By Pat Anson, PNN Editor
A new small study has found that a low-fat vegan diet can help improve joint pain in patients with rheumatoid arthritis – the latest research showing that a healthier diet can significantly reduce pain levels. Study participants also lost weight and lowered their cholesterol levels by eliminating their intake of animal fats and inflammatory foods.
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a progressive, incurable disease in which the body’s immune system attacks joint tissue, causing pain, inflammation and bone erosion.
“A plant-based diet could be the prescription for joint pain relief for millions of rheumatoid arthritis sufferers,” says lead author Neal Barnard, MD, chair of the Committee for Responsible Medicine. “And all of the side effects, including weight loss and lower cholesterol, are just beneficial.”
Thirty-two people with RA from the Washington DC area completed the study after being assigned to one of two groups for 16 weeks.
The first group followed a vegan diet for four weeks, eliminating their consumption of meat, dairy products and eggs. During weeks 5-7, the diet was further restricted to eliminate cereals containing gluten, as well as potatoes, chocolate, nuts, citrus fruits, onions, tomatoes, bananas, apples and coffee.
Vegan foods that participants were encouraged to eat included rice, oats, quinoa, broccoli, kale, collard greens, Brussels sprouts, squash, carrots, apricots, blueberries, plums, lentils and beans. There were no restrictions on calories or how often they ate.
After week 7, the excluded foods were reintroduced, one at a time, every 2 days. Any foods associated with pain or other symptoms upon reintroduction were eliminated
The second group followed an unrestricted diet but were asked to take a daily placebo capsule. After 16 weeks, the groups switched diets.
The results of the study, published in the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine, showed a significant reduction in pain and inflammation during the vegan phase of the study. Participants lost an average of two points in their Disease Activity Score-28 (DAS28), which measures swollen joints, joint tenderness and levels of C-reactive protein – a marker of inflammation. DAS28 levels generally increase with the severity of rheumatoid arthritis.
The average number of swollen joints decreased from 7.0 to 3.3 in the vegan phase, while increasing slightly for participants in the placebo phase.
In addition to the reduction in pain and swelling, participants lost an average of 14 pounds on the vegan diet, compared to a gain of about 2 pounds on the placebo diet. There were also greater reductions in total, LDL, and HDL cholesterol during the vegan phase.
Notably, although participants were asked not to change or reduce their medication use during the study, several of them did so – in most cases because they felt less. the need.
“In conclusion, the current study suggests that a low-fat vegan diet eliminating specific foods, without fasting and without calorie restriction, may improve joint pain. Further studies are needed in which the diagnosis is confirmed by independent observers and the drugs remain stable in a larger sample,” Barnard said.
Many previous studies have shown an association between a healthy diet and lower pain levels. Gluten-free diets have been shown to improve symptoms of fibromyalgia and neuropathy, while Mediterranean diets rich in anti-inflammatory foods reduce the risk of developing chronic pain. And diets that include lots of fatty fish and fewer processed foods reduce the frequency and severity of migraines.
One of the strictest diets of all – a very low energy regime (VLED) which limits people to just 800 calories a day – was recently found to significantly reduce fibromyalgia pain after just three weeks.