Degenerative disc disease, also known as osteoarthritis, is a condition in which there is a damaged disc within the spine or a lack of cartilage between the discs. Despite the misleading name, degenerative disc disease is not a disease, but a condition that is speculated to be caused by a myriad of factors. According to Rose and Strombom (2019), osteoarthritis is so prevalent in the US because of longer life expectancy along with a lack of sufficient physical activity, and diets low in plant micronutrients and high in saturated fats. Whereas Hadjipavlou et al. (2008) claim that this condition is not only caused by diet and inactivity but also has a genetic influence and is impacted by poor environmental conditions and as well as aging. This is important to acknowledge because a person cannot avoid developing Osteoarthritis by merely eating a whole-food, plant-based diet and some of the risk factors are outside of our control. In conclusion, there is not a definitive cause of Osteoarthritis, but it is clear that lifestyle does have some impact on the development of degenerative disc disease [3,4].
Vegan diets are becoming increasingly more prominent in the culture. Vegan foods are typically lower in cholesterol and saturated fats, and higher in fiber, leading vegans to statistically have lower blood pressure and cholesterol than non-vegans. Yet, vegan diets also make consuming sufficient B-12, calcium, vitamin D, omega fatty acids, iron, and zinc more difficult, which are all very important for overall health. Veganism entails a broad spectrum of healthy and unhealthy foods. Thus, it is important to note that eating a whole-food, plant-based diet means eating a vegan diet that focuses on fruits and vegetables .
So, are vegan diets beneficial for people with Osteoarthritis? The official answer is that this theory is still being debated, yet there have been some promising data. Clinton et al. (2015) study collected 37 participants with osteoarthritis, and the basis was to determine if diet intervention could help alleviate pain and improve functionality in people with osteoarthritis. Nineteen of the participants underwent diet intervention and found that a whole-food, plant-based diet experienced positive physical improvements within the participants. Clinton et al. theorized that plant-based diets, especially those rich in Omega-3 and plant protein, prevent harmful inflammation that is often caused by ingesting animal products.
The Napier et al. (2019) study involved the induction of degenerative disc disease in two groups of rats. The first group was then given a diet heavily infused with omega-3 supplementation. The second group of rats only received a diet of sugar solution. They found that the rats with an Omega 3-rich diet had decreased degeneration of the spinal discs affected. They theorized that this finding was due to a reduction of inflammation caused by the Omega-3. Additionally, Rose (2014) found that initiating a whole-food, plant-based diet helped people with osteoarthritis experience some pain relief within as little as two weeks. They understood this finding to be accredited to aiding other possible illnesses that are often associated, or comorbid, with osteoarthritis. Illness such as type two diabetes, and obesity [1,2,3,4].
Thus, it seems that a vegan diet might help alleviate symptoms of osteoarthritis, but more research on osteoarthritis is needed to gain more clarity.
1. Clinton, C., O’Brien, S., Law, J., Renier, C., Wendt, M. (2015). Whole-foods, plant-based
diet alleviates the symptoms of osteoarthritis. Hindawi Publishing Corporation. doi.org/10.1155/2015/708152.
2. Craig, W. (2009). Health effects of vegan diets. American Society for Nutrition. 1627-1633.
3. Hadipavlou, A., Tzermiadianos, M., Bogduk, N., Zindrick, M. (2008). The pathophysiology of disc degeneration. British Editorial Society of Bone and Joint Surgery. 90(10). doi:10.1302/0301-620X.90B10.20910.
4. Napier, Z., Kanim, L., Arabi, Y., Salehi, K., Sears, B., Perry, M., Kim, S., Sheyn, D., Bae, H., Glaesser, J. (2019). Omega-3 fatty acid supplementation reduces intervertebral disc degeneration. Medical Science
5. Monitor. doi: 10.12659/MSM.918649.
6. Rose, S., Strombom, A. (2019). Osteoarthritis prevention and treatment with a plant-based diet. Ortho & Rheum Open Access J. 15(3). doi: 10.19080/OROAJ.2019.15.555914.
Author: Katrina Peavy
Editor: Terin Buckley
Health Scientist: Bhagya Arikala