On several occassions, we have been asked about the effect of going vegan on joint health. It seems that a number of our readers have experienced joint pain shortly after going vegan. A quick search online for the vegan diet and joint pain reveals that feeling joint stiffness, aches and pains is seemingly quite common among people shortly after they stop eating meat and dairy.
People usually either find this a complete surprise or so obvious as to be self-evident. For most people, adopting a plant-based diet is typically only associated with health benefits; you would assume that cutting out fatty and processed meats would make joints healthier and reduce joint pain, right? But for others, the lack of calcium and protein in a typical vegan diet means vegans are obviously going to have weaker joints and be more susceptible to joint pain, stiffness, and potentially even arthritis.
So what’s the truth here? Do people regularly experience joint pain after switching to a vegan or plant-based diet? Does a vegan diet help reduce joint pain? What are some things you can do to prevent joint pain after going plant-based? Can the best joint supplements on the market help? In this article, we answer all of these questions and more. Please post any questions regarding vegan diets, joint pain and arthritis in the comments section at the end.
Can a Vegan Diet Cause Inflammation?
In a small number of studies, a vegetarian diet has been associated with increased levels of another inflammatory biomarker, IL-6. So a diet that still includes milk, eggs and cheese may cause inflammation. However, most studies show that a vegan diet results in decreased inflammation throughout the body, including decreased joint inflammation.
Why might so many people complain that their plant based diet is causing back pain or knee pain?
One of the main mechanisms behind joint pain is inflammation. When your tissues are placed under stress – be it from injuries, oxidizing free radicals or other causes – they will become inflamed. This inflammation typically causes swelling and tenderness, which can result in severe, acute joint pain. Not only does the tissue in question expand, causing friction and pressure, but inflammation can also make tissues much more sensitive and less able to absorb impacts. Both of these processes can result in crippling joint pain if the inflammation is severe enough.
Your diet can cause systemic, chronic inflammation. This can result in chronic, systemic joint pain. So does the vegan diet cause inflammation?
The answer appears to be a resounding “no”. Study after study shows quite clearly that a vegan diet significantly reduces inflammation throughout the body. Moreover, it appears to do so quickly and effectively in everybody. Regardless of age, lifestyle or genetics, people who adopt a vegan diet or a predominantly plant-based diet show drastic reductions in markers of inflammation and a recduction in symptoms associated with chronic inflammation.
The main reason that vegan diets are associated with reduced inflammation is that they practically eliminate the main dietary causes of inflammation, such a red and processed meats, saturated animal fats, and most fast food. A well planned, balanced vegan diet is also incredibly rich in anti-inflammatory fatty acids, as well as antioxidants which prevent free radical damage and associated inflammation.
The close association between a vegan diet and reduced inflammation is why a vegan diet is often associated with reduced joint pain. More than one study has found that adopting a strict plant-based diet results in drastic reductions in subjective joint pain, stiffness and aching in people with symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. While a plant-based or vegan diet cannot cure arthritis, medical practitioners are increasingly advising patients with arthritis to adopt a vegan diet to better manage symptoms and reduce joint pain associated with inflammation.
And yet there are some people that believe a vegan diet can cause arthritis. Let’s take a look at these claims and see if they hold water.
Can a Plant-Based Diet Cause Arthritis?
There is a widespread belief in the West that dropping meat and dairy completely from your diet will result in weaker joints and an increased risk of developing different types of arthritis. Obviously the logic here is that a decrease in dairy consumption will mean a drastic decrease in calcium consumption, since cow’s milk is the primary source of calcium in most peoples’ diets. As sound as that logic seems in theory, it does not seem to play out in reality.
There isn’t a single case study involving a person who developed osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis or reactive arthritis after switching to a plant based or vegan diet. The mechanism by which a vegan diet might cause arthritis or even arthritic symptoms has never been explained or even suggested. The concerns about calcium intake appear to be completely unfounded, as vegans who eat diets rich in kale, broccoli and nuts tend to have calcium levels similar to people who regularly consume dairy. Simply pointing to vegans who don’t consume these plant foods would be like pointing to meat eaters who avoid calcium rich foods too.
Can Going Vegan Reverse Arthritis?
As we’ve already discussed, the clinical research shows that adopting a predominantly plant based, vegan diet can substantially reduce joint pain, stiffness and swelling. There is also considerable evidence that avoiding meat and dairy can dramatically improve symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, reactive arthritis and osteoarthritis. So, can you use a vegan diet to reverse arthritis?
Unfortunately, no. The simple act of dtiching meat and dairy and eating a completely plant-based diet does not seem to reverse or cure arthritis. While it may, in some cases, reduce arthritis symptoms to a degree which makes the condition tolerable, diet alone cannot make arthritis completely disappear once it has set in and taken hold. This shouldn’t be a cause for despair though, as lifestyle factors can make the difference between a mild, occassionally irritating arthritis and debilitating, life ruining arthritis.
Best Vegan Joint Supplement
For those of you who are experiencing joint pain after switching to a vegan diet, there’s no need to worry. Not only does a vegan diet almost always result in reduced joint pain and stiffness, but there is no evidence linking a plant based diet and an increase in joint pain. Any joint pain you are feeling is likely the result of other factors which coincide with your dietary changes (or in rare cases some mild hormonal changes that occur whenever you change your diet in a drastic way).
Thankfully, there are 100% natural, vegan-friendly supplements capable of reducing joint pain and protecting your joints from damage over the long haul.
So what is the best vegan joint pain supplement you can buy right now?
The best joint supplement for vegans on the market right now is Physio Flex Pro. This is the only physio-approved joint supplement out there right now. It combines 8 clinically proven, safe, effective ingredients which naturally reduce inflammation, support joint tissue maintenance and prevent cartilage damage over time.
Johan Theorin is an author, editor, and competitive cyclist. He is the author of most of the content on this website, and he is the site editor. Johan has spent years researching joint health, sports performance and recovery. He is a leading biohacking expert and an experienced physiotherapist.