Vegetarian diet could enable arthritis patients to protect themselves against heart attacks and strokes, a research has suggested. Rheumatoid arthritis can afflict people of any age, being more common in women than men. The condition, which is distinct from the more common osteoarthritis, is caused by the immune system attacking the lining of the patient's joints, causing them to become inflamed and painful.
Heart attacks and strokes are among the primary reasons for death for sufferers, as the inflammation caused by the disease impacts upon the arteries.
The study, reported in the journal Arthritis Research and Therapy, followed 30 patients who kept the vegan diet for at least three months and 28 on a normal diet, monitoring the progress of the disease and levels of various chemicals in the blood. "I think it is a quite unexpected and interesting finding," said Prof Johan Frostegrd at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, who led the study.
"The effects on the immune system are quite new," he said. By the end of the study the vegans had a modest improvement in the number of swollen joints (down from an average of 5.3 to 4.3). There was also a large reduction in the level of a chemical in the blood called CRP, which is used to measure inflammatory activity in the body. There was no significant improvement in the group who ate a normal diet, The Guardian daily of Britain reported today.
The study found that the vegan diet which excludes all animal products lowered levels of "bad" cholesterol linked to heart disease. It also boosted levels of natural antibodies to fight compounds in the body that are implicated in rheumatoid arthritis. However, the researchers underlined the need for further studies as it was too small to draw definitive conclusions.