Sally Errey, RNCP
The benefits of a plant-based diet help reduce the risk of cancer and heart disease and for general longevity. Research is now showing that some plant foods can also have powerful anti-inflammatory properties and consequently reduce the pain of rheumatoid arthritis.
I have been promoting the benefits of a plant-based diet for years to help reduce the risk of cancer and heart disease and for general longevity. Research is now showing that some plant foods can also have powerful anti-inflammatory properties and consequently reduce the pain of rheumatoid arthritis.
A study published in Rheumatology in 2001 showed that a gluten-free vegan diet (no animal products, including eggs or dairy and no wheat, barley, rye, or oats) can significantly improve symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis.
Rheumatoid arthritis, which affects one in every 100 Canadians according to the Arthritis Society of Canada (arthritis.ca), is categorized as an autoimmune disease. This means that it causes the human body’s immune system to attack its own tissues, to the detriment of cartilage and joints. Researchers are interested in finding alternatives to the nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) currently used to treat the disease, as their side effects can lead to peptic ulcers and gastric bleeding.
The Rheumatology study suggests that a strict vegan diet reduces inflammation by eliminating arachidonic acid, a natural fatty acid found in meats, yogourt, eggs, and cheese. A vegan diet also provides anti-inflammatory compounds found in plant foods.
Further, the study eliminated gluten, considered by some to trigger arthritis. The mechanisms of how reducing gluten benefits arthritis are still not understood, but gluten may be linked to allergies and the immune system response.
Those with rheumatoid arthritis may also experience decreased inflammation by following a Mediterranean diet, according to a study published in the Annals of Rheumatic Diseases in 2003. Half of the study participants consumed a Mediterranean diet consisting primarily of fruit, vegetables, and beans and containing less red meat and dairy products than the conventional Western diet that the other half of study participants followed. Those consuming the Mediterranean diet reported through questionnaires a significant 56 percent decrease in joint swelling, tenderness, and pain.
This month’s recipes showcase Mediterranean flavours. Rheumatoid arthritis sufferers will also benefit from increased zinc intake, essential fatty acids found in hemp nut seeds, flax, and borage oil, and natural anti-inflammatory foods such as ginger and turmeric.