Mediterranean Diet May Help Prevent Rheumatoid Arthritis in Smokers

Adherence to the Mediterranean diet among female smokers and former smokers was linked with a reduced risk of contracting rheumatoid arthritis.
By Julie Al-Zoubi
Sep. 22, 2020 12:01 UTC

A study recently pub­lished in Arthritis & Rheumatology sug­gested that the Mediterranean diet could play a role in reduc­ing the risk of rheuma­toid arthri­tis among female smok­ers and women who have smoked in the past.

Women are known to be at greater risk of devel­op­ing rheuma­toid arthri­tis than men and smok­ing fur­ther increases their risk of devel­op­ing the dis­ease.

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The 30-year study focused on females with a his­tory of smok­ing and dis­cov­ered that among smok­ers and ex-smok­ers who adhered to the Mediterranean diet, the risk of devel­op­ing rheuma­toid arthri­tis was 383 cases per mil­lion peo­ple per year.

Meanwhile, for women in the same group with a low adher­ence to the MedDiet, the risk of devel­op­ing the dis­ease increased to 515 cases per mil­lion peo­ple annu­ally.

While the exact rea­sons why smok­ers appear to decrease their risk of rheuma­toid arthri­tis when adher­ing to the MedDiet were not deter­mined, one pos­si­ble fac­tor could be the MedDiet’s proven anti-inflam­ma­tory prop­er­ties.

Another rea­son could be the MedDiet’s capa­bil­ity for increas­ing antiox­i­dant lev­els, which could coun­ter­bal­ance the increased oxi­dant effect of smok­ing and thus lower the increased risk of rheuma­toid arthri­tis brought about by smok­ing.

Surprisingly the French study, which exam­ined the diets of more than 62,000 women, demon­strated no indi­ca­tion that the MedDiet reduced the risk of devel­op­ing rheuma­toid arthri­tis in the gen­eral pop­u­la­tion. Although the ben­e­fits of the diet have long been acclaimed by arthri­tis experts.

In 2018, a study to deter­mine which spe­cific ele­ments of the Mediterranean diet were most effec­tive in reduc­ing the symp­toms of rheuma­toid arthri­tis dis­cov­ered that olive oil, which is rich in monoun­sat­u­rated fatty acids, could assist in sup­press­ing dis­ease activ­ity in rheuma­toid arthri­tis patients.

The Arthritis Foundation has rec­om­mended both the Mediterranean diet and the daily con­sump­tion of two to three table­spoons of olive oil to help decrease joint inflam­ma­tion caused by the dis­ease.

It has also been sug­gested that oleo­can­thal, a nat­ural phe­no­lic com­pound found in extra vir­gin olive oil, may be par­tially respon­si­ble for reduc­ing the risk of con­tract­ing the dis­ease.

Oleocanthal has sim­i­lar prop­er­ties to some anti-inflam­ma­tory drugs and works like ibupro­fen, low­er­ing the body’s inflam­ma­tory process and reduc­ing sen­si­tiv­ity to pain which is ben­e­fi­cial to rheuma­toid arthri­tis suf­fer­ers.

The study was based on dietary data obtained from a val­i­dated food fre­quency ques­tion­naire com­pleted in 1993. Adherence to the MedDiet was assessed using a dietary score which eval­u­ated par­tic­i­pants’ con­sump­tion of olive oil, veg­eta­bles, legumes, cereal prod­ucts, fish, meat, dairy prod­ucts and alco­hol.


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