Vegan diet may help reduce arthritis pain, study finds

Struggling with arthritis symptoms or joint pain? Researchers from the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) have just published a study that suggests a low-fat vegan diet may offer significant relief. The study, published in The American Journal of Lifestyle Medicinefollowed the diets of 44 adults with rheumatoid arthritis to see how a plant-based diet could help minimize the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis.

Participants were divided into two groups for 16 weeks. One group adopted a vegan diet for four weeks. The diet involved eliminating meat and dairy and adding more plant-based foods. The second group followed a diet rich in meat and dairy products without any restrictions and took a placebo. Halfway through the study, both groups changed their diets.

Low-fat vegan diet helped reduce arthritis symptoms

The results showed that the low-fat vegan diet significantly reduced arthritis pain. During the vegan phase, participants reported 20% lower pain scores than the meat and dairy phase. They said they could perceive their symptoms to “significantly improve” while on the vegan diet.

At the start of the study, participants were asked to use a visual analog scale to rate the pain in their joints on a scale ranging from 0 being “no pain” to 10 being “the most severe pain possible”. Each participant’s Disease Activity Score-28 (DAS28) was also calculated based on painful joints, swollen joints and measurements of C-reactive protein in their blood, which indicates inflammation in the body. When arthritis acts, the DAS28 increases depending on the severity of the individual’s arthritis.

Participants reported that while they ate vegan, they saw a significant reduction in joint swelling. In contrast, when participants ate meat and dairy products, they saw the swelling in their joints worsen. These data suggest that the vegan diet may provide practical relief for people with rheumatoid arthritis, reducing inflamed joints by 53%.

“A plant-based diet could be the prescription for joint pain relief for millions of people with rheumatoid arthritis,” says Neal Barnard, MD, the study’s lead author and chair of the Physicians’ Committee. “And all of the side effects, including weight loss and lower cholesterol, are just beneficial.”

Benefits of a plant-based diet

During the study, the research team also conducted a sub-analysis that took into account drug increases and decreases in patients. The numbers further revealed that the vegan phase was correlated with lower self-reported pain values. The study also found that the vegan phase resulted in several other health benefits, including lower LDL and HDL cholesterol levels. Participants also experienced an average weight loss of 14 pounds. For reference, the placebo phase recorded an average weight gain of two pounds.

This new study joins a growing portfolio of vegan-based arthritis research. In 2018, a study conducted by the University of Florida found a link between bacteria in cows and higher risks of rheumatoid arthritis. The study found that 40% of its participants with arthritis had also been exposed to the bacteria. The researchers concluded that the bacteria was spread through the consumption of meat and dairy products.

A key symptom of rheumatoid arthritis is increased joint inflammation. Beyond this study, several experts have revealed that plant-based foods can help lower levels of inflammation while boosting your immune system. A recent report pointed out that people should avoid inflammatory foods, including meat, dairy, and added sugars, in favor of healthier plant-based alternatives.

Reduce your risk of disease by eating plant-based

Reduced joint pain is one of the many positive health benefits of adopting a plant-based diet. A recent study claims that the health benefits could be much more substantial, claiming that people who eat plant-based foods could extend their life expectancy by 10 years or more. The study, of PLOS Journal of Medicine, claims that a combination of healthy habits that emphasize plant-based eating could add years to your life, reduce disease risk factors, and maintain healthy nutrient levels.

It is important to switch to a more plant-based diet as soon as possible. Another study found that a plant-based diet between the ages of 18 and 30 could reduce your risk of heart disease almost 30 years later. The research – which spanned 30 years – concluded that people who adopted a plant-based diet earlier in life and maintained healthy eating habits had a significantly lower risk of heart disease.

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