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Rheumatoid Arthritis and the Consumption of Animal Products

If you were diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) you might feel like you were dealt a bad hand. Symptoms can seem to start overnight which may lead you to wonder, “How is it that I was pain-free one day and in excruciating pain the next?”


Genetic factors can predispose you to developing RA, but still many doctors say they don’t know exactly what causes it. Interestingly, recent studies show that there may be a link between rheumatoid arthritis and diet (Alwarith, 2019). This study (linked below) shows that eating a vegan diet can reduce symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis and that a high-fat diet can worsen inflammation, increasing RA symptoms. Another interesting finding is that people who eat more red meat are more likely to develop arthritis symptoms.


Another study, highlighted by Dr. Michael Greger from NutritionFacts.org (linked below), discusses the possibility of the immune system confusing dietary cartilage for your own cartilage. The immune system is designed to protect you by identifying and attacking foreign invaders. Therefore, if your immune system releases antibodies designed to break down the cartilage that you ate, from a chicken product let's say, those antibodies may mistakenly attack your own cartilage too (Greger, 2010). This may shed some light on an explanation that many RA and autoimmune patients are given; the immune system is “attacking the body's own tissues." However, the research discussed by Dr. Michael Greger could indicate that our body is actually trying to attack a foreign invader, not just its own tissues. In other words, the body's tissues may simply get caught in the crossfire.


Prior to my diagnosis, like many people in the United States, I consumed animal products daily. Especially from age 16 to 20 I ate a lot of meat, dairy, and bread. I drank, on average 20, ounces of milk a day. Friends even teased me for always ordering milk at restaurants. I exercised but I did not know how to eat a healthy, balanced diet. I figured, "If it's not a sugary dessert or an enormous portion, I should be ok." However, knowing what I know now, I often wonder if my body became overwhelmed and essentially said, "enough!"


Like many other autoimmune patients, I will probably never completely know what led me to developing my condition. However, I do know that after about a year of changing my diet my RA went into full remission. Also, according to each of the above studies, many patients reported feeling a decline in pain after implementing dietary changes.


The video below, hosted by Dr. Neal Barnard, tells the story of Irene who was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis but eliminated her symptoms by going vegan (Start from 2:15). Dr. Barnard says, "According to research studies, about half of people who make diet changes have a significant improvement in their arthritis, or their arthritis just simply goes away."




As frustrating as it is to live with RA, knowing a possible cause for why you developed it can be comforting. Having additional options to improve your well-being can help you feel in control of your own body and health. It may be as simple as changing your diet to get relief. Like Irene from the video, many people are presented with the option of taking prednisone or methotrexate for the rest of their lives. The decision to take medication is a personal decision that only you and your doctor can determine. However, improving your diet can have powerful results. A nutritionist, who can guide you through this process, can be a great addition to your joint support healthcare team.


Always seek assistance from a medical professional before altering your RA treatment plan. Naturopathic doctors are also fantastic additions to our healthcare team. Naturopaths are FDA-approved medical doctors who specialize in holistic medicine and can help integrate holistic therapies to your RA treatment plan. You can search for a naturopathic doctor in your area by visiting the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians at https://naturopathic.org/search/custom.asp?id=5613.


I encourage you to look over the linked articles in their entirety so that you can make an informed decision about your own health.


References:

Alwarith, J., Kahleova, H., Rembert, E., Yonas, W., Dort, S., Calcagno, M., Burgess, N., Crosby, L., & Barnard, N. D. (2019). Nutrition Interventions in Rheumatoid Arthritis: The Potential Use of Plant-Based Diets. A Review. Frontiers in nutrition, 6, 141. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnut.2019.00141


Greger, M. (2010). Diet and rheumatoid arthritis. NutritionFacts.org. https://nutritionfacts.org/video/diet-rheumatoid-arthritis/


American Association of Naturopathic Physicians. (2020). Find an ND. Naturopathic.org. https://naturopathic.org/search/custom.asp?id=5613


Barnard, N. [Doddy Nugroho]. (2017, May 6). Kickstart your health, Dr. Neal Barnard part 3: alzheimer's, arthritis, food craving. [Video]. YouTube. https://youtu.be/Sez-YTuLfpM.

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