxidants you consume, the lower damage you will suffer. 

Believe it or not, but most of the foods recommended by Paleo diet contain high quantities of antioxidants. That’s because they are fresh, natural and healthy. Most fruits and vegetables contain antioxidants, but the green ones have the highest quantities. Take celery, salad and cucumbers as example, but there are a lot others.

Conclusion: The Paleo diet could also help arthritis because it promotes foods that are rich in antioxidants. This could help especially osteoarthritis, both treating and preventing it. 



PRO #3 – No Sugars

This is a huge advantage of this diet, if you ask me. The fact that you don’t consume sugars (even for a short while) will have a big impact on your joint pain.

Sugar can cause joint pain on its own, because it leads to inflammation easily. Unfortunately, it’s really hard to stay away from sugars at this point, because they are in every food we consume.

I’m not talking about natural sugars, like the ones from honey. I’m only talking about refined sugar, which exists in almost any processed food. 

So a diet without any processed sugar will have a positive impact on your arthritis either way. Even if you didn’t eat any healthy foods, staying away from refined sugars will help your pain a lot. That’s easy on paper, but in reality, it’s a lot harder. 

Conclusion: That’s a major reason why the Paleo diet can help arthritis – it bans any kind of refined sugar, which is really beneficial. Sugars increase inflammation, so giving it up will allow your body to get better on its own.



PRO #4 – No Counting Calories

The Paleo Diet For Arthritis - Good Or Bad?If you hate portions and calories counting, this diet is perfect for you. It allows you to eat as much as you want, as long as you eat the right foods. 

I personally know a lot of people who stay away from diets for this very reason – they are allowed to eat so little that they end up starving. And when you have arthritis, this is really hard to bear. Besides the terrible pain, there is also the hunger. 

Yes, there are some arthritis patients that are also overweight. However, most people with arthritis are not. Because of the terrible pain, they end up losing a lot of weight.

That’s why I don’t recommend dieting while you have arthritis. Unless you follow a special diet for your pain, I don’t recommend you any. You lose weight either way, because of the pain. If you follow an extra diet, you could end up way underweight.

So this is a major advantage of Paleo diet, if you ask me. It allows you to eat as much meat as you want, so starving won’t be a problem. 

Conclusion: Because it doesn’t require counting calories and eating small portions, the Paleo diet won’t make you starve. Staying hungry could make your pain get worse, that’s why I don’t recommend dieting with arthritis. But in this case, you can eat as much as you want, so your arthritis has no reason to get worse.



CON #1 – Hard To Follow

Just like any diet, Paleo has its own downsides. And even though it let you eat high quantities, it bands you certain foods (which happen to be a lot). 

You can’t have any diary products, any grain products, not even any home-made sweets. When you have arthritis, such a list is pretty hard to follow, believe me.

I personally used to be a big fan of milk and yogurts. Bread is also something I eat constantly. Now, I usually choose organic products both for diary and grains. That’s why I don’t think they have anything to do with my arthritis.

So the point is that giving up these foods out of a sudden is extremely hard. I know that any diet is hard, but the restrictions from Paleo are really hard to follow, in my opinion. Basically all you can eat are meats and green vegetables. Yeah, I didn’t mention seeds and nuts, but most people don’t consume high quantities of them either way. 

That’s why this diet seems really hard for me. When you have arthritis you don’t always have time to cook meat and prepare salads. 

Conclusion: The Paleo diet may be helpful, but it’s also really hard. There are some major things you can’t eat, and if you follow the diet for several weeks, it will get even harder. So I’m not sure if the benefits are worth the effort.



CON #2 – Lots Of Proteins

The Paleo Diet For Arthritis - Good Or Bad?As you know, the Paleo diet has a strict list of foods you can and you can’t eat. Even though there are a lot of foods you’re allowed to consume, all of them have something in common. They contains high quantities of proteins.

I’m not talking about fruits and vegetables this time. I’m talking about the rest – meat, fish, eggs, seeds. Some of them contain fats, but the biggest percent is made of proteins.

So why is that bad? As I said, eating proteins will keep you in shape, so why is it a bad thing for arthritis?

Well, in case you have gout, proteins are your biggest enemy. Gout is actually caused by a diet very high in proteins. That’s why all the rich people from past centuries had gout – they would eat mostly meat. However, simply eating meat everyday won’t cause you gout. There are a lot of risk factors involved

But if you already have this condition, or if you have a family history of gout, you should definitely stay away of the Paleo diet. As it encourages eating lots of proteins, it could worsen your gout easily.

Conclusion: The Paleo diet isn’t good for any form of arthritis. In gout it’s actually not recommended, because of the high intake of proteins it promotes. This could easily worsen gout and make the attacks a lot more frequent. So if you’re at risk for this condition, don’t ever try the Paleo diet.



My Verdict – Is The Paleo Diet Good For Arthritis?

Short answer: So so. It’s not bad, but it’s not amazing either. It promotes healthy eating, which can help inflammation. But fresh foods alone won’t decrease your pain, at least in my opinion. They never did that for me.

So the Paleo diet has some benefits for arthritis, that’s for sure. But in my opinion, it’s way too hard to follow and it’s not worth the effort. I didn’t notice any major change after following it, but I had lost a lot of my energy. So in my case, it wasn’t worth it. 

In case you have gout, then it’s a major no. But other than that, you can give it a try, at least for a few weeks. It will be easy at first, but as time goes by, it will get harder and harder. However, I personally doubt it will help you a lot. It simply can’t replace natural remedies and classic therapy. 

But as I said, who know? You’re not losing anything giving it a try. In case you decide to follow the Paleo diet for a while, let me know how it goes. I’m really curious to see if it helped you in any way.

Heather Pharm.D.

Heather Tracy Foley is a Pharmacy graduate, Blogger and Author with a vast experience in health sciences. She has a particular interest in joint pain and rheumatology and spent several years studying health problems. You can find her on Pinterest or via email.

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