How to avoid Rheumatoid Arthritis (and stop your kids getting it too)

Every day 17 Australians have a joint replaced because of Rheumatoid Arthritis. And the number of us with the disease is accelerating quickly, particularly amongst children. The science on its cause (and the cure) couldn’t be clearer. There is just one thing you need to do, don’t eat vegetable oil.

There are over 100 types of arthritis but Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) is the most severe and the second most common (after osteoarthritis). Unlike Osteoarthritis, RA is not caused by wear and tear on the joints (largely from being overweight, exercising too much or both). Rather it is an autoimmune disease, like Type I Diabetes and Asthma.

Australia doesn’t keep good data on any chronic disease but as at 2007, there were approximately 428,000 sufferers of RA but that rate is increasing rapidly. Hospitilisation for RA (largely for joint replacement) has been steadily increasing. The rate has doubled in the first decade of the 21st century. Alarmingly it appears that the rate in children is increasing even more rapidly, with the rate of hospilization more than tripling over the same timeframe.

One of the more important jobs our immune system performs is distinguishing stuff which is not dangerous (such as our own tissue) from stuff that is dangerous (like some types of virus and bacteria).

When something is deemed dangerous, our cells ramp up production of hormone-like substances that instruct our immune system to produce an inflammation response. Every time you see a cut to the skin become red and swollen, you’re seeing that inflammation response in action. The swelling and the heat are our body’s attempts to eject the invader from our body (or kill it).

An RA sufferer’s immune system is malfunctioning, causing it to attack the synovial membrane, the tissues lining our joints. The synovial membrane is normally very thin. Its job is to produce fluid which lubricates and nourishes the joint.

The immune system attack causes the synovial membrane to become swollen and inflamed. Over time this leads to bone damage in the joint and eventually irreversible joint damage.

That response is turned on by hormone like substances derived from Omega-6 fats and turned off by (anti-inflammatory) hormones derived from Omega-3 fats. It’s a finely tuned and finely balanced feedback loop that requires both types of fat in exactly the right amounts (about 1.5 gramsof each a day).

We’ve known for some time that the omega-6 and omega-3 polyunsaturated fats are critical to the way our inflammation response works, particularly when it comes to RA. Omega-6 fats dial it up and omega-3 fats dial it back down again.

Now that’s all a bit of a problem for the Western Diet because we have been steadily increasing the amount of Omega-6 we consume, while at the same time, (at best) consuming around the same amount of Omega-3. During the course of the last two centuries the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 in our diet has changed from around 2:1 to 25:1.

This has happened because food manufacturers have been persistently replacing sources of animal fat (which have no significant amounts of either omega-6 or omega-3) with much cheaper vegetable oils (which are very high in omega-6).

Analysis of the inflamed synovial membrane in RA patients reveals that it is very high in molecules derived from omega-6 fats. Knowing that omega-3 and omega-6 fats act in opposite directions on inflammation, researchers have conducted animal trials which show that artificially induced RA can be significantly delayed or eliminated if the rats are fed fish oil (high in Omega-3 fats) rather than vegetable oil (high in omega-6 fats).

That research has led to large numbers of controlled human trials which have successfully reduced RA inflammation (and associated pain) by supplementing with omega-3 fats (usually from fish oil).

Given those results it would be almost impossible to get ethical approval for a trial which tried to make RA worse by feeding people omega-6, but one trial figured out a different way to skin the cat. In that trial researchers tried something else. As well increase the amount of omega-3 they fed the patients, they divided them into groups on a standard Western diet and one which was which was very low in Omega-6 fats.  The result of the trial were impressively in favour of the RA patients on the low Omega-6 diet (and even better if they also took fish oil).

The science is old and uncontroversial. In a Western diet, the massive increase in Omega-6 fats make us much more likely to suffer from RA and will make the RA worse once we have it. The problem is that in Australia today it is almost impossible to buy packaged food that isn’t infused with these RA inducing fats.

If you suffer from RA then the very best strategy is to eat whole food only, use butter instead of margarine and cook with olive oil rather than vegetable oil. If you must buy packaged food avoid anything which includes ‘Vegetable Oils’ in its ingredient list. If you are eating deep fried food make sure it has not been fried in vegetable oil. Simple.

Photo by James Heilman, MD (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 ( or GFDL (], via Wikimedia Commons

Join the discussion 5 Comments

  • Cat Sal says:

    I suffer at times from R A. I have not eaten any processed foods or vegetable oils other tha from olives for a long time. In my case I think it is dairy fats and sugars that cause it along with stress.

  • Ivor Cummins says:

    Very timely David – been reading a bit of mechanistic material around this lately, excess w6 can overwhelm metabolic pathways which then limit ability of extra w3 to help – also can interfere with healthy natural sat fat metabolism which is interesting – so magic combo is low w6 & w3 overall and ratio <4:1 ; that veg oil is cheap industrial p^*s, so it is…..!

  • DavidT says:

    On the advice of my rheumatologist I overcame my RA by cutting out all foods from the Solanaceae or nightshade family, including potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant, capsicums etc. If I eat these foods in sufficient quantities my joint pain returns. Every now and then I can have a small amount – I just can’t eat them regularly. If you’re suffering, it’s worth a try. David, this might be something you’d like to look into?

  • The Age of Philiscious says:

    As others have comment cutting out dairy,gluten, tomatoes, potatoes,all nightshades,all citrus, coffee, processed sugar while increasing intake of fish, fish oil, msm, tumeric, oil of oregano and N-Acetyl-Cysteine supplements has helped me immensely reduce the daily pain levels.
    Read a study that showed nearly all RA sufferers are deficient in vit D, B12 and B6 and Vit C. There is also the possibility that hormone imbalance acts as a trigger for the disease. Another study I read showed many RA sufferers have low levels of testosterone/estrogen combined with thyroid inbalance. Interesting.

  • elk says:

    Shame on yhe heart foundation who should be held accountable for recommending omega 6 seed oil products which are inflicting such misery to peoples lives.

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