According to a new study published in the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicinean all-plant-based diet may be key to reducing the pain and symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis – an autoimmune disease that typically triggers joint inflammation, pain, swelling and stiffness, and possibly permanent joint damage .
Meat, dairy products and rheumatoid arthritis
A total of 44 participants, who had previously been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, took part in the study to investigate the health effects of eliminating meat and dairy products.
Researchers found a significant improvement in symptom severity after following a low-fat, calorie-restricted, vegan diet. Participants also experienced weight loss and improvement in their serum cholesterol levels.
At the start of the study, participants used a visual analog scale to rank the severity of their joint pain, from “no pain” to “the worst possible pain”.
Joint pain was also assessed using the Disease Activity Score-28 (DAS28), a pain indicator tool that measures inflammatory activity in rheumatoid arthritis using clinical data. Participants were then split into two groups for 16 weeks.
Group 1 versus Group 2
One of the groups was instructed to follow a vegan diet for four weeks, followed by cutting out potentially pain-triggering foods for three weeks. They were then reintroduced into the foods withdrawn for the duration of the study.
The second group followed an unrestricted diet, where they could eat whatever they wanted for 16 weeks. They also received a placebo capsule, which had no effect on the study. At the end of the 16 weeks, both groups switched diets.
The researchers noticed a significant difference in DAS28 scores between the two groups at the end of the study. They found that during the vegan diet phase of the study, DAS28 scores dropped by two points on average, indicating a greater reduction in joint pain, compared to a 0.3 point decrease in the placebo phase.
The average number of swollen joints also fell from 7.0 to 3.3 in the vegan phase. However, the number actually went from 4.7 to 5 in the placebo phase. The researchers also noted that VAS scores improved significantly in the vegan phase, compared to the placebo phase.
Additional Health Benefits
Besides reducing joint pain and swelling, the study also found that the vegan phase led to additional health benefits, including lower LDL and HDL cholesterol levels.
The researchers also found that body weight decreased by about 14 pounds on average on the plant-based diet, compared to a gain of about two pounds on the placebo diet.
The research was conducted by the Committee of Physicians for Responsible Medicine (PCRM)a non-profit organization that focuses on preventive medicine and higher ethical standards in education and research.