A recent study conducted by scientists at Karolinska Institutet has found that frequent consumption of the Mediterranean diet may be linked to a lower risk of rheumatoid arthritis.
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune and inflammatory disease that mainly attacks the joints, causing painful swelling and inflammation.
The Mediterranean diet is a plant-based diet that includes high amounts of fruit, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes, moderate amounts of fish, white meat, and alcohol, and low amounts of red meat and sugar.
The diet has been linked to a lower risk of death, as well as lower risks of heart disease and cancer, by many studies.
Because the diet is believed to have anti-inflammatory properties, it may also reduce the risk of inflammatory conditions like rheumatoid arthritis.
However, only one previous study has specifically examined the link between the Mediterranean diet and the risk of rheumatoid arthritis, and it reported no association.
In this new study, the researchers examined 1,721 patients with rheumatoid arthritis and 3,667 healthy people.
They calculated the Mediterranean diet score, ranging from 0 to 9, from a 124-item food questionnaire.
The team found that about 24% of the arthritis patients and 28% of healthy people ate the Mediterranean diet frequently (high adherence, a diet score between 6 and 9).
High adherence to the Mediterranean diet reduced the risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis by 21% compared to low adherence (a score between 0 and 2).
This benefit of the Mediterranean diet was only strong in men, but not in women.
In addition, the strong effect of the Mediterranean diet was only found in people with a positive rheumatoid factor, but not in people with a negative rheumatoid factor.
A positive rheumatoid factor test result indicates that a high level of a rheumatoid factor was detected in the blood.
A higher level of rheumatoid factor in the blood is closely linked to autoimmune disease, particularly rheumatoid arthritis.
People who have a negative rheumatoid factor are diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, meaning they have seronegative rheumatoid arthritis.
Occasionally, seronegative rheumatoid arthritis patients may develop antibodies and become seropositive at a later date, but this does not occur in most cases.
Based on the results, the researchers conclude that frequent consumption of the Mediterranean diet is linked to a lower risk of rheumatoid arthritis in men and people with a positive rheumatoid factor.
They suggest that bioactive compounds that are rich in the Mediterranean diet, including antioxidants, monounsaturated and omega-3 fatty acids, phytosterols, and fiber, may play a role in the health benefits of the diet.
However, further research is needed to understand why the Mediterranean diet could help reduce the risk of rheumatoid arthritis in some people.
Overall, this study provides promising evidence that the Mediterranean diet may help reduce the risk of rheumatoid arthritis, particularly in men and people with a positive rheumatoid factor.
The Mediterranean diet is a healthy and balanced diet that is rich in nutrients and bioactive compounds that may provide many other health benefits.
While more research is needed, this study suggests that following a Mediterranean diet may be a good choice for those looking to reduce their risk of rheumatoid arthritis, as well as other chronic diseases.
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The research was published in Arthritis Research & Therapy and was conducted by Kari Johansson et al.
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