Thus far, dietary interventions have shown no consistent ability to improve symptoms in cases of rheumatoid arthritis. Still, the myth that dairy causes rheumatoid arthritis continues to enjoy popularity.
Of course, the claim that dairy could cause rheumatoid arthritis is bold and completely out of line with the conventional understanding of what rheumatoid arthritis is. So most likely when people make the claim, what they really mean to suggest is that dairy may be involved in worsening symptoms. So, this is the myth that we’ll investigate.
Over the years, a number of studies have looked at the effects of dietary interventions in regard to rheumatoid arthritis. Notably, in a 1983 study (Panush, et al., 1983) a group was placed on a special diet that excluded all additives, preservatives, fruit, red meat, herbs, and dairy. (I can’t help but wonder what the heck they ate!) After 10 weeks, the authors reported that “there were no clinically important differences” between the test and control groups.
Other studies have examined the possible role of bovine serum albumin (BSA) present in dairy foods and rheumatoid arthritis. The theory being tested was that humans who develop BSA antibodies may experience rheumatoid arthritis symptoms as a result, since BSA closely resembles human collagen in the joints.
What the studies show is that BSA antibodies are common in humans both with and without rheumatoid arthritis, and doesn’t seem to be linked to rheumatoid arthritis symptoms.
Although dairy does not seem to cause arthritis flare-ups for most people, there are cases in which removing dairy seems to reduce symptoms. Panush and colleagues reported a case study of one woman who had a worsening of symptoms following dairy consumption.
So it is possible that some people with rheumatoid arthritis will benefit from reducing or eliminating dairy, but for the majority of people, there does not seem to be a connection. And in any case, for those who do not have rheumatoid arthritis, there is little reason to believe that dairy could cause the condition.