Dec. 2, 1999 (Indianapolis) -- More kudos for the classic Mediterranean diet: researchers in the December issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition report that diets high in both olive oil and cooked vegetables lessen the risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis. The debilitating disease can cause joint pain and muscle stiffness.
"This study confirms the findings of our previous study in Greece, which showed that the risk of [rheumatoid arthritis] is inversely associated with consumption of olive oil ... up to the time of diagnosis," says Christos Mantzoros, MD, from the division of endocrinology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. Mantzoros, the study's lead researcher, says that the results also extend those previous observations by showing the link between the disease and lifelongconsumption of olive oil and cooked vegetables.
The researchers studied 145 rheumatoid arthritis patients and 188 people without the disease in southern Greece who provided information on age, sex, and socioeconomic variables, prior medical and family history, and present disease status. The participants were also given questionnaires asking how often they ate more than 100 food items.
The researchers then calculated statistics for the development of rheumatoid arthritis in relation to consumption of olive oil, fish, and vegetables.
They found that the risk of developing the disease was less only in relation to cooked vegetables and olive oil. The more of these two things a person ate, the less likely they were to have rheumatoid arthritis.
Graciela Alarcon, MD, MPH, professor of medicine at the University of Alabama School of Medicine in Birmingham, tells WebMD that there are a number of concerns with the methods these researchers used to gather data. She notes that the patients were questioned about their dietary habits of many years earlier; most people cannot remember exactly how they ate years before. Thus, these conclusions should be viewed with caution.
"I think there is a suggestion that there may be something here," says Alarcon, who was not involved in the study. "However, any effect that is seen by diet is very mild at best. If you have a strong family history of [rheumatoid arthritis] and the other known triggers, you might reduce your chances by a few percent."