Struggling with arthritis symptoms or joint pain? Researchers from the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) just released a study that suggests that a low-fat vegan diet could offer significant relief. The study, published in The American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine, followed the diets of 44 adults suffering from rheumatoid arthritis to see how a plant-based diet could help minimize symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis.

Participants were split into two groups for 16-weeks. One group adopted a vegan diet for four weeks. The diet involved eliminating meat and dairy and adding in more plant-based foods. The second group ate a diet full of meat and dairy with no restrictions and took a placebo. Halfway through the study, the two groups switched diets.

A low-fat vegan diet helped reduce arthritis symptoms

The results showed that the low-fat vegan diet significantly lowered arthritis pain. During the vegan phase, the participants reported pain scores 20 percent lower than during the meat and dairy phase. They said they could perceive their symptoms "substantially improving" while on the vegan diet.

At the start of the study, participants were asked to use a visual analog scale to rate the pain in their joints on a scale from 0 being “no pain” to 10 being “pain as bad as it could possibly be.” Each participant’s Disease Activity Score-28 (DAS28) was also calculated based on tender joints, swollen joints, and C-reactive protein measures in their blood, which indicate inflammation in the body. When arthritis acts up, DAS28 increases as the severity of the individual's arthritis.

Participants reported that while they were eating vegan they experienced reduced swelling of joints by a significant amount. In contrast, when the participants were eating meat and dairy, they saw the swelling in their joints felt worse. This data suggests the vegan diet could provide practical relief to those living with rheumatoid arthritis, by reducing inflamed joints by 53 percent.

“A plant-based diet could be the prescription to alleviate joint pain for millions of people suffering from rheumatoid arthritis,” says Neal Barnard, MD, lead author of the study and president of the Physicians Committee. “And all of the side effects, including weight loss and lower cholesterol, are only beneficial.”

Benefits of a plant-based diet

During the study, the research team also conducted a subanalysis that considered the medication increases and decreases in the patients. The numbers still revealed that the vegan phase correlated with lower self-reported pain values. The study also found that the vegan phase led to several other health benefits including decreased LDL and HDL cholesterol levels. The participants also experienced an average 14-pound weight loss. For reference, the placebo phase recorded a two-pound average weight gain.

This new study joins a growing portfolio of vegan-based arthritis research. In 2018, a study conducted by the University of Florida found discovered a link between bacteria found in cows and higher risks of rheumatoid arthritis. The study found that 40 percent of its participants with arthritis also had exposure to the bacteria. The researchers concluded that the bacteria spread through meat and dairy consumption.

A key symptom of rheumatoid arthritis is increased inflammation of the joints. Beyond this study, several experts have revealed that plant-based foods can help cut down on inflammation levels while also boosting your immune system. A recent report emphasized that people should avoid inflammation-causing foods including meat, dairy, and added sugar in favor of healthier, plant-based alternatives.

Lower your disease risk by eatng plant-based

Reducing joint pain is one of many positive health benefits of adopting a plant-based diet. A recent study claims that the health benefits could be much more substantial, asserting that people who eat plant-based could prolong their life expectancy by 10 years or even more. The study, from PLOS Medicine Journal, claims that a combination of healthy habits that prioritizes plant-based eating could add years to your life, cutting down disease risk factors and maintaining healthy nutrient levels.

Shifting to a more plant-based diet as soon as possible is important. Another study found that a plant-based diet between the ages of 18 and 30 could lower your risk of heart disease nearly 30 years later. The research – which took 30 years to complete – concluded that people who adopted a plant-based diet earlier in life and retained healthy eating habits showed far less risk of heart-related illnesses.

For the latest plant-based studies and updates, check out The Beet's news articles. 

Top 10 Sources of Plant-Based Protein According to a Nutritionist