Humira is a medication prescribed to treat certain inflammatory autoimmune diseases. If you're living with one of these conditions, you and your health care team may consider Humira as part of your treatment plan. Sometimes medication is necessary, whether short-term to calm a flare or long-term to manage the disease alongside other care plan practices.
It's helpful to understand that while medications may have benefits, they also can have side effects. One of the more common questions people have is, does Humira cause weight gain?
The truth is that while some people may gain weight with Humira, it's difficult to answer this question definitively because everyone's body responds differently to medications. It's also important to note that weight gain is not the only side effect associated with Humira, and some are more serious than others.
Medications can be lifesaving, but there are also steps you can take to manage an autoimmune disease that may make it less likely you will need to take them long-term. In this article, we'll look at the side effects reported with Humira — primarily weight gain — plus what you can do to support a healthy weight and overall good health while living with an autoimmune condition.
What Is Humira?
Let's start with a quick overview of Humira and how it works in your body. Humira is the brand name for a drug called adalimumab, which is a biologic medication. A biologic medication is derived from living organisms and targets parts of the immune system responsible for inflammation. (Source)
Humira is an injectable that blocks a pro-inflammatory signaling protein called tumor necrosis factor (TNF). TNF is a normal part of your immune system that helps fight infection and heal tissue. However, experts believe it's also involved in the progression of inflammation and autoimmune diseases. (Source, Source)
Autoimmunity means your body's immune system mistakes healthy cells and tissues for foreign invaders, such as bacteria or viruses. As a result, it creates an inflammatory response in your body, leading to joint pain, fatigue, and other symptoms. Tumor necrosis factor can mistakenly trigger the immune system to attack healthy body tissue and cause inflammation, pain, swelling, and other symptoms of autoimmune disease. (Source)
Humira is designed to block TNF, which could help reduce the symptoms and progression of autoimmune diseases, but this also means it could have other effects on your body and put you at higher risk for infections and serious health concerns (more on this below).
What Autoimmune Conditions Does Humira Treat?
Humira is most often prescribed for the following health conditions:
Weight gain was not listed as a side effect in the original clinical trials examining Humira. Still, research has found that taking anti-TNF medications such as Humira can cause weight gain for some people. (Source)
For example, a study examining people taking TNF-suppressing medication found that around 13% of patients experienced weight gain, with an average increase of just over 12 lb. A recent systematic review and meta-analysis also reported a link between TNF inhibitors and weight gain. (Source, Source)
A systematic review examining children and adults with irritable bowel disease found a link between increased body weight and anti-TNF medications. A retrospective study that followed 168 people with rheumatoid arthritis taking TNF-suppressing drugs also found that more than 60% of the participants gained weight after 2 years. (Source, Source)
Does Everyone Gain Weight on Humira?
It's important to note that not everyone gains weight on Humira. While some people may gain weight as a side effect of taking Humira, others may not. Some studies show no weight changes among participants, while others suggest gender or disease severity could play a role. (Source)
It's also important to note that some of these studies included other types of anti-TNF drugs and not Humira specifically. These are also not randomized control studies, so researchers can't conclusively prove a causal relationship between Humira and weight gain.
Still, the results are worth paying attention to, as knowing that weight gain is a possible side effect of Humira can help you understand how the medication may affect you.
Why Might Humira Cause Weight Gain?
There are several reasons why Humira could cause weight gain. First, there’s some indication that biologics could impact appetite. In other words, your brain tells your body to eat more, so you take in more calories than you need. (Source, Source)
Another reason why Humira may lead to weight gain isn't directly related to the side effect of the drug itself but rather how it affects your quality of life. Sometimes pain or discomfort from autoimmune diseases can interfere with your appetite and lead to weight loss. If symptoms improve with Humira, you may start eating more and gain the weight back. Certain autoimmune conditions can also cause nutrient malabsorption. If the inflammation goes down, the body may be able to absorb nutrients again.
Interestingly, some studies show that high levels of TNF can adversely impact appetite and cause weight loss, although more research is needed to understand why. Suppressing TNF can help appetite return, so weight gain isn't necessarily a negative side effect in this case, but a good sign that appetite and overall quality of life are returning to normal. Starting at a lower weight or BMI may also be linked to more significant weight gain. (Source)
What Are Some Other Side Effects of Humira?
Humira is widely prescribed, but side effects range from mild to severe. The list is long, but here are some of the most common side effects:
stomach pain or cramps
injection site reactions (redness, itchiness, swelling)
Allergic reactions are also possible and can be life-threatening. Symptoms of an allergic reaction, such as rash or hives, wheezing, itchiness, swelling, and shortness of breath, may signal a medical emergency and require immediate attention.
It's important to know that Humira comes with a “black box warning,” the strongest warning the FDA can give a drug. Some severe side effects include heart failure, liver failure, lupus-like syndrome, nerve disorders, and anemia. Because Humira suppresses the immune system, it ups the risk of certain types of cancer, fungal infections, and severe respiratory infections such as tuberculosis and pneumonia. (Source, Source)
All of these should be discussed with your prescribing health care provider so you know how the medication could affect you.
How Long Do Patients Stay on Humira?
If you start taking Humira, you and your provider will decide together how long it'll be a part of your treatment plan. You may want to take it until your symptoms go into remission. Still, the exact duration of treatment depends on the type and severity of your autoimmune disease.
