A Kiwi woman suffering a mysterious and painful skin condition for a decade was cured after switching to a plant-only diet even vegans might consider restrictive.
Her miraculous recovery from livedoid vasculopathy is detailed in the latest edition of journal BMJ Case Reports.
Livedoid vasculopathy is "a rare, chronic vascular disorder characterised by persistent painful ulceration of the lower extremities", according to the DermNet New Zealand Trust. Just what causes it isn't yet clear, and until now, there was no known cure - only treatments to alleviate the symptoms.
Around one in 100,000 people are affected, mostly women in their 30s. The Gisborne woman, in her 60s, first reported symptoms in 2006.
It took until 2013 and a skin biopsy for the ulcers to be diagnosed as livedoid vasculopathy.
"The patient was bothered by the sores because they were 'unsightly' and therefore she only wore pants or long skirts," the report read. "She was upset that the treatments failed to cure her condition despite high adherence; she had expected there would be something she could do."
Aspirin did nothing, and compression stockings were only a temporary fix - every time she ran out of the expensive legwear, even if just for a day, the ulcers would come back. For 10 years she took ibuprofen every night, and sometimes codeine, for the pain.
By 2016, she told her GP she was willing to "try anything". Her GP recommended a 'whole foods plant-based' (WFPB) diet, despite knowing there wasn't any strong evidence it would necessarily work for her particular condition.
"A WFPB diet includes all vegetables, fruits, legumes, grains, herbs and spices," the case report said. "High-fat plant foods like avocado and coconut are limited. Meat, dairy, eggs, fried foods, heavily processed foods and all refined oils are excluded."
Within one month, she reported the lesions were healing, and the symptoms were "less bothersome than they had been in 'years'".
A year later, they were gone.
Further evidence emerged in 2019 the diet was to thank, when she fell off the wagon briefly.
"I lapsed badly," she said. "Fish and chips, pies, ham and cheese sandwiches, and in Feb/March my feet developed those awful sores. I was in a lot of pain again."
She suspected fatty meat, cheese and oils as the culprits. Once resuming the WFPB diet, the symptoms went away.
"The mechanism for improvement in this case may be due to improved endothelial function, the report concluded. The endothelium is the thin layer of cells that lines blood vessels.
The scientists said they'd need to do more research to see if a WFPB diet can help others suffering livedoid vasculopathy.