Low-Fat Vegan Diets Can Alleviate Arthritis Symptoms, New Study Suggests

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A new study has released evidence that following a vegan diet can help ease arthritis symptoms. Specifically, a low-fat and whole-food plant-based reduces pain and lessens joint swelling. The study claims that pain was reduced by up to 53 percent in the 44 adults observed during the research project.

Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) conducted the study. It published its findings in the scientific journal American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine. All study participants were confirmed as suffering from rheumatoid arthritis and were asked to identify the level of pain they experienced prior to the research beginning. This was used as a baseline for findings.

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Understanding existing arthritis pain

Pain levels of participants were identified using the visual analogue scale (VAS) and Disease Activity Score-28 (DAS28). The latter is specifically used to ascertain the seriousness of arthritis cases. It calculates pain levels by identifying swollen and tender joints, plus C-reactive protein values. The latter flag inflammation points throughout the body, a chief indicator of arthritis. The higher the DAS28 score, the more severe the case of rheumatoid arthritis. 

Studies conducted prior to the PCRM investigation have identified links between meat consumption, or lack thereof, and arthritic symptoms. Meat-heavy ketogenic and paleo diets have been specifically observed as exacerbating pain levels.

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Vegan food as a cure for arthritis

To assess the impact of a vegan diet on arthritis symptoms, participants were split into two groups. One was given a prescribed vegan diet to follow for four weeks. This included the systematic exclusion of certain foods, which were reintroduced slowly. The other group was unrestricted in terms of food but was expected to take one supplied capsule a day. This was a placebo that had zero effect on study findings. The groups switched diets during the study.

It was observed that during the vegan diet phase, participants’ DAS28 scores dropped by an average of two points. VAS scores improved ‘significantly’. Average swollen joint numbers dropped during the vegan spell, from seven to 3.3. This was mirrored by an increase when not following a plant-based diet. Average numbers increased from 4.7 to five. 

Other revelations included participants experiencing general health benefits while eating a vegan diet. On average, a stone in weight was lost, with LDL and HDL cholesterols also reduced. Conversely, during the placebo stage, participants gained, on average, two pounds in weight. 

Together, the findings led researchers to proclaim that following a vegan diet could be a proactive way to alleviate rheumatoid arthritis symptoms. Additional side-effects of weight loss and cholesterol control are considered added bonuses.

“A plant-based diet could be the prescription to alleviate joint pain for millions of people suffering from rheumatoid arthritis,” Neal Barnard, MD, lead author of the study and president of PCRM, said in a statement regarding the findings. “And all of the side effects, including weight loss and lower cholesterol, are only beneficial.”

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Veganism for good health

Arthritis is not the only condition considered to be improved by following a meat and dairy-free diet. Last year it was revealed that regular consumption of meat increases the risk of contracting pneumonia, developing heart disease and diabetes. All three conditions are associated with older people, which ties in with another study that claims a vegan diet can reduce reliance on medication in seniors by up to 58 percent. Lower weights and blood pressure figures were identified alongside.

Earlier this year, an E.U. report revealed a link between red meat consumption and cancer rates. This supports previous research that identified an increase in colorectal cancer risk in individuals enjoying a meat-heavy diet. As a result of such findings, the European Parliament has called on the E.U. to commit to the promotion of meat-free eating.

Lead photo by Mikhail Nilov at Pexels.


  • Amy Buxton

    A long-term committed ethical vegan and formerly Green Queen's resident plant-based reporter, Amy juggles raising a family and maintaining her editorial career, while also campaigning for increased mental health awareness in the professional world. Known for her love of searing honesty, in addition to recipe developing, animal welfare and (often lacklustre) attempts at handicrafts, she’s hands-on and guided by her veganism in all aspects of life. She’s also extremely proud to be raising a next-generation vegan baby.

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