Updated September 27, 2022
The following are typical examples of the results achieved by people with various forms of inflammatory arthritis who have followed my dietary recommendations strictly.* You can read the short quotes beside the pictures of these people for a glimpse at their lives before the McDougall Diet. There is little need for individual comments about life “after McDougall” because the outcomes are all so similar: complete relief of their inflammatory arthritis. Clicking on the arrows over their pictures leads to comprehensive stories about these real people.
“I’ve had some ups and downs with my health, but when I woke up with such severe pain in my hands that I couldn’t lift my son out of his crib in the mornings, it was terrifying. All of a sudden my feet and knees were aching all the time. There were many days when it was difficult for me to get out of bed because I was so fatigued. I had to quit my job because my joints were so inflamed that it was difficult and exhausting to move. For the next nine months, I spent most of my time on the couch due to the pain and fatigue caused by this disease.”
“When I was 30, one eye became so bloodshot and painful that I nearly lost sight in it. Similar eye episodes (iritis) appeared about 10 more times in the following 28 years. At 45, near the height of my physical fitness activities (ranging from martial arts to running), I began having painful tendons. The problem spread from my hips to my legs and arms. I had to stop running, and sometimes I could not even walk. At one point, when the arthritis spread to other joints, I became so crippled that I began shopping on the Internet for a wheelchair.”
“My rheumatoid arthritis began in 2008 with pain in my knees, which soon traveled to my elbows and hands. Each day it got a little harder to walk. I felt like the Tin Man from The Wizard of Oz, rusting in place. I could not roll over in bed, and I would wake up crying in terrible joint pain. I could not button clothes or tie my shoes. I was convinced that I was dying. I felt like I had PMS most days, especially within 48 hours after my methotrexate dosage. I would crash so hard and feel so depressed.”
“It started gradually then it got to be a 24-hour a day thing where I would fight to see how far I could get without eating a handful of Advil. I had spasms and pain in my back, neck, shoulders, and hips. I was in so much pain I could not sleep. Then I could not go to work because I was so tired. I started getting depressed and it just sort of spiraled from there. I actually considered killing myself.”
“It started when I was 15 years old with pain in my jaw. I couldn’t easily open my mouth to chew. When I was 16 ½ we realized something was very wrong: my knuckles were very swollen and I couldn’t make a fist without intense pain; even shaking hands was painful. My right foot was so swollen I couldn’t wear a shoe comfortably, and I walked with a limp. I actually told my mom that I thought my foot was broken because it hurt so badly whenever I walked. I was difficult for me to get from class to class because I was limping. I started becoming depressed when I was told there was no cure.”
“My hands throbbed with such intense pain that my husband had to stop holding them. In bed, I pulled the blanket up with my teeth. I kept pliers at my desk to pinch the ink cartridge in order to remove it from my printer. My hands wouldn’t close into a fist. My hips and shoulders ached so much that there were nights that I could not sleep. My knees were ruining my life. The pain was disabling. I was crippled. My husband had to pull me out of a chair. When he was not around, I chose chairs with arms so that I could push myself up and out with my elbows.”
“In December of 2008, the day after I qualified for the prestigious Boston Marathon (I had been training 3 times a day for almost a year) I was struck down with painful arthritis. Even though I was forced to take many months off from running, I still kept getting “injured.” A short time later, I developed inflammation in my jaw, my right hand, and elbow. I practically lived in my orthopedist’s office, getting one cortisone shot after another every few weeks in different joints and living on anti-inflammatory medication for almost a year.”
“As I entered my late thirties, I was struck with crippling psoriatic arthritis. I came to the point where I had unrelenting symptoms with fluctuating levels of pain in both knees and pain and stiffness in many of my other joints and pain in my muscles. At times I could not walk, dress, or bathe myself. I found myself unable to move, and even breathe, without causing jarring, dizzying pain to shoot through my joints. It took about 8 months to get a diagnosis. Having a name for my disease was minor relief, which did not offset the bad news that psoriatic arthritis was a disabling illness with no cure.”
“It started in one finger and then spread all around my body to my knees, elbows, and ankles. The things I loved to do the most, I could not do. The pain was so terrible that I could not ride my bike. I was not able to open my bottle of shampoo to wash my hair or even open my medication. I was feeling like an old lady. My husband and son were very supportive but they do not feel my pain. Only I know how much pain I have. After using steroids for a long time I was put on methotrexate with bad side effects. I was told I would have to live with this condition for my whole life.”
“I began experiencing “traveling” inflammation to various parts of my body: one week it would be in one or two fingers, the next week in one of my wrists, a month later in my shoulder. The turning point was when I spent two days unable to walk. The pain was so intense in the balls of my feet that the slightest pressure was unbearable. I cried as I tried to make my way across the room. The rheumatologist spent almost an hour examining me before giving her diagnosis of mild-to-moderate RA. It sounded like a death sentence”
*These are not simply “best case scenarios.” Patients with inflammatory arthritis, not osteoarthritis, should expect similar outcomes. (There are exceptions.) Plus, residual, post-inflammatory changes, including permanent structural damages to the joints, will remain. Otherwise active disease is stopped.
