Protein & Arthritis

The amount and types of protein you consume may affect the symptoms of arthritis. Protein is made of amino acids and every cell, tissue, and organ in our bodies contains protein. Protein is found in most foods in our daily diet including meats, poultry, fish, legumes, tofu, eggs, nuts and seeds, dairy, grains and some fruits and vegetables. Certain foods may affect arthritis by affecting the immune system, causing allergic reactions or by causing weight problems. Research is ongoing, as there are many conflicting opinions as to how diet affects arthritis.

Certain foods may put you at risk for developing arthritis. (Image: Astrid Gast/iStock/Getty Images)


There are two main types of arthritis, osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. It is important to note certain types or amounts of protein may affect each of these types of arthritis differently. Gout, an sudden inflammatory arthritis occurs when there is too much uric acid in the blood, can be made worse by too much protein in the form of meat and fish which are high in purines. Osteoarthritis is a degenerative condition, which is usually the result of old age and can worsen as a result of excess body weight from overeating. Rheumatoid arthritis, an inflammatory condition that may be aggravated by certain foods, usually affects women and involves multiple joints.

Protein Requirements

Eating a balanced diet is important to maintain your health regardless of your condition. Eating an unbalanced diet can weaken the immune system and cause excess weight gain, both of which can make the pain and inflammation associated with arthritis worse. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests consuming 46 g of protein daily for women and 56 g of protein daily for men ages 19 and older for optimal health.

Protein in Your Diet

According to the University of Washington School of Medicine, low protein diets may reduce the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. Specifics are not given as individual needs vary and should be determined by your physician. However, the University also suggests that oils from some cold water fish, a good source of protein, may block production of inflammation-causing chemicals. More studies are needed to test this theory. Arthritis Today, a publication of The Arthritis Foundation, reports that consuming more omega-6 fatty acids as found in many snack and junk foods increases the enzymes associated with joint inflammation. They suggest a diet with more omega-3 fatty acids found in proteins such as salmon and tuna instead.

Risk Factors

According to the The Arthritis Foundation, the reason inflammation, obesity and arthritis is linked is because fat cells produce cytokines, proteins that can increase inflammation. Weight is one way to increase your risk of osteoarthritis in the knees, according to the University of Washington. In some cases, over-indulgence in certain high fat proteins can increase your risk of arthritis. For example, a 2004 study by Massachusetts General Hospital found that increased consumption of meat and seafood is associated with an increased risk of gout.


Remember, overeating and a lack of awareness of your diet can be risky. A food journal is a good way to determine if certain foods are aggravating your arthritis. Log the foods you eat and any reactions you may have. If you notice an increase in pain after certain meals, try eliminating those foods for at least a week to see if you improve. Only your doctor can diagnose arthritis. Once you already have been diagnosed, ask you doctor which foods you should eat and avoid as different type of arthritis may have different triggers.

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