Rheumatoid arthritis is the type of arthritis in which the body’s immune system attacks the synovial tissue (produces lubricating substances) of the joints and degrades the bones.
It results in inflammation, redness, swelling, pain, morning stiffness, and immobility of the joints. This disease commonly affects the joints of wrist, fingers, elbows, knees, and ankles
Rheumatoid arthritis affects other organs such as lungs, eyes, or mouth as well and the occurrence of this disease may give rise to complications like heart risk, muscle loss, fatigue, depression, etc.
The treatment of rheumatoid arthritis involves the use of medications, mainly anti-inflammatory drugs, antirheumatic drugs, and corticosteroids.
Sometimes, surgical intervention may be required.
The conventional treatment, however, may not be a proper solution to this problem as these come with several side effects.
Moreover, the effectiveness of these may reduce over time.
Therefore, lifestyle changes are crucial to achieving a long-term solution to the problem, i.e. rheumatoid arthritis.
Diet is a very important aspect of such a lifestyle change and can be highly useful in the treatment of this disease.
A type of diet that has made a special mark concerning this is the Vegan diet.
What is the Vegan Diet?
A Vegan diet is a strictly a vegetarian diet, i. e. it includes only plants and plant-derived product.
In addition, meat, poultry, fish, and eggs other animal-based products such as dairy products and honey are excluded from this diet.
The Vegan diet includes fresh vegetables, fruits, lentils, cereals, nuts, and plant-based products like tofu, soymilk, oil, etc.
This diet is highly nutritious and rich in carbohydrates, proteins, dietary fibers, vitamins (A, B, C, E, & K) and minerals (Na, K, P, S, Zn, I, Mg, etc.) and low in fats.
A vegan diet can be low in vitamin B12, Ca, & essential fatty acids and hence should ensure the consumption of certain Vegan products that may be rich in these.
The nutrient profile of the Vegan diet enables it with high antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-obesity, antidiabetes, anticancer, and many other such properties.
These properties have therapeutic benefits in many health problems such as diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular diseases, neurological disorders, and cancer.
3 Proven Benefits of Vegan diet in Rheumatoid Arthritis
A Vegan diet can help in Arthritis in several ways. A vegan diet can alleviate rheumatoid arthritis symptoms and can help regulate immunity and inflammation in rheumatoid arthritis. A vegan diet can protect from heart risks in rheumatoid arthritis. Thus, a Vegan diet has great potential in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis. It can suppress disease activity and relieve the symptoms. It can also be helpful in protecting from the complications of this disease.
Let's understand these benefits in some more detail below.
1. A vegan diet can alleviate rheumatoid arthritis symptoms
Rheumatoid arthritis is characterized by pain, swelling, tenderness, and stiffness (especially in the morning) in the joints.
These symptoms make the patient very uncomfortable and also interfere with regular activities.
Therefore, tackling the symptoms of this disease is a very important aspect of the treatment.
Vegan and vegetarian diets have been found to be a useful tool for the improvement of rheumatoid arthritis symptoms.
In rheumatoid arthritis, a low-fat Vegan diet for a month was able to reduce the symptoms of the disease significantly.
In a study, an uncooked Vegan diet (high in fibre and chlorophyll) rich in lactobacilli (good bacteria found in fermented products) showed an improvement in the symptoms of pain and morning stiffness.
The vegetarian based diets show a significant reduction in the joint pain, joint swelling, tenderness, and duration of morning stiffness.
The grip strength is also seen to improve in rheumatoid arthritis.
What does it mean? It means following a Vegan diet can help to alleviate the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. Different types of vegan diet (rich in fiber, lactobacilli, and low in fat) can improve various symptoms of this disease (pain, swelling, tenderness, morning stiffness, and grip strength) significantly.
2. A vegan diet can regulate immunity and inflammation in rheumatoid arthritis
Rheumatoid arthritis is a result of inflammation caused by an immune system attack.
It is monitored on the basis of various disease parameters (inflammatory and immunological) that are a reflection of the extent of the disease activity or joint damage.
These parameters include the levels of C-reactive protein (a marker of inflammation), erythrocyte sedimentation rate (a measurement of inflammation), immunoglobulins (an indication of the immune response), white blood count (immune activity marker), etc.
A Vegan diet has been found to have an influence on many of these parameters of rheumatoid arthritis.
Consumption of vegetarian diet for a month has shown positive effects on the levels of C-reactive proteins, erythrocyte sedimentation rate, and white blood cell count in the rheumatoid arthritis patients.8
A very low-fat Vegan diet taken for a month could decrease the C-reactive protein levels and reduce the disease activity in the rheumatoid arthritis patients.6
In rheumatoid arthritis, gluten-free Vegan diet has been found to be successful in reducing the immune reactivity in the subjects.
This diet can decrease the levels of immunoglobulins and thus, improve the disease activity.
