Making a diet change might seem extreme, but for a health condition like rheumatoid arthritis, it’s worth looking into. Eating sugary foods, processed meats, and not enough fruits and vegetables eventually leads to inflammation, which can cause joint pain and swelling. Studies suggest adopting a vegan diet is the way to go. But how long should you stick to the vegan diet before seeing results? You may not be willing to do this. However, new research reveals that eating a vegan diet has anti-inflammatory benefits for reducing the painful symptoms of arthritis.
A recent study published in American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine examined the impact diet has on pain and arthritis severity. Study participants included 44 adults who had previously been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis (a chronic disease found mainly in the small joints of the hands or feet that causes pain, stiffness, and loss or reduced range of motion).
Researchers from the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) randomly assigned study participants to one of two groups: the diet phase group and the supplement phase group. In the first four weeks of the study, the dieting group followed an exclusively vegan diet.
After the first four weeks, the dieting group continued to follow a vegan diet for another three weeks, cutting out additional foods containing ingredients such as sugar, soy products, and alcohol. For the remaining nine weeks of the initial 16-week diet phase, foods that were eliminated in the fifth, sixth, and seventh weeks were gradually and individually reintroduced to the participants.
On the other hand, the supplementing group ate an unrestricted diet for all 16 weeks of the first phase. In addition, they took a daily supplement (placebo) released by the researchers, which contained small amounts of alpha-linolenic acid and vitamin E. The authors believed this placebo could help reduce inflammation.
In the second phase of the study, which lasted another 16 weeks, the two groups switched diets; the diet phase group resumed a non-vegan diet and received a daily placebo, while the supplement phase followed a strictly vegan diet.
The researchers found that, on average, the Disease Activity Score-28 (DAS28) for the 44 study participants decreased by two points during the vegan diet phase, leading to substantially lower levels of joint pain. In the placebo phase, the DAS28 decreased by less than half a point.
Additionally, the average number of swollen joints decreased by nearly four points, from seven to 3.3 in the vegan phase. That number increased from 4.7 to five in the placebo phase.
It is clear that the vegan diet has worked wonders in alleviating the painful symptoms of arthritis, but the benefits don’t stop there. The researchers also found that the participants lost an average of 14 pounds on the vegan diet. This is significant compared to the two-pound weight I earn they experienced during the placebo phase. Additionally, the participants’ cholesterol levels decreased during the vegan diet.
Neal Barnard, MD, president of PCRM and lead author of the study, says a diet-based approach can be beneficial for arthritis sufferers. “The [vegan] the diet is safe, healthy and easy to do, ”he says. “Arthritis drugs cost tens of thousands of dollars and have side effects, so if some people can relieve their symptoms without them, that’s great.”
How do you start vegan?
A vegan diet consists of eating only fruits, vegetables, grains and nuts (rather than animal products such as dairy, eggs, meat or fish). This could be a big change in your daily eating habits, but Dr. Barnard notes that you shouldn’t knock until you’ve tried it: “Most people who adopt a healthy diet [vegan] dieters find they feel so good – they lose weight and lower cholesterol, as well as relieve pain – they want to keep it. “
To get started on the right foot, it shares two rules of thumb for getting plenty of nutrients from a plant-based diet:
- Build your meals out of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and beans. “That could mean bean chilli instead of meat chilli, a veggie burger instead of a meat burger or a tomato sauce sauce instead of ragout,” she says.
- Make sure you have a vitamin B12 supplement. “This is important for everyone, for healthy nerves and healthy blood,” she adds.
Dr. Barnard also highlights PCRM’s free, non-commercial app called 21-Day Vegan Kickstart. Curate plant-based food plans, recipes and grocery lists to make your life a breeze. You can download the 21-Day Vegan Kickstart app on iOS and Android devices.
Are you considering adopting a vegan diet for its anti-inflammatory and pain relieving benefits for arthritis? Talk to your doctor before making any diet changes. This helps you get the most benefit from a healthy diet.