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The Anti-Arthritis Diet

Broadway dancer, singer, and actress Donna McKechnie was at the height of her career, starring in the hit musical A Chorus Line. In 1976, she earned the Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical.

Four years later, she was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. She was told that she would never again dance—or even walk. It appeared to be the end of her career.

She was determined to recover. A year later, with the help of diet and lifestyle changes, she rebounded and was performing again. She credited a healthful diet free of dairy products, red meat, caffeine, and other arthritis triggers.

For years, people have suspected that diet plays a role in arthritis. Many have noticed improvements when they avoid dairy products or certain other foods.

Initially, the evidence was anecdotal. But an increasing volume of research shows that dietary changes do help. A 2002 study looked at the influence of a very low-fat vegan diet on moderate to severe rheumatoid arthritis. After people with arthritis followed a vegan diet for four weeks, almost all their symptoms decreased significantly. Another study found that a gluten-free vegan diet improved the signs of arthritis. A raw vegan diet was shown to decrease joint stiffness and pain in another study.

Vegan diets omit dairy products, meat, and eggs, all of which are common triggers for joint pain. They also dramatically reduce intake of fat, especially saturated fat. This can affect the immune processes that influence arthritis. Vegetables are also rich in antioxidants, which can neutralize free radicals. Free radicals attack many parts of the body and intensify aging processes, including those of the joints.

A New Pillow, or a New Diet?

Dana Armstrong, R.D., C.D.E.Dana Armstrong, a registered dietitian in Monterey, Calif., started having neck pain in 2007. At first, she thought she might need a new pillow. Then her whole body started to hurt, and she wondered if it was a result of stress from working long hours.

“Exercise soon became painful,” says Armstrong. “My hands even started hurting when I was on the elliptical.”

She had a physical a week before a family vacation and lab results showed she had rheumatoid arthritis. After her family’s drive to Phoenix, she could not even get out of bed. She was only 49 years old. But facts were facts, and her symptoms were not going away. She started taking prednisone—a steroid. She then started on methotrexate and plaquenil. But it was not enough and soon she had to stop working.

“I started spending all my time researching arthritis,” says Armstrong. “There was very little information about food and arthritis, but I soon came across Dr. Barnard’s book Foods that Fight Pain and other research on foods that are inflammatory.”

After reading Dr. Barnard’s book and The China Study by T. Colin Campbell, Ph.D., she went completely vegan. Her symptoms started to disappear. She then went to Dr. John McDougall’s 10-Day Live-In Program, and he suggested she stop taking her medications and supplements. She did. After a few months on her new diet, not only did she recover from arthritis, she also lost 40 pounds and experienced other health benefits, including eliminating her cystic acne.

“I also sleep very well now,” says Armstrong. “Apparently I didn’t need a new pillow!”


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