Making the switch to a low-fat vegan diet may ease arthritis symptoms, according to findings of a new study (Am J Lifestyle Med. 2022 Apr. DOI: 10.1177/15598276221081819).
Plant-based diets have seen a surge in popularity in recent years, underlined by steep growth of the plant-based food and beverage market. While many consumers choose vegan options for their appeal to sustainability, research shows plant-based diets may have powerful benefits for health.
The new study, published in the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine, set out to determine the effects of a low-fat vegan diet on joint pain and disease severity in people with rheumatoid arthritis (RA).
For the study, 44 adults previously diagnosed with RA were randomly assigned to a diet phase or supplement phase (placebo) for 16 weeks. For the diet phase, participants followed a vegan diet for four weeks, eliminated additional foods for three weeks, and then reintroduced the eliminated foods individually over nine weeks. After a four-week washout period, participants switched to the opposite phase.
Disease severity was measured using the Disease Activity Score-28 (DAS28), a scoring system for evaluating disease activity of RA based on 28 joints.
DAS28 decreased 2 points on average during the vegan phase of the study compared to a decrease of 0.3 points in the supplement phase, indicating a greater reduction in joint pain among those following a vegan diet. Similarly, the average number of swollen joints decreased from 7.0 to 3.3 in the diet phase, and increased from 4.7 to 5 in the supplement phase.
The vegan diet also led to greater decreases in DAS28 when individuals who increased medications during the study or made no medication changes were eliminated.
“We conclude that the dietary intervention was associated with symptomatic improvements,” researchers wrote.
In addition to reductions in pain and swelling, participants lost an average of 14 pounds when following the vegan diet, compared to gains of about 2 pounds during the supplement phase. The vegan diet also led to greater reductions in total, LDL (low-density lipoprotein) and HDL (high-density lipoprotein) cholesterol.
Explore the plant-based market
The plant-based revolution is here. Spurred by consumer interest in sustainability, animal welfare and personal health, U.S. retail sales of plant-based foods grew a whopping 27% to reach $7 billion in 2020. Learn more about the plant-based food and beverage market, including how formulators are using novel formats and ingredients to keep up with demand, in the “Power to the plants” digital magazine.
Rachel Adams joined Informa’s Health & Nutrition Network in 2013. Her career in the natural products industry started with a food and beverage focus before transitioning into her role as managing editor of Natural Products INSIDER, where she covered the dietary supplement industry. Adams left Informa Markets in 2019.