New benefits of vegan diet revealed
Sufferers of rheumatoid arthritis may benefit from a vegan diet, according to new research funded by the European Commission. A gluten-free vegan diet was found to reduce cardiovascular risk factors in people with the disease. The effect was observed in a group of rheumatoid arthritis patients that adhered to the diet for a year and exhibited a decrease in low density lipoprotein (LDL) and oxidized LDL levels, as well as raised atheroprotective natural antibodies against phosphorylcholine (anti-PC).
Rheumatoid arthritis causes chronic inflammation of the joints. It is also associated with an increased risk of atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) and cardiovascular disease (CVD). Although the link between arthritis and these associated risks is not well understood, researchers believe that the disturbed balance of blood fats observed in arthritis patients may yield an explanation.
The new study was conducted at Sweden's medical university, the Karolinska Institute, as part of a larger research project involving 10 European partners. Headed by the Karolinska Institute's Professor Johan Frostegård, the CVDIMMUNE project is investigating the significance of anti-PC, a type of antibody that the researchers believe has a protective effect against atherosclerosis.
The project team also hopes this will lead to the development of a vaccine against atherosclerosis – the major cause of CVD. CVD is the main cause of death in the western world, and increasingly so in developing countries. The project signals new hope in the fight against the significant human, social and economic implications of cardiovascular disease.
The team at the Karolinska Institute discovered positive effects of a gluten-free vegan diet in a group of patients with rheumatoid arthritis. The results were verified through a comparison with a control group that had followed ordinary dietary advice.
The patients on a vegan diet had lower blood levels of oxidised LDL-cholesterol (a risk factor for atherosclerosis) than those in the control group, while anti-PC levels were higher. The symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis were also more pronounced within the control group, suggesting an overall positive effect of vegan food.
Professor Frostegård says: 'Our findings suggest a new mechanism by which the level of natural protective antibodies can be increased. They also show that diet can have effects on the immune system with implications for the incidence of disease.'
CVDIMMUNE is a specific targeted research project (STREP) funded by the European Commission under its Sixth Framework Programme (FP6). Along with the team from Sweden, the CVDIMMUNE consortium comprises researchers from Germany, the Netherlands, the UK and France.