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Do Special Diets Ease Symptoms of RA?

Study Shows Mixed Results on Impact of Diet Plans on Symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

May 21, 2010 -- Many of the 2.1 million people with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) turn to special diets to help improve joint pain and other symptoms, but little is known about whether or not these diets -- some which may involve the elimination of certain foods --- are beneficial or even safe.

Now a new review study in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association takes a hard look at how -- or if -- four common diets affect RA symptoms. They included vegetarian or vegan diets, a Mediterranean-style diet, elimination diets, and elemental eating plans (premade, prepackaged meal replacements that contain nutrients in their simplest forms).

The new study comprised 366 people with RA from eight separate trials. Fasting followed by eating a vegetarian diet for 13 months or eating a Mediterranean style diet replete with fruits, vegetables, healthy fats, and legumes for 12 weeks may relieve pain, the study showed. These diets did not improve morning joint stiffness or physical function when compared to regular diets.

There was not enough data to draw any conclusions about how vegan and/or elimination diets affect RA symptoms.

The positive changes seen with vegetarian and Mediterranean diets may be a result of simply adapting a healthier way of eating as opposed to any specific diet, the study researchers conclude.

People with RA who were put on special diets were more likely to drop out of the studies, suggesting that some people may have difficulty adhering to the eating plans.

Some special diets also resulted in weight loss, which may not always be a good thing people with RA who are already at risk for nutritional shortfalls.

"There is a need for more and better research on dietary interventions for RA," conclude researchers led by Geir Smedslund, PhD, a senior researcher at the Centre for Rehabilitation in Rheumatology at the Diakonhjemmet Hospital in Oslo, Norway.

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