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May 23, 2024

How to Reverse Rheumatoid Arthritis: 7 Ways to Work Towards Remission

Discover 7 evidence-based ways to reduce your rheumatoid arthritis symptoms and work towards achieving remission.
Medically Reviewed by
Dr. Danielle Desroche

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Rheumatoid arthritis (RA), a type of inflammatory arthritis, is a progressive autoimmune disease that attacks healthy joint tissue. Without treatment or complementary therapeutic support, symptoms can quickly move beyond swollen joints and pain and advance to bone erosion, immobility, and even permanent deformity. Diagnosing and treating the disease early while incorporating supportive dietary and lifestyle changes may positively influence quality of life and increase the possibility of remission. 

In this article, we’ll provide an overview of rheumatoid arthritis and review 7 evidence-based ways to reduce symptoms and heal your body. 

Rheumatoid Arthritis Overview 

Rheumatoid arthritis is a progressive autoimmune disease in which your immune system mistakenly attacks healthy cells and tissues, resulting in chronic joint pain and swelling. If left untreated, inflammation caused by RA can lead to bone erosion and eventual deformity. Rheumatoid arthritis is different from osteoarthritis, a common form of arthritis that does not have an autoimmune component. (Source, Source

Rheumatoid arthritis is commonly polyarticular, meaning 5 or more joints are affected, usually on both sides of the body. The onset of pain and stiffness may be gradual but can sometimes come on suddenly. How the disease progresses depends on how quickly you are diagnosed, treated, and what supportive therapeutic interventions you incorporate into your daily routine. As many as 1.3 million Americans have RA, with up to 3 times more women than men developing the disease. (Source, Source, Source)

person touching the back of their neck with their hand

4 Stages of Rheumatoid Arthritis 

There are 4 stages of RA, identified by the severity of symptoms and disease progression as visualized through medical imaging technologies such as X-rays, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and ultrasound. (Source

These 4 stages are known as:

  • early stage RA (often no symptoms) 
  • moderate stage RA (characterized by painful joints, mobility loss, cartilage damage) 
  • severe stage RA (permanent joint damage, bone erosion, muscle weakness, skin nodules) 
  • end stage RA (immobility, abnormal bone adhesions, bone fusion) 

(Source, Source, Source, Source, Source)

Once diagnosed, your health care provider will work with you to minimize symptoms, slow damage, and support the overall quality of your life. Depending on your circumstances, your health care provider may prescribe a variety of medications targeting inflammation or, in advanced cases, recommend surgery to fuse or replace joints. (Source)

7 ways to reduce rheumatoid arthritis symptoms and heal your body

7 Ways to Reduce Rheumatoid Arthritis Symptoms & Heal Your Body

In addition to your medical treatment plan, certain therapeutic interventions targeting whole-body health, dietary changes, and lifestyle interventions may positively support your symptom management, improve your quality of life, slow progression through the four stages of RA, or even help you achieve remission. 

1. Mediterranean Diet and Lifestyle

The Mediterranean diet centers around fiber-rich fruits and vegetables, nuts, whole grains, fatty fish, and extra virgin olive oil. Reducing other animal proteins such as red meat in alignment with the Mediterranean diet is also suggested for those with RA, although research into the connection between red meat consumption and RA has yielded mixed results. In general, a Western-style diet that is centered on red meat, trans fats, highly refined grains, and ultra-processed foods is suggested to increase RA risk and is also linked to insulin resistance and obesity. (Source, Source

The Mediterranean diet is endorsed by the Arthritis Foundation as a recommended nutritional plan for those with RA. In fact, a 2020 systematic review published in the journal Nutrients reported moderate-strength evidence that therapeutic dietary interventions including the Mediterranean diet, anti-inflammatory spices (saffron, ginger, cinnamon), antioxidants (such as quercetin found in apples and onions), and probiotics containing Lactobacillus casei reduced RA disease activity. (Source, Source

The Mediterranean diet is also associated with lifestyle alterations focused on social support, physical movement, locally sourced foods, and home cooking. (Source

2. Curcumin

Curcumin is a bright yellow-orange compound found in turmeric root. Given curcumin’s antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, it is considered to be a natural pain reliever. While curcumin alone is poorly absorbed, adding an activator such as piperine, a component of black pepper, increases curcumin’s bioavailability by up to 2000%. (Source)  

A 2021 meta-analysis published in Complementary Therapies in Medicine found that curcumin supplementation helped significantly reduce two blood markers of inflammation, including C-reactive protein and erythrocyte sedimentation rate, in people with rheumatoid arthritis or ulcerative colitis (a chronic inflammatory bowel disease). Specifically, curcumin was found to be most effective at lowering inflammation levels for people younger than 40 years and when taken at a higher dosage over longer periods of time. The authors concluded that additional research studying different curcumin doses is needed. (Source

almonds and walnuts scattered on plates and beige surface

3. Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids have an anti-inflammatory effect that may positively influence immune response during autoimmune flare-ups. (Source, Source)  

