plant-based diet for rheumatoid arthritis

Researchers recently reviewed the benefits of a plant-based diet for rheumatoid arthritis sufferers.

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease that affects up to one percent of the world’s population, potentially 75 million people. The cause of RA is unknown, but it is thought to be a combination of genetics, environment, and chance. Rheumatoid arthritis is marked by inflammation and pain in the hands, wrists, and knees. Without treatment, RA can eventually lead to permanent joint damage.

Doctors do not yet understand completely how rheumatoid arthritis develops. It is marked by swelling in the synovial lining between joints. RA has been linked with tobacco smoking, gut bacteria, and nutrition. Treatment is usually prescription drugs. The downside of treatment is the cost and side effects of those medications.

Researchers with the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine were interested in the dietary aspect of rheumatoid arthritis and whether certain diets could cause it to go into remission. They performed a review of investigational studies and clinical trials to determine if there were any trends in diet-related treatments.

After their analysis, the researchers determined there are many benefits of a plant-based diet for rheumatoid arthritis.

Low-fat, plant-based diets decrease the amount of inflammation seen in patients with rheumatoid arthritis. This is believed to be due to the elimination of dairy and red meat, which are among the leading contributors to fat in the diet. These diets decrease the amount of C-reactive protein in the body, which is one of the main contributors to inflammation. Studies have also found that diets high in fat and dairy products increase the amount of C-reactive protein and increase the amounts of inflammation.

More study is needed to map biomarkers associated with inflammation to determine what specific changes occur in the body when eating a plant-based diet for rheumatoid arthritis.

Plant-based diets help with weight loss. Because increased weight causes more pressure and inflammation of already painful joints, any weight loss is beneficial to individuals with rheumatoid arthritis. Losing weight also decreases the risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis.

Another benefit of a plant-based diet for rheumatoid arthritis is less pain and fewer RA symptoms. A 2015 study showed that a vegan diet improved RA symptoms and decreased inflammation-causing proteins in the body. More research is needed to understand how the low-fat, high-fiber diet decreases inflammation.

Plant-based diets also decrease the amount of fatty acids consumed. Fatty acids have been linked with increased inflammation and cellular degeneration in the body. A moderate decrease in fatty acids in the diet increases anti-inflammatory chemicals. Because the main sources of fatty acid in the western diet are from dairy, red meat, and processed foods, the plant-based diet helps to eliminate these sources and can improve the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis.

Rheumatoid arthritis has been linked to poor gut microbiome diversity and food allergies. A 2009 study showed that high-fiber, low-fat diets, such as the plant-based diet for rheumatoid arthritis, led to weight loss and lower inflammation-causing proteins. High-fiber diets can increase gut microbiome diversity and improve the symptoms of RA.

While research has been performed on using diet as a treatment for rheumatoid arthritis, it is hard to isolate allergy-causing foods because they are specific to the individual. However, in one study, 85% of RA patients had improved symptoms when they eliminated some of the most common food allergens, such as corn and wheat. It is clear there are multiple benefits of a plant-based diet for rheumatoid arthritis sufferers.

Written by Rebecca K. Blankenship, B.Sc.


  1. Alwarith J, Kahleova H, Rembert E et al. Nutrition Interventions in Rheumatoid Arthritis: The Potential Use of Plant-Based Diets. A Review. Front Nutr. 2019;6. doi:10.3389/fnut.2019.00141
  2. Gibofsky A. Epidemiology, pathophysiology, and diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis: A Synopsis. Am J Manag Care. 2014;20(Suppl. 7):S128-35.

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