Introduction: Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic systemic autoimmune disease affecting the synovial joints and causing severe disability. Environmental and lifestyle factors, including diet, have been proposed to play a role in the onset and severity of RA. Dietary manipulation may help to manage the symptoms of RA by lowering inflammation and potentially decreasing pain.
Methods: In 40 patients with long-standing RA with stable symptoms and treated with conventional (c-) and biological (b-) disease modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs), the effect of a 3-month diet avoiding meat, gluten, and lactose (and all dairy products; privative diet) was evaluated in comparison with a control balanced diet including those foods. Both diets were designed to reduce weight since all patients were overweight or obese. Patients were randomly assigned to one of the diets, and RA was clinically assessed at Time 0 (T0), through the Visual Analogue Scale (VAS), for pain, and the Disease Activity Score of 28 joints (DAS 28) for RA activity. Patients were also administered the Short Form Health survey (SF-36) and the Health Assessment Questionnaire (HAQ). At T0, a blood sample was collected for laboratory tests and adipokines measurements, and anthropometric measurements were compared. These evaluations were repeated at the end of the 3 months' dietary regimens.
Results: A significant decrease in VAS and the improvement of the overall state of physical and mental health, assessed through SF-36, was observed in patients assigned to the privative diet. Both dietary regimens resulted in the improvement of quality of life compared to baseline values; however, the change was significant only for the privative diet. With either diet, patients showed significant decreases in body weight and body mass index, with a reduction in waist and hips circumference and lower basal glucose and circulating leptin levels. A privative diet was also able to significantly reduce systolic (p = 0.003) and diastolic (p = 0.025) arterial pressure. The number of circulating leukocytes and neutrophils, and the level of hs-C-Reactive Protein also decreased after 3 months of the meat-, lactose-, and gluten-free diet.
Conclusions: Our results suggest that a privative diet can result in a better control of inflammation in RA patients under stable optimized drug treatment.
Keywords: bioimpedance analysis; dietary regimen; inflammation; leptin; meat- gluten- and lactose-exclusion diet; pain; rheumatoid arthritis.