In a major breakthrough, a team of researchers from the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences and the non-profit health organization Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) looked at recent studies that assessed the impact of diet on the risk of rheumatoid arthritis.
The group found that certain foods, such as red meat, milk and milk products, could exacerbate the condition. In contrast, diets rich in plant-based foods like fruits, grains and legumes help reduce pain and inflammation in rheumatoid arthritis patients.
In all, these findings suggest that a simple menu change could help patients better manage their disease, said co-author and PCRM clinical research director Hana Kahleova. Sticking to a plant-based diet could also keep the disease in remission for long periods. Their findings appeared online in the journal Frontiers in Nutrition.
Numerous studies indicate that plant-based diets could help decrease the risk of chronic autoimmune conditions like rheumatoid arthritis. In patients, adopting a plant-based diet could help in better management of the disease for the long-term.
There are a number of possible mechanisms behind these beneficial effects. For instance, results of randomized clinical trials (RCT) indicate that a plant-based diet could reduce total cholesterol and induce weight loss better than conventional calorie-restricted diets.
Having high cholesterol and being obese could lead to the onset of rheumatoid arthritis or exacerbate joint pain and inflammation in patients. Therefore, these findings suggest that a plant-based diet decreases the risk and eases the effects of rheumatoid arthritis thanks to its influence on weight and total cholesterol.
Furthermore, several observational studies found strong and consistent evidence that a plant-based diet can reduce inflammation linked to rheumatoid arthritis. In contrast, semi-vegetarian or omnivorous diets that still contained meat and animal products triggered inflammation in patients.
In particular, one RCT found that a gluten-free vegan diet reduced the amount of a pro-inflammatory antibody, called immunoglobulin G (IgG), in rheumatoid arthritis patients. Patients typically have higher than appropriate amounts of IgG in their blood and lymph fluid.
Moreover, another RCT found that a three-month Mediterranean dietary intervention improved rheumatoid arthritis symptoms. A Mediterranean diet is rich in monounsaturated fats that protect against inflammation and oxidative stress. Copious amounts of these fats can be found in plant-based foods like nuts and avocados.
In addition, the researchers found that the state of one's gut health, which depends on diet and nutrition, could also influence the onset and progression of rheumatoid arthritis. For instance, a permeable intestinal barrier, a marker of poor gut health, allows for bacteria and other microbes to enter the bloodstream.
These harmful agents could then trigger inflammation and joint pain in rheumatoid arthritis patients. Research shows that a plant-based diet modulates the gut microbiome for better gut health. In turn, this leads to less intestinal inflammation, which some studies suggest is connected to joint inflammation.
The researchers attribute these effects to the fibers in many plant-based foods. Fiber feeds the beneficial bacteria in the gut, thus making it less prone to infection and inflammation. Enzymes and amino acids in plant-based foods also increase bacterial diversity in the gut, which rheumatoid arthritis patients often lack.
Taken together, these studies provide empirical evidence that a plant-based diet comprised of fruits, vegetables, grains and legumes could be incredibly beneficial for people with rheumatoid arthritis. (Related: 14 Natural treatments for rheumatoid arthritis.)
Read more articles about the health benefits of plant-based diets at FoodIsMedicine.com.