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Rheumatoid Arthritis and the Mediterranean Diet

Mediterranean Diet

The Mediterranean Diet, which has been inspired by the traditional eating habits of people living in Greece, Spain and Southern Italy, is known for its numerous health benefits. Characterized by a high intake of vegetables, legumes, fruits, olive oil, whole grains, fish and herbs, it is believed to provide protection against everything from heart disease and obesity to acne and psoriasis. And, an intriguing study published in the peer-reviewed journal Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases suggests it might even help ease the pain and inflammation associated with rheumatoid arthritis! To get the full story, keep reading.

Case-control studies conducted in the 1990s suggest that a diet rich in fish, cooked vegetables and olive oil may have a protective effect against rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Also epidemiological studies seem to support this observation. Intrigued by these findings, a group of researchers from Sweden decided to investigate whether adherence to a Mediterranean-style diet plan would have similar beneficial effects in people with rheumatoid arthritis. The researchers decided to use a Cretan variation of the Mediterranean diet, as described by Dr. de Lorgeril et al., but modified it slightly in order to make it more suitable for Swedish patients. The Mediterranean-style diet used in this study included plenty of fish, poultry, vegetable, fruits, and legumes. Olive oil and canola oil, which are rich in anti-inflammatory fatty acids, were the primary sources of dietary fat.

To conduct their three-month trial, the researchers recruited 56 patients with active rheumatoid arthritis. All of the patients had been suffering from rheumatoid arthritis for at least two years, and all of them had the disease under adequate control, as assessed and documented the patients' rheumatology specialist at the latest consultation before the trial. What's more, rheumatoid arthritis sufferers who were vegetarian or who already followed a Mediterranean-style diet were not eligible for inclusion in the study. Also patients who had recently changed their RA medications were excluded from the study.

The results of this single-center, randomized, parallel study were promising: Six weeks into the study, most of the 26 rheumatoid arthritis patients started to show significant improvement. They showed reduced inflammatory activity, increased physical function, and improved vitality. By comparison, no relief was reported by the control group which was comprised of 25 patients all of whom followed a typical Western diet. In conclusion, this study suggests that a Mediterranean-style diet plan is good for people with rheumatoid arthritis.


L. Skoldstam et al (2003). An experimental study of a Mediterranean diet intervention for patients with rheumatoid arthritis. Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases, 62(3): 208-214.