Review of Plant-Based Diet for Rheumatoid Arthritis
Node Smith, ND
A plant-based diet may alleviate painful symptoms associated with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), according to a new review published in the journal Frontiers in Nutrition.
Plant-based diet may alleviate painful RA symptoms
RA is an autoimmune disorder characterized by inflammation that causes pain and swelling. While genetic factors are important, studies show that lifestyle factors, including diet, play a role. Researchers with the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine reviewed clinical trials and observational studies and found strong and consistent evidence that a plant-based dietary pattern can reduce inflammation and improve symptoms associated with RA.
The study authors highlight four ways a plant-based diet may be effective
- Plant-based diets reduce inflammation. A 2015 study found that participants randomized to a two-month plant-based dietary intervention experienced reductions in inflammatory scores, when compared to those eating diets higher in fat and animal products. Other studies have found that diets high in fat and processed meat are associated with inflammatory markers, including C-reactive protein (CRP). Plant-based diets and high-fiber diets have been associated with lower CRP levels.
- Plant-based diets reduce RA pain and swelling. A randomized clinical trial that looked at the effects of a low-fat vegan diet on people with moderate-to-severe RA found that after just four weeks on the diet, participants experienced significant improvements in morning stiffness, RA pain, joint tenderness, and joint swelling. The review authors suggest that plant-based diets are typically low in fat and high in fiber, which can reduce inflammation and decrease pain and swelling.
- Plant-based diets are associated with a lower BMI. Studies show that excess body weight increases the risk for developing RA and decreases the likelihood of remission if RA is already present. A 2018 analysis found that RA patients who lost more than 5 kilograms of body weight were three times more likely to experience improvements than those who lost less than 5 kilograms. Plant-based diets have consistently proven to be effective for weight loss.
- Plant-based diets promote healthy gut bacteria. Some studies suggest that the microbiome may play a key role in RA and inflammation. The authors note that high-fiber plant-based diets can alter the composition of gut bacteria and increase bacterial diversity, which is often lacking in RA patients.
“A plant-based diet comprised of fruits, vegetables, grains, and legumes may be tremendously helpful for those with rheumatoid arthritis,” says study co-author Hana Kahleova, MD, PhD, director of clinical research for the Physicians Committee. “This study offers hope that with a simple menu change, joint pain, swelling, and other painful symptoms may improve or even disappear.”
Review adds to evidence that plant-based diets may be beneficial for autoimmune conditions
While more research is needed, the review adds to the evidence that diets rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes may be beneficial for autoimmune conditions. Other studies have found that a plant-based diet may be protective against hypothyroidism, hyperthyroidism, and multiple sclerosis.
- Nutrition Interventions in Rheumatoid Arthritis: The Potential Use of Plant-Based Diets. A Review. Jihad Alwarith, Hana Kahleova, Emilie Rembert, Willy Yonas, Sara Dort, Manuel Calcagno, Nora Burgess, Lee Crosby and Neal D. Barnard. Frontiers in Nutrition. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fnut.2019.00141/full
Node Smith, ND, is a naturopathic physician in Humboldt, Saskatchewan and associate editor and continuing education director for NDNR. His mission is serving relationships that support the process of transformation, and that ultimately lead to healthier people, businesses and communities. His primary therapeutic tools include counselling, homeopathy, diet and the use of cold water combined with exercise. Node considers health to be a reflection of the relationships a person or a business has with themselves, with God and with those around them. In order to cure disease and to heal, these relationships must be specifically considered. Node has worked intimately with many groups and organizations within the naturopathic profession, and helped found the non-profit, Association for Naturopathic Revitalization (ANR), which works to promote and facilitate experiential education in vitalism.