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Does the Paddison Program for Rheumatoid Arthritis Work?

Posted on April 19, 2022
Medically reviewed by
Ariel D. Teitel, M.D., M.B.A.
Article written by
Joan Grossman

The Paddison Program is a step-by-step guide for reducing disease activity in rheumatoid arthritis (RA) through diet, supplements, exercise, and stress reduction. The program was started by Clint Paddison, who treated his RA by studying the science behind the condition. He then made major lifestyle changes (especially through diet) that reversed his disease and allowed him to stop taking medication for RA.

The program has been endorsed by several medical doctors who advocate dietary changes and other lifestyle factors as the main part of overcoming disease and staying healthy. The fee-based program aims to help participants boost their immune health, eliminate RA symptoms, and reduce or stop medications. But does the Paddison Program work?

The underlying principle of the Paddison Program is that diet, the gut biome, and intestinal health are at the core of a healthy immune system. In people with RA, the immune system overreacts and attacks healthy tissue in joints. Inflammation from RA can cause joint pain and swelling, joint damage, and fatigue. In approximately 40 percent of cases, the condition can affect other organs such as the eyes, lungs, and blood vessels.

Treatment options for RA aim for pain relief, reducing disease activity, and remission through a range of anti-inflammatory medications. These medications include conventional disease-modifying anti-inflammatory drugs like methotrexate and biologics. Along with medication, a healthy diet, aerobic and strengthening exercise, and stress reduction may also help prevent inflammation from autoimmune diseases like RA.

Many myRAteam members have discussed the Paddison Program. One member wrote, “I am doing the Paddison diet. I started the juice fast this weekend, and my joints feel great.”

Another member said, “I’ve been doing some research about diet, and for the past two months, I have been following a plan of no meat, dairy, sugar, gluten, or nightshades. I’m not sure I see a difference yet as far as feeling better, but I do feel good about how I’m eating, and I’ve lost weight! Have you heard of the Paddison diet? That’s what motivated me originally.”

The Science Behind the Paddison Program

The Paddison Program website links to scientific peer-reviewed research that examines how gut health affects inflammation and may be an underlying cause of RA. The articles cited on the Paddington Program website are part of a growing body of research that is drawing connections between a healthy lifestyle and reducing inflammation in some people with RA.

Gut Health

Gut health is a focus of the Paddison Program. Intestinal health has become a focus of research in recent years, as scientists have examined links between the digestive system, immune system, and autoimmunity. The Paddison Program emphasizes that RA disease activity is affected by gut bacteria, leaky gut, enzymes, and the mucosal lining of the intestine, among other factors.

There is scientific evidence that gut bacteria (also known as the intestinal microbiome) can change with a vegetarian or vegan diet and may help reduce disease activity in people with RA. Leaky gut syndrome is when unhealthy intestinal tissue causes the intestinal barrier (gut wall) to become permeable and leak bacteria into the blood system. It has also been linked to autoimmune conditions like RA. Research has shown that dairy, sugar, and gluten — all of which are discouraged in the Paddison Program — may cause damage linked to leaky gut syndrome.

Nonsteroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs and Antibiotics

The Paddison Program also claims that antibiotics can damage the microbiome in the gut and increase the risk for RA. That statement is based on research that suggests that the use of antibiotics is associated with the onset of RA in some people.

The Paddison Program also points to gut damage from nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), which are commonly used to treat RA and other types of inflammatory arthritis like ankylosing spondylitis. Studies have shown that NSAID side effects can cause ulcers in the gastrointestinal tract, have an impact on gut bacteria, and cause intestinal permeability in up to 70 percent of long-term NSAID users.

Anti-inflammatory Diet

Research has shown that diet is associated with inflammation in some people with RA. Saturated fats, trans fats, red meat, and refined carbohydrates such as foods made with white flour or other processed grains have been linked to higher disease activity in people with RA.

The Paddison Program recommends a plant-based diet to reduce RA inflammation. Likewise, the Mediterranean diet, a high-fiber, low-fat diet consisting of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, fish, legumes, and extra virgin olive oil has been shown to reduce inflammatory markers such as C-reactive protein, which can be measured in the blood. However, the Paddison Program advocates a diet with no animal products, including fish.

Exercise and Stress

The Paddison Program also emphasizes exercise for improving gut health in people with RA. Research has shown that exercise may have a positive impact on inflammation and gut bacteria. Evidence shows that exercise has numerous benefits for people with RA and can help improve strength, balance, and range of motion. Exercise can also help reduce the risk of heart disease and improve depression, anxiety, and fatigue.

Psychological stress, depression, and anxiety have been linked to increased disease activity and flares in RA. Reducing stress through relaxation techniques and physical activity such as exercise may help improve RA symptoms and reduce inflammation.

Following the Paddison Program

The Paddison Program is based on sound scientific principles, but like any program that promises results, it may not be easy for some people to follow. In a TEDx video, Clint Paddison admitted that it was very difficult to stick with a rigorous program to change his diet to the point of going off his RA medication. Paddison is also a former athlete and was able to maintain a strong exercise program.

The Paddison program has not undergone a peer review by experts in rheumatology. However, in a scholarly review of mobile apps that guide people with RA in exercise and diet routines, the Paddison Program app was found lacking in information quality, according to users who were surveyed.

For some myRAteam members, the Paddison Program has had positive results. “I went on the Paddison Program. That was over five years ago. I’ve been off meds and pain-free for over four years now. I live a whole-food, plant-based lifestyle. It was hard at first, but I made the adjustment.”

The program may not be right for people who are not prepared to make big lifestyle changes. However, the program may inspire you to make moderate changes that may improve your condition. “I don’t see myself going too vegan, but rather modifying my diet,” one member wrote in a discussion about the Paddison Program. “I do not eat a lot of meat but LOVE dairy foods — which should probably be decreased. As usual, my fruit and veggie intake is too low and can always be increased.”

Another member discussed her experience in the Paddison Program and other programs that encourage healthy changes for people with RA. “If you add it all together, it will show you that a plant-based, sensitive diet and a healthy lifestyle will do wonders for us.”

Remember that everyone is different and what works for some people may not work for others. “I am now dairy- and gluten-free, and I feel better in general, but I don’t think it has had a large impact on my joint health,” a member said.

Maintain Your Treatment Plan

If you are thinking about trying the Paddison Program, it is important to maintain your treatment plan as you start the program. Do not make changes to your medication without medical advice from your rheumatologist.

The Paddison Program may feature testimonials from people with RA who have stopped their medication, but stopping medication might not be the right option for you. “Many people who have done the Paddison Program have stayed on their meds while implementing dietary changes,” a myRAteam member wrote. “You can listen to Paddison’s podcasts for free where he interviews people who have done the program. I have heard him interview people who were still on some meds.”

Talk With Others Who Understand

On myRAteam, the social network for people with rheumatoid arthritis and their loved ones, more than 186,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with rheumatoid arthritis.

Are you living with rheumatoid arthritis? Are you curious about the Paddison Program? Share your thoughts and experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.

All updates must be accompanied by text or a picture.
Ariel D. Teitel, M.D., M.B.A. is the clinical associate professor of medicine at the NYU Langone Medical Center in New York. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Learn more about him here.
Joan Grossman is a freelance writer, filmmaker, and consultant based in Brooklyn, NY. Learn more about her here.

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