Plant-Based Diets for Rheumatoid Arthritis

Plant-based diets may help rheumatoid arthritis by decreasing exposure to an inflammatory “Trojan horse” compound found in animal products called Neu5Gc. On Wednesday in my Care2 post How Tumors Use Meat to Grow I talked about the role Neu5Gc may play in stimulating breast cancer growth, but what about inflammation in our joints?

For those of you who have been following my work since the beginning, you’ll remember back in 2003 I covered a landmark paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences entitled “Human intake and incorporation of an immunogenic nonhuman dietary sialic acid.” They took autopsy samples and discovered proof of Neu5Gc in human tumors. In my video The Inflammatory Meat Molecule Neu5Gc you can see it stained brown in human breast cancer, melanoma, brain tumors, and ovarian cancer.

The presence of Neu5Gc in human tumors mystified researchers, because human beings are genetically unable to produce this substance. But other animals can. Maybe, the researchers proposed, human beings absorbed it from eating these other animals? So they put it to the test.

Because Neu5Gc is found in animals and animal products, the researchers had to first eat vegan for a few days to clear their system (including no animal-derived ingredients in foods or drugs or shampoo), and then they basically drank a glass of diluted pig mucous. Within days this invading meat molecule could be found oozing from their bodies, in their saliva, urine—even their hair clippings. They concluded: “Because NeuGc-type compounds are not found in plants, and Neu5Gc is not synthesized by microbes, the dietary source of Neu5Gc must be foods of animal origin.” They proposed that the metabolic incorporation of this molecular “Trojan horse” from animal products may be contributing to the higher rates of cancer and heart disease in those that eat meat and dairy.

Why heart disease too? If you check out my video pick above, you’ll see that this foreign meat molecule tends to accumulate not only in the lining of hollow organs (where carcinomas like breast cancer develop inside your glands), but also in the lining of blood vessels. This may be contributing to the hardening of our arteries, the #1 killer of men and women in the United States.

Inflammation is one of the three steps en route to fatal heart disease. See Arterial AcneBlocking the First Step of Heart Disease, and Making Our Arteries Less Sticky. Antioxidants found predominantly in plants may also decrease inflammation within the body. Nuts may be particularly useful in this regard.

The absorption of the inflammatory molecule Neu5Gc from animal foods may explain why vegetarian diets seem to improve rheumatoid arthritis. Maybe that’s why rheumatoid arthritis is not present in most other great apes. Maybe the incorporation of this reactive alien molecule into inflamed tissue such as arthritic joints could be aggravating arthritis. What we do know is that if you take animal products away, rheumatoid sufferers can feel better within weeks–see Diet & Rheumatoid Arthritis and Preventing Arthritis.

Bacterial endotoxins are another reason animal products may trigger an inflammatory immune reaction. See The Leaky Gut Theory of Why Animal Products Cause InflammationThe Exogenous Endotoxin Theory, and Dead Meat Bacteria Endotoxemia.

Beyond the putative role of nonhuman Neu5GC as a potential molecular link between diet, autoreactive antibodies, and the progression of human cancer and heart disease, I close out the Neu5Gc story with a 3-min. video entitled Meat May Exceed Daily Allowance of Irony. It turns out that consuming Neu5GC may set children up for life-threatening reactions to E. coli toxins originating in the same animal products. The researchers ask if this is “poetic justice” for meat eaters. Not when it’s a major cause of acute life-threatening kidney failure in children. For more on E. coli, see Fecal Bacteria Survey and Chicken Out of UTIs.

My exploration into Neu5GC spanned a seven video series (starting with Cancer as an Autoimmune Disease). If you’d rather these more extensive probes than my one-off videos, I’ve done similar in-depth series on reversing cancer cell growth, why animal products cause inflammation, changing vitamin D recommendationsarugula athleticism, why nuts don’t appear to cause expected weight gain, as well as the latest dietary guidelines.

In health,
Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here and watch my full 2012 presentation Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death.

Image credit: Jojo via pl.wikipedia

How Chemically Contaminated Are We?
Animal Protein and IGF-1
Why Meat Causes Inflammation


Jeanne Rogers
Jeanne Rogers12 days ago

Thank you for sharing.

Gary C.
Gary C.1 years ago


PJ Chartrand
PJ C.2 years ago

While I honestly believe this would be worth a try for systemic diseases, especially those who would actually drink a glass of pig mucus (gag....really?!), wouldn't a more reliable study actually have people eating meat? And as other people have asked, corn fed and grain fed could also render different results.

Tsandi Crew
Tsandi Crew2 years ago

Did these studies differentiate between grass fed meat and corn fed meat? They should, just to be thorough. There is a huge difference. And the grass fed meat should not be finished with corn. That would be a very important study.

Sarah M.
Sarah M.3 years ago


Fred Hoekstra
Fred Hoekstra3 years ago

Thank you Dr. Michael Greger, for Sharing this!

Jamie H.
Jamie H.3 years ago

Thanks for taking the time to read this.

I can tell you that over the coming months we are planning the most fantastic fund raising event. To get the best out of it we are going to have to work harder, smarter and be more innovative than before.

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I have a challenge ahead, to run the 2013 London virgin Marathon. With your help we must raise in excess of £2000.

The work is beginning now and we want you to be a part of it.

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Already people have donated money via offered their time and products to sell, to raise money.

The driving force for asking you to help is my son Max. He became ill age 2 and a half years old. It took the health care professionals what seemed like an eternity to fully diagnose his condition and get him stable. Test after test was carried out on Max while he would run dangerously high temperatures and become extremely sick, unable to walk as his joints became incredibly stiff and painful.

We were sent to Bristol Children’s Hospital, who were the ones that made the final diagnosis of Sys

Tierra C.3 years ago

Plant-based lifestyles are the healthiest, most environmentally sustainable and 'green'. As for ethical, the non-human sentient beings themselves get to enjoy their one precious life, just the way we do. Eat local plants, eat seasonal, eat organic, and we just might turn our health around ans well as heal our poisoned planet.

Duane B.
.3 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Thorn Briar
Past Member 3 years ago

Thank you