Can a vegan diet relieve arthritis pain?
If your joints ache due to rheumatoid arthritis (RA), chances are you’ve tried every medication and trick in the book. But have you considered changing what you eat?
RA is a progressive disease that currently has no cure. Along with diabetes, heart disease and other major diseases, it has been linked to chronic inflammation. RA is an autoimmune disorder in which the body’s immune system attacks its joints and, sometimes, organs.
A novel research approach
With a new study, a D.C. nonprofit will examine the connection between diet and RA pain. The randomized trial will assess how nutritional changes in people diagnosed with RA affect their pain — and even their mood.
The trial is “a novel idea” for the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, a D.C.-based nonprofit research and advocacy organization that has published several studies on plant-based diets, said Dr. Hana Kahleova, its director of clinical research.
“It’s based on the experience of our past research study participants. Some were not only struggling with their weight, but they also had arthritis and noticed they had less joint pain during their [vegan-diet] trial,” Kahleova said.
During the 36-week study, participants will be randomly assigned either to a group that will take pill-based supplements of vitamin E or omega-3 oil, or to a group that will begin eating a plant-based vegan diet. After four months, participants will switch groups.
The vegan group will avoid dairy, meat and eggs for 16 weeks. After first meeting with a registered dietician, they will attend one-hour nutrition classes on Wednesday evenings at the nonprofit’s office, 5100 Wisconsin Ave. NW (on Metro’s Red Line). Onsite parking will be validated for those who wish to drive.
Classes offer support
The classes, which will begin in July, will offer tips, recipes, food demonstrations and a grocery store tour. They’ll also function as a support group so that people new to a vegan diet can compare notes and share favorite foods.
“This gives them some social support. Especially in the first couple of weeks [of a new diet], it’s so crucial to give them specific advice,” Kahleova said.
Study organizers will administer surveys before and after the treatments, including a modified health assessment questionnaire, a visual analog scale for pain, and a disease activity score scale.
“Rheumatoid Arthritis is a painful condition that can be hard to treat through medicines alone,” said Neal Barnard, the nonprofit’s founder, in an email. “Previous studies have suggested that low-fat, vegetarian diets and certain nutritional supplements can help reduce pain and the need for pain medications for some people. This study will add to the evidence.”
To volunteer for the study or learn more, call (855) 788-3918 or visit pcrm.org/study.