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A plant-based diet may improve rheumatoid arthritis symptoms

One person hands another a bunch of radishes.

Oct. 3, 2019—A plant-based diet may be just what the doctor ordered for people with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). A new review of clinical trials and other studies found that this eating style may alleviate painful symptoms associated with RA.

Food that fights inflammation

With RA, the immune system attacks the body instead of protecting it. This can result in swelling and pain around the joints. Over time, cartilage and bones can be damaged, and joints can become loose or immobile.

So what do fruits, vegetables, grains and legumes have to do with RA? Researchers found strong and consistent evidence that healthy plant foods can reduce inflammation—and improve RA symptoms.

There are four ways plant-based fare may help. It may:

  • Reduce inflammation. The swelling and pain people experience with RA is caused by inflammation of joint tissue. A clinical trial found that people who ate a plant-based diet for two months saw less inflammation than people eating diets higher in fat and animal products.
  • Ease RA symptoms. A study of people with moderate-to-severe RA found that just four weeks on a low-fat vegan diet was tied to significant improvement of symptoms like stiffness, pain, tenderness and swelling.
  • Promote a healthier weight.
  • Research shows that extra weight increases the likelihood of RA. And in people who already have RA, it lowers the chances of remission. That's when treatment is so successful someone experiences few or no symptoms.
  • Promote healthy gut bacteria. Some studies suggest these bacteria may play a role in RA. A high-fiber plant diet may increase the gut's bacterial diversity—which is often lacking in people with RA.

The review was published in Frontiers in Nutrition.

Put a plan in action

A written treatment plan can help you take steps to feel better. Work with your doctor to develop a plan for managing your RA.

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