A healthy immune system fights germs, budding cancers, and other harmful threats. Autoimmune diseases develop when our immune system mistakenly attacks our own healthy tissue. This may lead to inflammation and damage to joints, nerves, skin, tissues, muscles, and other organs.
Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic, systemic autoimmune disease characterized by persistent pain and stiffness, along with progressive joint destruction, particularly in the hands and feet, leading to crippling deformities. How might we prevent and treat it?
In a famous 13-month-long randomized controlled trial of plant-based diets for rheumatoid arthritis, patients were put on a vegan diet for three and a half months, then switched to an egg-free lacto-vegetarian diet for the remainder of the study. Compared to the control group, who didn’t change their diet at all, the plant-based group had a significant improvement in morning stiffness within the first month, halving the number of hours they suffered joint stiffness. Pain dropped from five out of ten down to less than three out of ten. The plant-based group also reported subjectively feeling better and experiencing significant improvement in their grip strength, fewer tender joints, less tenderness per joint, and less swelling, with the added benefit of losing about 13 pounds. They also had a drop in inflammatory markers in their blood. Why? One way plant-based diets may help is by decreasing exposure to an inflammatory compound found in animal products.
Arthritis may also be triggered by Yersinia bacteria, which reportedly sickens nearly 100,000 Americans yearly. In every outbreak for which a source has been found, the culprit appears to be contaminated pork. Studies have found that within a year of contracting Yersinia food poisoning, victims appear 47 times more likely to come down with autoimmune arthritis, and the bacteria may also play a role in triggering an autoimmune thyroid condition known as Graves’ disease.
Not only may plant-based diets improve or even eliminate arthritis symptoms, but specific plant foods may provide some relief. For example, açai berries showed modest benefit for osteoarthritis sufferers. Tart cherries appear to be so anti-inflammatory that they can be used to treat a painful type of arthritis called gout. Delicious dietary treatments are much welcomed, as some gout drugs can cost $2,000 a dose, carry no clear-cut distinction between nontoxic, toxic, and lethal doses, or can cause a rare life-threatening side effect in which your skin detaches from your body.
Image Credit: ttsz / Thinkstock. This image has been modified.
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