Medical researchers from George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences have demonstrated in a latest study that adopting a plant-based diet could well relieve the swollen joints and pain of rheumatoid arthritis (RA).
Rheumatoid Arthritis is autoimmune disease caused by the inflammation of the joints causing a cluster of joint pains. It affects millions of people worldwide with rates of about 2.7 percent of the world population being affected.Both genetic predisposition and lifestyle factors play an important role in its etiology. Lifestyle factors includes like infections, diet, gut microbiome and physical activity.
Diet plays a critical role in RA and a possible theory is that dietary factors may reduce the strength of the intestinal barrier which allows food molecules to bacteria to breach the defenses and enter the blood stream. This produces an inflammatory response. Another manner by which diet affects RA is the known fact that being overweight reduces the response of the body to RA medications and thus the chances of the disease becoming more aggressive. As such dietary modification could be important in managing RA.
A large study undertaken by doctors from George Washington University School of Medicine has concluded that a diet that primarily includes plants reduces the symptoms significantly and consistently.
From the study conducted, when individuals were assigned to a plant-based diet for sixty days, their scores for inflammation were lower compared to those who were eating more fat, dairy and animal products. One obvious reason is the ease with which dietary fat targets (≤30% energy from fat) can be achieved on a plant-based diet, since animal foods are rich in fat. Blood tests show higher levels of chemicals that are produced in inflammation, like C-reactive protein (CRP) and TNF-α, in high-fat diets or processed meat diets, but these are lower on diets rich in plant-based fiber-containing diets.
Reduced Pain And Swelling With RA
Another sub-study randomly assigned individuals with RA of moderate to severe intensity to a low-fat vegan diet, and in just one month, the results showed that they enjoyed a significant lessening of morning stiffness, pain, tenderness and swelling in the joints. The authors of the trial also suggested that the low fat and high fiber content of a diet based primarily on plants leads to reduced pain and swelling, along with reduced CRP and inflammation.
Individuals who are overweight are at increased risk for RA and are less likely to go into remission. The presence of too much fat inside cells causes higher rates of inflammation. The extra weight on the weight-bearing joints also worsens the inflammation in these sites. On the other hand, a sub-study showed that among RA patients, a body weight loss of over 4 kg pushed up the chances of symptomatic improvement by three times or more, compared to those who lost less than this. People on plant-based diets are much more likely to lose weight. Another study showed a 55% risk of RA by adult age if the individual was overweight by age 18 years. Thus, weight loss could stabilize hormonal and fat-related disruptions of immune function. Weight loss is effectively achieved on plant-based diets.
Healthy And Active Gut Microbiome
Gut microbial ecosystem in the human body play a critical role in health and disease. It is also responsive to significant changes in the composition of the diet, showing altered numbers of different species as the proportion of plant-based and animal-based foods changes. A diet which is rich in plants and fiber leads to a higher proportion of certain species, and also increases the overall number of species called “diversity”. This is often low in individuals with RA, and the change may favor a reduction in RA and inflammation. On the other hand, dietary fiber is broken down by gut microbes to yield many beneficial products, including short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) which help maintain the health of intestinal cells. Along with atopy, food sensitivities to both plant and animal food antigens are problematic in RA patients, and eliminating these in favor of elemental diets has been shown to produce a marked favorable change which disappears once normal diet is resumed.
“This collective study offers hope that with a simple dietary change, joint pain, swelling, and other
discomfortable and painful symptoms may improve or even disappear. A plant-based diet comprised of fresh fruits, vegetables, grains, and legumes and elimination of processed foods, animal meat, animal fats and dairy products may be extremely helpful for those with rheumatoid arthritis. Plants diets can also help in other diseases and symptoms as well. ”commented Dr Hana Kahleova, lead researcher in a phone interview with Thailand Medical News.
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