Autoimmune diseases are conditions in which the body produces antibodies that attack its own tissues. “The body attacks itself” in every imaginable place from the top of the scalp to deep inside the bowels. No organ—not the brain, not the liver, not even the heart—is beyond the reach of attack. Assaults on the joints are common, and the majority of these severe inflammatory arthritis conditions are labeled as “rheumatoid arthritis.” Even when one or a few body parts are predominantly involved, such as the hands and/or knees, the disease is at the same time affecting the rest of the body (it is said to be systemic) and can be deadly for some people.
|COMMON AUTOIMMUNE DISEASES|
|Alopecia (hair loss)
Diabetes (type 1)
Juvenile rheumatoid arthritis
Nonspecific inflammatory arthritis
Thyroiditis (resulting in hypothyroidism)
Autoimmune disease is one of the ten leading causes of death among women younger than 65 years of age. Interestingly, and without any reasonable explanation, approximately 80% of the cases of autoimmune disease are found in women. Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications, such as aspirin and Advil, are mainstays of therapy for relieving pain and stiffness. As the severity progresses, rheumatologists prescribe powerful medications, such as methotrexate and newly marketed biologic agents, to inhibit the immune system’s functions. Their benefits are primarily limited to relieving symptoms of the disease (like pain). These agents can have deadly side effects and unbearable financial costs.
Dr. McDougall’s Experience with Diet and Inflammatory Arthritis
Over the past 36 years I have learned many valuable lessons about treating inflammatory arthritis. The pain and disability of this disease is often sufficient to cause people to seek help from anywhere and at any price. When their respectable medical doctors with their powerful drugs fail, patients look to alternative medicine and the supplement industry. Along the way most patients ask the experts: “Does diet have anything to do with my arthritis?” With very few exceptions medical doctors and registered dietitians emphatically answer, “NO.” In the face of unified resistance, and a past personal medical history littered with multiple failed attempts for a cure, the patient may become sufficiently motivated to take what seems to be the most drastic step of all, which is to radically change his or her diet.
My 36-years of seeing patients, along with many scientific papers, has led me to the conclusion that a healthy low fat, vegan diet (the McDougall Diet, for example) dramatically improves and in most cases cures inflammatory arthritis. The diet consumed cannot simply be “vegan” (without animal foods). Meals must be based around unrefined starches with the addition of vegetables and fruits. Vegetable oils (olive, corn, canola, flaxseed, etc.) are strictly forbidden.
When patients first start, I usually recommend that they follow the basic McDougall Diet without wheat or soy foods. (This request is made only for general health reasons because it eliminates refined flours found in breads and cereals, and processed soybeans, including fake meats and cheeses.) A gluten-free diet (no wheat, barley, or rye) is a next reasonable step for anyone not achieving rapid improvements from the basic McDougall Diet. A few people will have to follow the stricter McDougall Elimination Diet (see below). A temporary water-only fast maintained for a few days is the ultimate dietary restriction and is a final step I have resorted to for a few difficult patients.
Benefits for arthritis usually begin to appear within four to seven days of strict adherence to the new diet regime. This is the amount of time required for the bowels to eliminate all of the foods previously consumed. After the remnants of unhealthy foods are emptied from the intestines, the animal-food-derived protein antigens slowly clear out of the bloodstream over the next few days. Products of inflammation, such as the antibodies attacking the body’s own tissues, may persist for weeks. Complete resolution of active disease may take as long as four months; only then can the full benefits be appreciated from following the new diet therapy.
Unfortunately, small indiscretions often result in big penalties. That error could be a tiny bite of cheese or a bowlful of oily vegetables. One of my patients had been free of all of her arthritis pain and swelling for four months when she ventured out to a Chinese restaurant. The food served may have been vegan, but the peapods and sprouts were drowning in peanut oil and swimming with questionable ingredients. The next day she was in my office with both knees red, hot, and swollen.
People on medication must keep in contact with their private doctors. As they improve with the new diet regime then their doctors should be recommending, sooner rather than later, reductions and eliminations of medications. Remember, the medications are primarily for symptom relief. The cost of too aggressive reduction of medication is an increase in pain, which can be remedied by restarting the drug regime. Most people, like the ten examples in this article, will be able to stop all medications and live comfortably. The program is essentially cost-free, side effect-free, and risk-free. Of course, patients should consult their healthcare provider before making any changes in their diet or medication, especially if they are ill or on powerful drugs.
|THE MCDOUGALL ELIMINATION DIET:|
|The following foods are allowed without calorie restriction. Portion control (based on a visual estimate) should result in about 80% of the food coming from starches; the remainder will be from vegetables and fruits. Cook all foods thoroughly. Heat breaks down and deactivates proteins and other troublesome components of the food. Boiling and steaming are the healthiest ways to cook.|
|Starches (all cooked), include:
Brown rice (or white rice)
Winter squash (Acorn, Butternut, Pumpkin, etc.)
Taro (or poi)
Non-starchy green and yellow vegetables (all cooked) include:
Almost all other non-starchy yellow, orange, red, green, and purple vegetables are allowed (cooked). Avoid onions, green pepper, cucumbers, and radishes, especially when raw because they can be very troublesome for the stomach, causing indigestion.
Fruits (all cooked) include:
Avoid all citrus fruits, including oranges, grapefruits, tangerines, lemons, limes, etc. and also tomatoes.
Only common table salt and table sugar are allowed, if not restricted for other health reasons. This means no salad dressings, mustard, lemon juice, vinegar, pepper or other condiments.
Water (sparkling water is OK)
Managing the Elimination Diet:
After one week of being strictly on the new diet, food-caused problems should be ending and the dieter should be feeling much improved. If this is the case, then the dieter can begin adding other foods (those not listed above) back to his or her diet, but only one at a time, in order to determine if any of these cause unpleasant reactions. For testing purposes, each “new” food should be eaten in large amounts three times a day for two days. If the food does not cause a reaction, then the dieter can conclude that this food is not a troublemaker. Most reactions occur within a few hours, but some may not show up for several days. Each food must be tested individually; do not introduce two new foods at once. When there is a reaction to a specific food, the dieter must wait for four to seven days before testing the next item. This interval gives the time required to clear the intestines and to rest the system from that allergy-causing food.
The foods added back during the elimination diet should not be from animal products of any kind or from vegetable oils for general health reasons. No one should follow a diet “more liberal” than the basic McDougall Diet.