Medical Notes: Dramatic effects of diet changes

FEW HEALTH problems are as frustrating, both for doctor and patient, as severe arthritis, as I learned in my first bedside experience with intractable joint problems. The patient had already had five operations on his knees. Eventually, surgeons replaced both hips and both shoulders, and did elaborate operations on other joints. A physician himself, he greeted each procedure with fatalism.

In 1991, however, everything changed. The Lancet published a study showing that joint pain had a discernible cause, at least for many people. Just as a sore throat might result from a streptococcal attack, or lung cancer might come from carcinogens in tobacco smoke, sore joints were the battlefield where white blood cells attacked irritating proteins from various foods. This immunologic warfare damaged the tender joint linings, causing pain, swelling, and stiffness.

Hints that foods played a role in arthritis had emerged a decade earlier, when the British Medical Journal reported on a woman who had had rheumatoid arthritis for 25 years that turned out to be a sensitivity to corn. When the corn was eliminated from her diet, her symptoms disappeared. Shortly afterwards, doctors reported the case of a 15-year-old girl who recovered from severe arthritis when she avoided cow's milk.

In the Lancet report, researchers showed that by avoiding certain foods most arthritis patients had noticeable, sometimes dramatic, improvements. Doctors can now guide the patient to avoid 10 foods (dairy products, corn, meats, wheat, eggs, citrus fruits, potatoes, tomatoes, nuts, and coffee) until the joints cool down. This usually takes about three weeks. Then each food is reintroduced individually to see which ones cause the pain to return and which do not. By identifying food triggers, arthritis can improve dramatically, or even go away.

A study at London's Hospital for Sick Children showed that migraines respond to a similar diet-detective approach, using a similar list of culprit foods. Chest pain, menstrual pain, digestive pains, and innumerable other aches and pains yield to diet changes in ways few would have suspected until very recently.

One of the most striking breakthroughs is the discovery that foods may play a central role in back pain. As children consume the fatty foods so common in Western Europe and North America artery blockages begin to form. The first arteries sealed off are not those leading to the heart or the brain, but rather those leading to the lower back. By the age of 20, 10 per cent of us have an advanced blockage in one or more of these arteries. The average back pain sufferer has lost two to three of them.

A blockage in an artery to the spine deprives it of oxygen, causing the vertebrae and the fragile discs between them to degenerate. The soft inside of the crumbling disc herniates out, pinching a nerve and causing chronic pain.

Dr Dean Ornish, a young University of California researcher, showed that a change in the menu reopens clogged arteries. The prescription was simple: set aside meats - even chicken or fish, because they all pack cholesterol - and other fatty foods. Add modest, but regular, exercise, such as a brisk half-hour walk. Avoid smoking, and keep stress under wraps. The results were astounding: the arteries began cleaning themselves out, so much so that the difference was clearly visible on angiograms in 82 per cent of patients in the first year.

This revolutionary method clearly works in the heart. Now is the time to put it to the test for back pain. The hope is that circulation to the back can be restored, allowing healing to begin. Caught early, perhaps back problems can be arrested.

A diet change does not help everyone. But neither do even our best medications. We are now at the point where we can safely say our most powerful treatments are not in pill bottles, but on our plates.

Neal D. Barnard is the author of `Foods That Fight Pain' (Bantam, 10 June, pounds 7.99)

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Arts and Entertainment
William Pooley from Suffolk is flying out to Free Town, Sierra Leone, to continue working in health centres to fight Ebola after surviving the disease himself

music
Arts and Entertainment
The Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Berry (centre), the star of Channel 4 sitcom 'Toast of London'

TVA disappointingly dull denouement
Arts and Entertainment
Tales from the cryptanalyst: Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Imitation Game'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pixie Lott has been voted off Strictly Come Dancing 2014

Strictly
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
    La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

    Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

    The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
    10 best high-end laptops

    10 best high-end laptops

    From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
    Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

    Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

    The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
    Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

    Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

    The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
    Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

    'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

    After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
    Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

    Homeless Veterans campaign

    Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
    Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

    Meet Racton Man

    Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
    Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

    Garden Bridge

    St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
    Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

    Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

    An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
    Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

    Joint Enterprise

    The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
    Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

    Freud and Eros

    Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum