Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) affects roughly 1% of the world's population. Common presentations include bilateral joint pain affecting the hands, wrists and knees, and long term effects often result in joint deformation. Genetic factors account for a portion of the risk, while the rest may be linked to environmental factors. Infectious diseases, tobacco smoking, and gut bacteria have all been considered to play a role in the development or progression of RA.
Medication is the main management strategy, but have unwanted side effects and are expensive. Several studies have shown a correlation between modifiable risk factors and improvement of symptoms. Excessive body weight and diets, that include animal products (eg. red meat and dairy), tend to impair RA management efforts and worsen symptoms, likely to be due to their pro-inflammatory symptoms. Conversely, diets rich in vegetables, fruits, and fibre have anti-inflammatory properties and help reduce pain and inflammation in those suffering with RA. Specifically, a 4-week low fat vegan diet has shown to significantly improve RA symptoms such as joint pain, swelling and limitation in function. Similarly, a 1-year intervention tested the effects of a 7-10 day fast, followed by 3.5 months of a gluten-free vegan diet and gradual adoption of a vegetarian diet for the remainder of the testing period. Marked improvements in several RA disease activity variables were observed after 1 month.
Although some of the trigger foods in RA patients are individualised, a vegan diet helps improve symptoms by eliminating many of these pro-inflammatory foods, with a view to improving the quality of life of RA sufferers.
Alwarth,J. et al. (2019). Nutrition interventions in rheumatoid arthritis: The potential use of plant-based diets. A review. Sec.Clinical Nutrition. 6. 00141.