Rheumatoid arthritis patients may be able to reduce their high risk of heart attacks and strokes with a gluten-free, vegan diet, a study suggests.
Meat was off the menu for half of those in the study group
Heart attacks and strokes are among the leading causes of death for sufferers, as the inflammation caused by the disease impacts upon the arteries.
But an Arthritis Research and Therapy study found those who pursued a vegan regime had less "bad" cholesterol.
By clogging arteries, this is seen as a key risk factor for heart problems.
Rheumatoid Arthritis affects around 350,000 people in the UK.
Millet and sesame
But researchers at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm say this risk could be reduced through a diet which excludes animal products and gluten - found in wheat, oats, rye and barley.
They placed 38 volunteers on the diet, in which protein accounted for 10% of daily energy intake, carbohydrate 60% and fat for 30%.
It included nuts, sunflower seeds, fruit and vegetables, millet and corn. Sesame milk provided a daily source of calcium.
A further 28 volunteers followed a healthy diet with approximately the same proportions of protein, carbohydrate and fat.
Saturated fats were not to make up more than 10% of daily energy intake, and wholegrain products were to be chosen as often as possible.
Those on the vegan diet showed a decrease in the total level of cholesterol and specifically a reduction in the amount of low-density lipoprotein (LDL), also known as "bad cholesterol".
In contrast, those on the non-vegan diet showed no significant variations in these levels.
The researchers pointed to a "large body of evidence" suggesting that these changes were beneficial when it comes to preventing blockage of the arteries and cardiovascular disease.
The vegan volunteers also had a lower Body Mass Index (BMI) at the end of the 12 month period, while the control group remained the same.
The Arthritis Research Campaign, which is currently looking into how statins may reduce cardiovascular risks for sufferers, said the study was of interest but said the role of diet could be exaggerated.
"However we do know that, for example, eating oily fish can reduce inflammation, and risk factors for developing the condition include high consumption of red meat and low consumption of fruit and vegetables, so diet does play a role - however limited," a spokeswoman said.
But the charity also sounded a note of warning: "A vegan diet may be helpful in reducing cholesterol, but it can be difficult to get enough of some important nutrients on a vegan diet."
The Vegan Society stressed that it was important for people following all kinds of diet to ensure they got sufficient quantities of the correct micronutrients.