NYS Certified Nutritionist

Rheumatoid Arthritis Pain & Diet

Many years ago I became aware of the benefits dietary changes might offer to people with rheumatoid arthritis [RA], an auto-immune disease in which the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks its joints, making them swollen and painful. The suggested dietary change involved removing all animal products from an RA patient’s diet. I made a mental note, wondering if this information might be helpful in my private nutrition counseling practice.

As time went on, I was given the opportunity, more than once, to work with RA patients who were well cared for by skilled physicians, and supportive family members. Despite their excellent care, these patients still suffered from joint pain that interfered with their quality of life. Hoping dietary change might offer some relief, they turned to me. With permission from their physicians, I urged changing to a vegan diet…no eggs, no dairy products, no fish, no poultry, and no red [or white] meats or their fats.

The typical American diet is filled with foods, and hidden ingredients, that come from animal sources. My challenge was to take into account all the factors that influence how people make food choices: ethnicity, taste preferences and daily schedules, to help my clients welcome consuming a vegan diet. I taught them to make product substitutions that would result in delicious meals tasting similar to their usual selections, urging them to read ingredient labels to insure there would be no unintended consumption of animal products.

To my delight, more quickly than I could have hoped, my clients saw remarkable improvement in their symptoms, and I was honored to witness their flexibility , and creativity as they made beneficial dietary changes. Why did this improvement happen? The theory is that when we consume animal products, changes are made in our microbial populations living within our digestive system [our microbiome]. For people with RA, an intolerance to those microbes whose growth is encouraged by eating animal protein, triggers a response in the body that negatively affects joints, causing the inflammation, swelling, and pain that are hallmarks of rheumatoid arthritis. Once the animal products that encourage the growth of these microbes has been eliminated, the harmful microbes are also eliminated, resulting in a reduction of RA symptoms.

Not long ago, I noticed the report of a study, conducted by Dr. Neal Barnard, of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, whose findings concluded that RA subjects in the study, had dramatic improvements in the swelling and pain in their joints- once they were put on a vegan diet. As a side benefit, the subjects on the vegan diet lost an average of 14 pounds each. Of course, losing unwanted weight, reduces stress on joints, which lessens the level of pain from those tender areas of the body.

I hope the evidence from both the study, above, and my own experience with RA patients, is encouraging news for many people. Getting advice for this dietary change from a certified dietician/nutritionist, ensures making any dietary transition safer, and smoother. Avoiding nutritional deficiencies is the key.

Dateline: Albany County, Capital Region, New York State