As a registered dietitian who has rheumatoid arthritis, or RA, Lona Sandon is well acquainted with claims that particular foods have the power to quell or to worsen arthritis pain. For instance, she says, “A patient will tell me her arthritis worsens if she eats sugar, or that she has less pain and stiffness if she takes a tablespoon or two of cider vinegar each day.” So what sparks these healing food myths and how do you distinguish the myths from the real science?

Sandon calls it an “emotional need to overtake the common sense of knowing how the body works.” But in just about all cases, the science doesn’t bear out.

“I would have loved to find something other than Enbrel to make me functional again,” says Sandon, 38, assistant professor at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. “That fine print on arthritis medications can be pretty scary – risk of lymphoma, risk of tuberculosis. It is very appealing to find something natural, but there’s no food in the world that can do what medicine can.”

So why do such myths persist? “If I tell it to you three times, then it must be true. And the more often you hear it, and the louder and more shrilly you hear it, the more believable it becomes,” says Richard Panush, MD, a professor in the division of rheumatology at the University of Southern California, in Los Angeles.

With that in mind, here are some foods that are commonly touted on the Internet, in books and elsewhere as capable of mitigating or exacerbating arthritis symptoms – and the truth behind the hype. 

The myth: A dozen gin-soaked raisins a day provide natural pain relief.

THE SCIENCE: Raisins are often treated with sulfur dioxide gas during processing to preserve their color – and sulfur has been explored for its role in joint health. Some 25 years ago, Russian researchers reported that a sulfur-containing compound called dimethyl sulfoxide helped lessen destructive joint changes in mice. Other research has explored whether a sulfur compound called methylsulfonylmethane helped with osteoarthritis (OA) pain.

The results were inconclusive at best, but such studies feed the belief (though never the proof) that sulfur in raisins has anti-inflammatory effects.

As for gin, juniper berries, which are used to make it, were prescribed in the Middle Ages for their own purported, but never proven, anti-inflammatory properties.

THE BOTTOM LINE: No scientific study has ever shown that gin-soaked raisins reduce arthritis pain or inflammation.