Vegan diet for rheumatoid arthritis patients protects from heart attacks and strokes

A new study suggests that following a gluten-free, vegan diet may offer rheumatoid arthritis patients some protection from heart attacks and strokes.

The leading causes of death for rheumatoid arthritis sufferers is heart attacks and strokes because the inflammation caused by the disease affects the arteries.

This latest research has found that those who followed a vegan regime had less "bad" cholesterol, but researchers say this risk could be reduced through a diet which excludes animal products and the gluten found in wheat, oats, rye and barley.

About 20 million people worldwide have rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disease caused when the body confuses healthy tissues for foreign substances and attacks itself.

The researchers at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm placed 38 volunteers on a diet, in which protein accounted for 10% of daily energy intake, carbohydrate 60% and fat for 30%; it included nuts, sunflower seeds, fruit and vegetables, millet and corn; sesame milk provided a daily source of calcium.

Another 28 volunteers followed a healthy diet with approximately the same proportions of protein, carbohydrate and fat, where saturated fats were not allowed to make up more than 10% of daily energy intake, and whole grain products were to be chosen as often as possible.

The researchers found that those on the vegan diet showed a decrease in the total level of cholesterol and specifically a reduction in the amount of low-density lipoprotein (LDL), also known as "bad cholesterol", while those on the non-vegan diet showed no significant variations in these levels.

It was also found that the vegan group had a lower Body Mass Index (BMI) at the end of the 12 month period, while the control group remained the same.

The researchers say there is ample evidence which suggests that such changes would be beneficial when it comes to preventing blockage of the arteries and cardiovascular disease.

The Arthritis Research Campaign, which is currently examining how statins may reduce cardiovascular risks for sufferers, says while the study is interesting, the role of diet could be exaggerated and while a vegan diet might be helpful in reducing cholesterol, but it is difficult to get enough of some important nutrients on a vegan diet.

The research is published in the journal Arthritis Research and Therapy.

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