Woman bedbound with crippling arthritis credits becoming vegan for helping her recover to run a marathon

Woman bedbound due to crippling arthritis credits becoming vegan for helping her recover to run a marathon
Norfolk local credits becoming vegan for helping her run a marathon after crippling arthritis. (Caters)

A woman who was bedbound and unable to walk due to crippling arthritis has recovered to run her first marathon and believes her incredible turnaround is down to adopting a vegan diet.

Kate Dunbar, 59, from Hunstanton, Norfolk, was left unable to walk when she started to experience unbearable pain in the joints all over her body.

She was later diagnosed with arthritis, but after noticing that certain foods made her feel worse she decided to become a whole food vegan, which she now credits for helping to "cure" her health condition.

Not only is Dunbar walking again, but she is also now able to run and has recently completed her first marathon.

Read more: Should you go vegan for your health?

Woman bedbound due to crippling arthritis credits becoming vegan for helping her recover to run a marathon
Kate Dunbar noticed that some foods caused her arthritis symptoms to worsen. (Caters)

"It started off with some bad back pain, which continued to get worse and worse," she says.

"Eventually, I had terrible pain in all of my joints, including my feet, knees and shoulders.

"My flare-ups would get so bad that I'd suffer a condition called iritis and almost lost sight in my left eye.

"It got to a point where I was dosed up on painkillers, couldn't get out of bed and couldn't walk."

After a while Dunbar spotted that certain foods would have a greater impact on her condition.

Woman bedbound due to crippling arthritis credits becoming vegan for helping her recover to run a marathon
The pain of Dunbar's arthritis often meant that she would be bedbound. (Caters)

She decided to try an elimination diet, which seemed to suggest she was having the worst reactions to red meat and cheese.

After discovering the Vegan Society, she decided to give being vegan a go and believes it enabled her to halve her medication.

"However, I still suffered some flare-ups," she says.

Dunbar says her new vegan diet still wasn't as healthy as it could have been, as she'd eat vegan cakes, pastries, and ultra-processed vegan foods.

Although the switch was helping her arthritis, she says she didn't see drastic improvement until she took the steps to become a whole food vegan, which also involves excluding oils and processed packaged foods.

Woman bedbound due to crippling arthritis credits becoming vegan for helping her recover to run a marathon
Kate has been able to run a marathon since she making the decision to go vegan reduced her pain levels significantly. (Caters)

"A wholefood vegan means eating lots of whole grains, fruits and vegetables, seeds, nuts, herbs, spices, beans and lentils," Dunbar explains.

"It's a very anti-inflammatory diet and contains lots of fibre. It's heart and brain-healthy too."

Read more: Ulrika Jonsson opens up on arthritis pain: 'It affects relationships and intimacy'

Dunbar says she first learnt about whole food veganism after chatting to a woman on a vegan market stall at a market.

"She suffered from the same condition [as me], but she became a whole food vegan and now runs marathons and has even stopped taking medication.

"I burst into tears on the spot," Dunbar continues.

"I hadn't heard of it before and spent a few weeks trawling the internet, getting my head around it before deciding to give it a go."

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She reports being able to reduce her medication gradually until she wasn't taking anything at all.

"I kept waiting for a flare-up to hit me, but to my amazement, nothing happened," she adds.

Following the improvement in her condition, Dunbar decided to join the Vegan Runners group, but never anticipated that she'd become a serious runner.

Read more: Chanelle Hayes reveals arthritis diagnosis at 35: ‘It’s going to hinder me’

However, having fallen in love with running, she was amazed to be able to complete her first marathon.

"I did the Boston Marathon, in Lincolnshire, and completed it in four hours and 40 minutes," she says.

"I've never been into running before this, but I absolutely love it now."

As well as running around three times a week, Dunbar also goes cycling and swimming. She has booked to compete in the Paris marathon next year and is also taking part in a location triathlon.

"I can't believe I have gone from not being able to walk to being able to run marathons," she adds.

"I could have been headed for a wheelchair if I hadn't changed my diet.

"I can't believe how much I've managed to turn it around."

What is arthritis?

Arthritis is a term used to describe many conditions that relate to joint pain, stiffness and inflammation.

According to the NHS, there are more than 10 million people in the UK who have (at least) one of the many similar conditions that are covered by the term arthritis.

Symptoms of arthritis

The symptoms you experience will vary depending on the type you have, so it's important to have an accurate diagnosis if you have:

  • joint pain, tenderness and stiffness

  • inflammation in and around the joints

  • restricted movement of the joints

  • warm red skin over the affected joint

  • weakness and muscle wasting

Veganism and arthritis: the science

There is no cure for arthritis, but there are some treatments to help slow the condition.

Some medical professionals and people living with (or formerly with) arthritis believe a vegan diet can reduce the symptoms of arthritis or even "cure" it.

But there is some debate about the science behind the claims.

While there are some risk factors of the condition you cannot change – your age and genes for example –one of the biggest risk factors for developing arthritis is being overweight.

The charity Vegan Friendly highlights research by European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC-Oxford), suggesting vegans have a significantly lower body mass index (BMI) than meat-eaters.

But of course, it is possible to be vegan and not follow a healthy diet, which would impact weight loss.

However, there is some evidence (often anecdotal) suggesting further reasons why a vegan diet could reduce the risk of developing certain conditions impacting the joints.

Arthritis Action suggests that “the polyphenols, antioxidants and phytochemicals in fruit and vegetables could reduce inflammation” and given that a vegan diet is based largely on fruit and vegetables, this could have an impact on those living with joint conditions.

There is also some research suggesting a low-fat, vegan diet could reduce the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, but as Vegan Friendly points out the sample size, of just 24 patients, was very small.

A further study, looking at whether a whole foods, plant-based diet could alleviate the symptoms of osteoarthritis (OA) found some evidence of benefits, but again the sample size was small and more large scale research is needed to draw more firm conclusions.

In terms of a vegan diet potentially reversing arthritis, evidence is generally based on anecdotal accounts, like that of Dunbar.

Woman bedbound due to crippling arthritis credits becoming vegan for helping her recover to run a marathon

So, as Vegan Friendly points out, it is hard to draw firm conclusions because, though it might have worked for Dunbar, there could be other contributing factors involved including alternative medication, alterations to exercise regimes and various lifestyle factors.

On the opposite side, there are some potential concerns about switching to a vegan diet in order to alleviate symptoms of arthritis, particularly that a plant-based diet cannot include sufficient levels of omega-3, which has been shown to help alleviate joint pain.

But certain plant-based foods such as walnuts, various seeds, linseed oil and rapeseed oil, as well as vegan-friendly omega-3 supplements, could provide a similar boost in fatty acid production.

Whatever the research shows, stories like Dunbar's show the anecdotal evidence can't be ignored.