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An anti-inflammatory response to the vegan diet

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) patients who eat a gluten-free vegan diet could be better protected against heart attacks and stroke.

RA is a major risk factor for these cardiovascular diseases, but a gluten-free vegan diet was shown to lower cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and oxidizedLDL (OxLDL), as well as raising the levels of natural antibodies against the damaging compounds in the body that cause symptoms of the chronic inflammatory disease rheumatoid arthritis, such as phosphorylcholine. These findings are reported today in the open access journal Arthritis Research & Therapy.

The idea that we can influence our health by changing our eating habits has become a fashionable idea among lifestyle and consumer magazines. There is evidence that dietary changes can bring about health benefits but specific results are not widespread.

Now, Johan Frostegard of the Rheumatology Unit at the Karolinska University Hospital in Stockholm and colleagues divided sixty-six RA patients randomly into two groups. They randomly assigned 38 of the volunteers to eat a gluten-free vegan diet, and the other 28 a well-balanced but non-vegan diet for one year. They analysed the levels of fatty, lipid molecules in blood samples using routine analytical methods at regular periods. They also measured oxLDL and anti-phosphorylcholine (antiPC) factor at the beginning of the experiment, at 3 months and again at 12 months.

The researchers found that the gluten-free vegan diet not only reduced LDL and oxLDL levels and raised antiPC antibodies but lowered the body-mass index (BMI) of the volunteers in that group. Levels of other fatty molecules, including triglycerides and high-density lipoprotein (HDL) stayed the same. In contrast, none of the indicators differed significantly for the control groups on the conventional healthy diet.

AntiPC antibodies are studied within CVDIMMUNE, an European consortium led by Dr Frostegard with the hypothesis that such antibodies can protect against cardiovascular disease and can be used as diagnostic and therapeutic factors.

Frostegard and colleagues have now shown that diet could be used to improve the long-term health of people with rheumatoid arthritis. They concede that a bigger study group will be needed to discern which particular aspects of the diet help the most.

Charlotte Webber | alfa
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