Is gluten making your joints ache?

Winter’s here and your joints are telling you this loud and clear. But it’s not just the weather making your joints ache, certain foods might also increase your arthritis pain.

It’s a fact: wet or cold weather may alter your arthritis symptoms for the day, says Dr Elaine Husni from the Cleveland Clinic’s Orthopaedic and Rheumatologic Institute. It doesn’t cause arthritis, or make it worse, but the drop in barometric pressure might cause tissues to swell, increasing the pain level in your joints.

Dressing warmly can help, but keeping warm and snug isn’t the only thing to do to lessen your joint pain this winter. Diet can also play a role, as we’re reminded by the US Arthritis Foundation. Any auto-immune condition, such as arthritis, means that your body is in an inflammatory state. The result? Certain foods can increase the level of inflammation in sensitive people.

Gluten and joint pain
For people with coeliac disease, gluten sets off an inflammatory response in the small intestine that damages its ability to absorb nutrients, according to the US Arthritis Foundation.

“Over time, poor absorption of essential vitamins and minerals, such as calcium, can lead to fatigue, skin rash and even osteoporosis,” reads an article on Arthritis.org. “Joint pain is another symptom.”

But many other arthritis sufferers (who don’t have this condition) also report pain reduction in the joints after cutting gluten from their diets.

While the exact mechanism is still under scrutiny, it’s thought that gut inflammation triggered by gluten can cause the activation of T lymphocytes (a type of white blood cell) that can cause local inflammation in the joints.

In short, if you have a gluten sensitivity, or coeliac disease, sore joints could definitely be one of your symptoms. It can happen that people with gluten sensitivity or coeliac diseases are misdiagnosed as having rheumatoid arthritis.

Which foods contain gluten?
Gluten is found in wheat, rye, barley and any foods made with these grains, according to the American Diabetes Association. The most common foods made with wheat include pasta, pastries, biscuits, cakes, muffins, crackers, beer, bread, oats and cereal.

The Association recommends gluten-free products, as well as fresh fruit and vegetables, beans, nuts, dairy and rice as good foods to eat if you want to avoid gluten as far as possible. Get into a habit of checking labels as many foods contain wheat, even though one wouldn’t expect it. An example is salad dressing.

The symptoms of gluten intolerance
How would you know if you have gluten intolerance?
The Food Intolerance Institute of Australia lists the following likely symptoms that may follow eating foods that contain gluten:

Gastrointestinal: bloating, nausea, diarrhoea, irritable bowel
Stressed immune system: frequent infections such as colds, flu and thrush infections
– Malabsorption: low iron levels or anaemia, low calcium levels or bone-density loss
Headaches or migraines: frequent and for no particular reason
Skin issues including eczema, dermatitis and psoriasis
Low energy: lethargy or lack of motivation
– Depression
– Infertility or miscarriage

It must be remembered that while gluten intolerance is fairly common, coeliac disease is not. A blood test can determine if you have this condition. If you have coeliac disease, it’s essential to follow a gluten-free diet as inflammation in the small intestine can lead to poor absorption of vitamins and minerals, all of which can contribute to the symptoms mentioned above.

Take note that some people experience an increase in their joint pain after eating foods containing gluten, while others don’t. Keep a food diary for a week or two so that you can track whether and how the food you eat is affecting your pain levels.

It’s recommended that you don’t make changes to your diet without consulting your doctor or dietician.

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