If you’re genetically at risk for rheumatoid arthritis, it might be time to go vegan: A new study found avoiding animal products could potentially help stave off the chronic autoimmune and inflammatory disorder that’s known for the painful swelling it causes.
Researchers at the University of Central Florida College of Medicine found a strain of bacteria, common to foods you may consume every day, that may trigger rheumatoid arthritis. According to a press release, MAP—short for Mycobacterium avium subspecies paratuberculosis—is found in half of the cows in the United States and can easily spread to humans who drink infected milk or eat beef.
“Understanding the role of MAP in rheumatoid arthritis means the disease could be treated more effectively. Ultimately, we may be able to administer a combined treatment to target both inflammation and bacterial infection.” —Dr. Saleh Naser, study co-author
Study co-author and infectious disease specialist at UCF Saleh Naser, MD, previously linked MAP to Crohn’s disease, an autoimmune disorder that shares genetic defects with rheumatoid arthritis—the two conditions are often even treated with similar medications. So, Dr. Naser and his team were curious about whether MAP was also linked to RA.
The study results (found via clinical samples of 100 rheumatology patients) showed 78 percent of the patients with RA had a genetic mutation also found in Crohn’s patients, and 40 percent of those patients also tested positive for MAP.
“We believe that individuals born with this genetic mutation and who are later exposed to MAP through consuming contaminated milk or meat from infected cattle are at a higher risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis,” Dr. Naser said.
Since the cause of RA, a condition that effects 1.3 million adults in the US, is unknown, this potential correlation is novel—but the study authors are quick to note that many questions remain. For instance, does MAP cause RA or is MAP only present because of RA? “Understanding the role of MAP in rheumatoid arthritis means the disease could be treated more effectively,” Dr. Naser said. “Ultimately, we may be able to administer a combined treatment to target both inflammation and bacterial infection.”
While the research is still in stages resembling a chicken-or-the-egg conundrum (in this case, more like cow-or-the-joint-pain), it does present a worthy reason to give a plant-based diet a try. Hey, the switch might even land you a love connection in time for Valentine’s Day!