In a study involving rheumatoid arthritis, an intervention of a low-calorie Vegan diet has shown a significant decrease in the white blood cell count and positive influence other such parameters that govern the disease activity.
What does it mean? It means the consumption of Vegan diet can suppress various inflammatory and immunological disease parameters in rheumatoid arthritis. It can help to reduce the disease activity.
3. Vegan diet can protect from heart risks in rheumatoid arthritis
The risk of developing heart problems is very high in rheumatoid arthritis.
The inflammation caused by the immune response in the joints progresses to affect the endothelial function (the function of the inner lining of blood vessels) in the body.
The disruption of the endothelial function further results in atherosclerosis, i.e. the build-up of plaque in the blood vessels or arteries and thus, increases the risk of cardiovascular disorders.
The vegan diet is known to have cardioprotective (heart-protective) benefits.3
The Vegan diet exhibits cardioprotective potentials by its effect on the lipid profile of the body. It lowers the cholesterols and low-density lipoproteins (LDLs) and thus, prevents atherosclerosis.
Plant-based diets lower the inflammation through the anti-inflammatory action of the polyphenols found in different fruits and vegetables.
It helps in preventing atherosclerosis and reducing the risk of heart diseases like coronary artery disease.
In rheumatoid arthritis, gluten-free Vegan diet has an anti-inflammatory effect and has been found to decrease the LDL (bad cholesterol) levels and their oxidation to prevent atherosclerotic conditions.
Moreover, this diet also increases the production of natural antibodies that can prevent atherosclerosis in the body.
What does it mean? It means the intake of Vegan diet can protect the rheumatoid arthritis patients from heart risks. The anti-inflammatory activity of the polyphenols present in Vegan diet components (fruits, vegetables, etc.) can improve the lipid profile in them and prevent the atherosclerotic condition. It is helpful in the prevention of various heart diseases.
Frequency of Vegan diet in Rheumatoid Arthritis
There are no specifications outlined for the frequency of the consumption of the Vegan diet in rheumatoid arthritis.
However, several studies conducted for a month to over a year have found significant benefits of this diet in various aspect of rheumatoid arthritis.
The Vegan diet, thus, can be consumed on a regular basis for a long time by rheumatoid arthritis patients.
There is a huge variety of Vegan diet.
Different types of fruits, vegetables, nuts, pulses, cereals, and other plant-based products such as olive oil, soymilk, etc. can be included in each meal of the day.
Juice of different raw vegetables and fruits should be consumed regularly. Low-calorie and high-fibre diets have additional benefits in rheumatoid arthritis.
Numerous kinds of dishes which are both healthy and delicious can be made from the options available in the Vegan diet.
If you are confused about how to start Vegan cooking, here are some Popular Books on Vegan Diet & Recipes on Amazon:
- Vegan Cookbook for Beginners: The Essential Vegan Cookbook To Get Started
- Forks Over Knives - The Cookbook: Over 300 Recipes for Plant-Based Eating All Through the Year
- The Homemade Vegan Pantry: The Art of Making Your Own Staples
However, the Vegan diet followers should ensure the sufficient intake of nutrients like vitamin B12, essential fatty acids, and Calcium which can be in low amounts in this diet.
It can be resolved either by adding Vegan or non-Vegan food rich in these or by taking their supplements.
Precautions with a Vegan diet
A Vegan diet is considered to be very safe for regular consumption.
However, taking some precautions can help in the avoidance of an adverse situation and enhance the benefits of this diet.
Check for allergies
Since the Vegan diet includes an enormous range of food products, people prone to food allergy should take care of.
It is important to identify the food products that can cause allergy and exclude them in the diet.
Look for protein deficiency
Plant-based diets can be low in protein if enough protein-rich food is not taken regularly.
To avoid protein deficiency in the body, protein-rich Vegan food like soybeans, sprouts, peanuts, etc. should be a part of the regular diet.
A health practitioner or a dietician must be consulted before taking up the Vegan diet.
The consultation of a health practitioner or a dietician is necessary prior following the Vegan diet so that balanced nutrition can be obtained from it.
Moreover, it can also be useful in identifying the body requirements so that things to be included or excluded from the diet can be identified.
The inclusion of Vegan diet as a lifestyle change in rheumatoid arthritis can be great therapeutic benefits.
This diet can be highly useful in the management of this disease and the prevention of some of its complications.
The Vegan diet can alleviate the symptoms (pain, swelling, tenderness, and stiffness) of rheumatoid arthritis.
The anti-inflammatory effects of this diet can suppress the inflammatory and immunological parameters that govern the activity of this disease.
Moreover, the Vegan diet is very good for heart health as well.
It can prevent the development of heart diseases in rheumatoid arthritis by preventing the process of atherosclerosis (plaque deposition in the arteries and vessels).
In conclusion, following the Vegan diet in addition to the conventional treatment can have great positive implications in rheumatoid arthritis treatment and management.