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Arthritis | Mediterranean Diet and rheumatoid arthritis

Mediterranean Diet Effective in Treating Rheumatoid Arthritis

People suffering from rheumatoid arthritis (RA) may experience decreased inflammation in their joints, improved physical function, and increased vitality by consuming a Mediterranean diet, according to a new study in Annals of Rheumatic Diseases (2003;62:208–14). The findings of the new study suggest that relatively minor dietary changes can significantly improve the quality of life in individuals with RA.

Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic condition that affects more than 1% of all Americans and most often becomes symptomatic between the ages of 25 and 50. Women are twice as likely as men to get this disease. Although the exact cause of RA is unknown, it is known that the immune system attacks the body and causes destruction in connective tissue, particularly in small joints such as the hands, feet, ankles, wrists, and elbows. Symptoms include stiffness in the joints, which is usually worse in the morning or after periods of inactivity, physical deformities, and pain in the joints.

In the new study, 51 Swedish adults with RA of at least two years' duration were randomly assigned to consume a Mediterranean diet or a typical Western diet for three months. The Mediterranean diet consists primarily of fish, fruit, vegetables, cereals, and beans and contains less red meat and dairy products than do Western diets. The main sources of fat in food preparation, baking, and salad dressings are either olive oil or canola oil. A specific measurement of disease activity based on joint swelling and tenderness, inflammation, and pain was performed every three weeks. Questionnaires about physical function and quality of life were given at the same intervals. All participants continued taking prescription medications and took rescue pain medication as needed.

Those consuming the Mediterranean diet had a statistically significant 56% decrease in disease activity, based on reductions in joint swelling, tenderness, and pain. A modest improvement in physical functioning was also reported in the Mediterranean diet group, as well as increased vitality and a better sense of well-being compared with one year earlier. The majority of these benefits were not seen until after six weeks of treatment. Individuals in the Mediterranean diet group had a small, but significant decrease in weight of about seven pounds (3 kg) and a slight decrease in total cholesterol. No significant change in any measurement was observed in those consuming the standard diet.

Other nutritional supplements that have been shown to be effective in treating RA include fish oil, borage oil, vitamin E, vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid), selenium, zinc, and green-lipped mussel. Herbal extracts of boswellia and Devil’s claw may also reduce the swelling associated with RA.

Darin Ingels, ND, MT (ASCP), received his bachelor’s degree from Purdue University and his Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA. Dr. Ingels is the author of The Natural Pharmacist: Lowering Cholesterol (Prima, 1999) and Natural Treatments for High Cholesterol (Prima, 2000). He currently is in private practice at New England Family Health Associates located in Southport, CT, where he specializes in environmental medicine and allergies. Dr. Ingels is a regular contributor to Healthnotes and Healthnotes Newswire.

Copyright © 2003 Healthnotes, Inc. All rights reserved. Republication or redistribution of the Healthnotes® content is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of Healthnotes, Inc. Healthnotes Newswire is for educational or informational purposes only, and is not intended to diagnose or provide treatment for any condition. If you have any concerns about your own health, you should always consult with a healthcare professional. Healthnotes, Inc., shall not be liable for any errors or delays in the content, or for any actions taken in reliance thereon. Healthnotes and the Healthnotes logo are registered trademarks of Healthnotes, Inc.

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The health information contained in this site is not intended as medical advice and should not be considered a substitute for appropriate medical care. Any products mentioned in studies cited in Healthnotes articles are not necessarily endorsed by Bastyr. As with any product, consult with a natural health practitioner to discuss what may be best for you.

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