Basket of fruits and vegetables

Eating plant-based foods may relieve the painful symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, according to a review of past research by a group of doctors who advocate for a meat-free diet. 

Investigators with the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine reviewed clinical trials and observational studies on diet and arthritis pain. They reported “strong and consistent evidence” that a plant-based diet can reduce inflammation and improve symptoms associated with the disease. Among their conclusions and findings:

  • Plant-based and high fiber diets reduce evidence of inflammation, which is linked to pain, when compared with diets higher in fats and animal products.
  • Plant-based diets specifically reduce rheumatoid arthritis pain and swelling. For example, one study of people with moderate-to-severe forms of the disease found significant improvements in morning stiffness, pain, joint tenderness, and joint swelling with a low-fat, vegan diet.
  • Plant-based diets are associated with lower body mass index scores. Excess body weight has been shown to increase the risk for developing rheumatoid arthritis. A weight-loss study showed that patients who lost more than 11 pounds of body weight were three times more likely to experience improvements in inflammation and pain.
  • Some studies suggest that the gut microbiome may play a key role in rheumatoid arthritis and inflammation. One study’s authors noted that high-fiber plant-based diets can alter the composition of gut bacteria and increase bacterial diversity.

“A plant-based diet comprised of fruits, vegetables, grains, and legumes may be tremendously helpful for those with rheumatoid arthritis,” says study co-author Hana Kahleova, M.D., Ph.D., director of clinical research for the Physicians Committee. “This study offers hope that with a simple menu change, joint pain, swelling, and other painful symptoms may improve or even disappear.”

The study was published in the journal Frontiers in Nutrition.