As we will discuss below, there are health-related habits that can support autoimmune disease that may mean less reliance on medication.
How to Avoid Weight Gain With Humira
While medication is usually the first-line therapy for autoimmune disease, there are other approaches you can use to support your health or help avoid weight gain resulting from Humira. Your daily lifestyle choices are integral to taking care of yourself and managing long-term symptoms — with or without medication.
We know that diet, movement, and stress management are all essential for supporting a healthy weight, but they are also crucial for addressing autoimmune diseases. If it feels overwhelming to incorporate all of these into your routine, pick one or two from the following list to focus on and build from there.
It's probably not a huge surprise to see exercise on a list of health-promoting activities. Exercise helps with weight and reduces your risk of other chronic health conditions such as heart disease. It can also help with inflammation and improve physical function in people with autoimmune disorders. (Source, Source)
Studies show that moving your body can boost the production of cells that suppress your immune system and cool down inflammatory markers. It also helps reduce pain and fatigue and improves overall quality of life. (Source)
The tricky piece is that sometimes it's hard to get started, especially if you're tired or in pain, so finding what feels good for your body is essential. Maybe going for a gentle walk, practicing yoga or Pilates, or dancing in your living room works for you. As you start feeling stronger and more comfortable, you can increase the intensity if it feels good.
The food you put into your body dramatically influences health (including weight) and can either reduce inflammation or worsen it. A first step is to focus on anti-inflammatory foods such as omega-3-rich fatty fish, leafy greens, nuts, and seeds and start weeding out inflammatory processed and packaged foods. (Source)
If you suspect food sensitivities are causing inflammation or worsening your symptoms, a well-designed elimination diet can be a great tool to identify which foods make your symptoms worse. The autoimmune protocol (AIP) diet is one approach that systematically eliminates potentially problematic foods like grains, legumes, dairy, nightshade vegetables, and eggs. Once you have eliminated these foods and found relief, you can gradually reintroduce them to see how your body responds. Studies show that AIP can positively influence the severity of autoimmune symptoms for several conditions. (Source, Source)
The AIP approach is highly individualized and can be complex to navigate sometimes. WellTheory's AIP Masterclass breaks it down to help you understand everything AIP — including what the science says, why it helps, and how to implement it or get the support you need to get started.
3. Stress Management
Studies suggest that stress can make you more vulnerable to autoimmunity. It also can contribute to weight gain, as stress hormones impact blood sugar balance and make it harder to lose weight. Small amounts of stress are a normal part of life — everyone feels overwhelmed sometimes — but unrelenting stress can mean you need additional support to calm down your nervous system. (Source, Source)
One way to do this is by starting a meditation practice. Research shows that meditation can positively influence stress response and anxiety. If meditating isn't your thing, activities such as journaling, taking a hot bath or shower, listening to music, going for a gentle walk in nature, painting, or drawing can all be great stress-relieving activities. What matters most is finding something that works for you and feels calming. (Source)
4. Gut Support
Your immune and digestive systems are closely intertwined, so fostering digestive health is critical for wellness. It's estimated that around 70 percent of your immune cells reside in your gut, so prioritizing gut health is a must for anyone with an inflammatory health condition. (Source)
But what does gut health really mean? To start having a healthy gut means friendly bacteria are diverse and exist in a healthy balance. It also means your gut lining barrier is intact, keeping food particles and other foreign substances from leaking into your bloodstream (a proposed mechanism behind autoimmune diseases). (Source, Source)
Many lifestyle factors listed here, including stress and diet, play a significant role in bacterial balance. Adding more fiber and probiotic rich-foods, such as kimchi and sauerkraut, and high-fiber foods, such as vegetables, fruit, and legumes, can make a big difference. If you can't tolerate some of these foods, finding your individual food triggers using an elimination diet such as the autoimmune protocol can be a valuable next step to calm gut inflammation. (Source)
Skimping on sleep can be especially detrimental when your immune system is already working overtime. Research shows that not getting enough sleep increases inflammation and ups the chance of being diagnosed with an autoimmune disease. (Source, Source)
Circadian rhythms influence your immune system, metabolism, and how you process nutrients, so not sleeping enough also affects weight. Try to get 7 to 9 hours of quality sleep each night. (Source)
If you're having trouble sleeping, creating a pre-bedtime ritual can help. Make sure your bedroom is dark and cool, try some gentle yoga poses, write in a journal before bed, or listen to calming music — whatever helps you relax.
The Bottom Line on Humira and Weight Gain
Humira may help manage autoimmune conditions but can also have side effects, such as weight gain. In addition to traditional medicines such as Humira, you may want to integrate alternative approaches.
Making lifestyle changes, such as reducing stress, optimizing sleep, and nourishing your body with anti-inflammatory foods, can make a huge difference in managing the symptoms of autoimmune diseases daily and may mean you don't need medication — or need it for a shorter duration.
Ultimately, you have more power over your health and healing than you may realize. With personalized support and guidance, you can make autoimmune friendly diet and lifestyle changes that help you feel better in your body.
Give yourself the time and space to find out what your ideal routine looks like to support your autoimmunity. Over 75 days, you’ll incorporate new routines focused on diet, sleep, movement, stress management, and lifestyle to make steady, sustainable progress towards reducing your symptoms.”