Vegan diet reduces joint pain and swelling in rheumatoid arthritis patients

April 14, 2022

2 minute read

Disclosures: The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine is a non-profit organization that promotes plant-based food and research. Barnard reports receiving royalties and honoraria for books and articles he authored and lectures he gave. Please see the study for relevant financial information from all other authors.

We have not been able to process your request. Please try again later. If you continue to have this problem, please contact [email protected]

According to a small randomized study published in the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine.

“A plant-based diet could be the prescription for joint pain relief for millions of rheumatoid arthritis sufferers,” Neal Barnard, MD, said the chairman of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine in a press release. “And all of the side effects, including weight loss and lower cholesterol, are just beneficial.”

Barnard ND, et al. Am J Lifestyle Med. 2022;doi:10.1177/15598276221081819.

Because rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease, Barnard told Healio “it’s likely that one or more dietary antigens are fueling the inflammatory process.” A vegan diet is free of the antigenic proteins found in dairy products, meat and eggs.

Neal Barnard

Neal Barnard

In a randomized crossover trial, Barnard and colleagues evaluated 44 adults who had previously been diagnosed with RA. Of these participants, 32 completed the study, all of whom were women. Their average age was 57; 66% were white, 16% black, and 9% Asian or Pacific Islander.

Half of the participants followed a vegan diet for 4 weeks with the elimination of additional foods, such as gluten-free cereals, soy products, potatoes, chocolate and other foods, for 3 additional weeks. The eliminated foods were then reintroduced one by one every 2 days over a period of 9 weeks. Participants in the dieting phase were asked to attend voluntary hour-long weekly nutritional support group sessions. The other half of the participants were allowed to follow an unrestricted diet with a daily placebo supplement. After a 4-week washout period, the groups switched treatment plans for an additional 16 weeks.

Participants purchased and handled their own food with no calorie limits in place. The researchers used the Disease Activity Score-28 (DAS-28) and the Visual Analogue Scale (VAS) to assess joint pain and swelling outcomes.

Barnard and colleagues reported that participants reduced joint pain by 4.2 to 2.5 DAS-28 points (P P = 0.03) in the diet phase compared to an increase from 4.7 to 5 in the placebo phase. According to the researchers, the women who completed the study had significantly improved VAS scores during the diet phase compared to the placebo phase.

Overall, participants lost an average of 6.5 kg (treatment effect = 7.3 kg; 95% CI 9.4 to 5.1) during the diet phase and gained 0.8 kg pounds during the placebo phase. Total LDL cholesterol also decreased during the dieting phase.

“Before committing a patient to lifelong medication use, practitioners should always try a dietary approach,” Barnard said. “It is free from the risks of immunosuppression and the enormous cost of current treatment regimens. A trial of a few months will show whether it works or not.


Barnard ND, et al. Am J Lifestyle Med. 2022;doi:10.1177/15598276221081819.

Vegan diet relieves arthritis pain, new study finds. Published April 4, 2022. Accessed April 6, 2022.