Dietary sources of omega-3s include: 

  • cold-water fatty fish (such as salmon, mackerel, sardines) 
  • nuts (such as walnuts)
  • seeds (such as flaxseeds, chia seeds) 
  • plant oils (such as flaxseed oil) 
  • certain supplements (such as fish oil)


A 2020 review published in the Mediterranean Journal of Rheumatology found that omega-3 fatty acid supplementation was associated with decreased RA disease activity, including a variety of improved quality of life markers such as decreased joint swelling and tenderness, decreased inflammatory markers, and reduced reliance on non-prescription pain medications. The authors concluded that personalized nutrition (in which diet and supplements are individualized based on each person’s unique health history) had a promising future as an aid in the management of autoimmune disease. (Source, Source)

4. Extra Virgin Olive Oil 

Extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) is a plant oil commonly used in the Mediterranean diet. It contains antioxidant, anti-inflammatory compounds that may modulate your immune system and support chronic diseases. 

A 2018 review published in Endocrine, Metabolic, and Immune Disorders found that EVOO reduced symptoms associated with chronic immune-mediated inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, and other autoimmune disorders. The review cautioned that additional research is needed to formulate a specific nutrition guideline on dietary intake. (Source)

Beyond consuming olive oil as a therapeutic food, a 2020 randomized controlled trial published in Rehabilitation Nursing Journal found that applying EVOO topically to joints afflicted with RA improved morning pain in women. The study acknowledged that while other topical treatments also offered support, the accessibility of EVOO (often found in people’s kitchens) made the oil a great alternative. Still, the size of this study was small, so further research is needed to increase confidence in the data. (Source) ​​  

5. Antioxidants and Anti-Inflammatory Diets  

Antioxidants are compounds found in a variety of whole foods (notably fruits and vegetables)  that help prevent cell damage and reduce inflammation levels in autoimmune diseases, including RA. A number of vitamins and minerals are also considered to be nutrient antioxidants, including vitamins A, C, and E, and minerals copper, zinc, and selenium. (Source, Source, Source)

A 2020 small single-blinded crossover trial published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that people with RA following an anti-inflammatory diet (focused on eating anti-inflammatory foods) for 4 months experienced reduced disease activity. (Source

plate and can containing sardines with a small bowl of olives

6. Probiotics 

Your gut is home to trillions of microorganisms known as your gut microbiome. Up to 80% of immune cells are also found in your gut, emphasizing the interconnectivity of your immune system and how the diversity of your microbiome may influence your immune response. In analyzing the microbiomes of people with RA, researchers have found an overall lack of microbial diversity compared to healthy people. (Source, Source)

Certain strains of probiotics (living microorganisms found in certain foods and supplements) may reduce RA symptoms. A 2021 review published in Frontiers in Pharmacology reported on a number of bacterial strains that may support RA quality of life. The strain Lactobacillus, either taken by itself or mixed with Bifidobacterium species, reduced inflammation levels as measured by inflammation markers on blood tests. Lactobacillus casei in particular reduced inflammation markers and was found to be supportive in people with RA taking a commonly prescribed class of drugs known as disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs. (Source)

However, a different 2021 review of L. casei and L. acidophilus published in Microorganisms found that long-term supplementation with these species increased populations of a different strain, L. salivaritus, which is actually linked to the development of RA. Given these findings, it’s best to work with your health care team to determine which probiotic strains may be right for you. (Source

7. Mindful Movement and Breathwork 

Chronic stress may influence the development of autoimmune diseases. Incorporating supportive practices that target stress, including mindful movement (such as yoga) and breathwork exercises (such as meditation) into your day may also improve your RA symptoms. (Source)

In a 2019 randomized controlled trial published in the journal Restorative Neurology and Neuroscience, people with RA who followed a yoga-based mind–body intervention for 2 months experienced reduction of inflammation levels as confirmed by blood tests, as well as significant improvement in depression symptoms. (Source

A 2022 review of 23 mind–body studies published in the Journal of Personalized Medicine found that for people with RA, meditation, yoga, and other mindfulness practices improved mental health and reduced joint pain, tenderness, and morning stiffness. (Source

lady sitting facing forward meditating with palms pressed together

The Bottom Line on How to Reverse Rheumatoid Arthritis  

Rheumatoid arthritis, if poorly treated or ignored, can be a debilitating life-long autoimmune disease that dramatically reduces your quality of life. While there is currently no cure for RA, medication and whole-body health interventions may help to slow its progression and even support remission.

Along with medical treatment, evidence-based therapeutic diets, specific supportive nutrients, and lifestyle interventions may help reduce inflammation, target symptoms, and improve daily life for people with RA. As research is ongoing and the field of nutritional science is ever changing, working with a qualified practitioner provided by our WellTheory membership can help clarify which interventions are ideal for your unique health history and align most with your stage of RA.

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