Supplements for Rheumatoid Arthritis
Lene Andersen | Dec 18th 2015
Many people who live with RA use supplements and vitamins in a variety of ways. Some may ease symptoms of the disease, others can build your general health, and some may help control side effects from medications. In this slideshow, we look at a number of supplements which are commonly used by people who have RA.
Vitamin D plays an important role in RA. A deficiency in this vitamin is implicated in the development of autoimmune diseases, and it may contribute to higher levels of chronic pain. Vitamin D is also important for absorption of calcium to build stronger bones. A blood test can measure your levels of vitamin D, although it may not be covered by your insurance.
Folic acid is commonly used by people taking methotrexate for their RA. Folic acid is the synthetic form of folate or vitamin B9. It has been shown to be effective in managing methotrexate side effects, such as gastrointestinal issues, and mouth ulcers, and may also protect the liver. It may enable you to tolerate a higher dose of methotrexate, which can be more effective for your RA.
Glucosamine and chondroitin
Glucosamine and chondroitin are important components of cartilage and connective tissue, and can be effective in osteoarthritis. Only a few studies have been conducted on the impact of glucosamine on RA. One study found that glucosamine may have an impact on pain. No studies on RA and chondroitin have been performed. Bottom line: if you feel it helps, continue taking them.
Probiotics are living microorganisms that can provide beneficial effects. An estimated 100 trillion live in healthy bowels. Gastrointestinal problems are common side effects of most RA medications and probiotics can help manage these. Taking probiotics can help regulate both constipation and diarrhea, as well as reduce symptoms of acid reflux. Note: probiotics can also be found in certain foods!
Turmeric is a spice used in Indian and North African cuisines, and has been used as an anti-inflammatory in Ayurvedic medicine. It contains a chemical called Curcumin, which may reduce joint swelling. It’s been studied for osteoarthritis, but a small 2012 study of a curcumin product (BCM-95) showed that it may also be effective for RA. It can also help reduce symptoms of acid reflux.
Anemia happens when your blood does not have enough hemoglobin or red blood cells. Up to two thirds of people with RA have anemia, especially those with active inflammation. In people with RA, it may be caused by an iron deficiency or be due to inflammation, which lowers the production of red blood cells. Anemia is diagnosed by blood tests. Treatment may include RA meds, and iron supplements.
Fish oil contains Omega-3 fatty acids, in particular EPA and DHA. These help reduce the inflammatory response in the body. There’s been a number of studies of the effect of EPA and DHA on RA, as well as other conditions that involve inflammation. Studies have shown that fish oil can reduce joint tenderness and stiffness in people with RA, and may help reduce the use of NSAIDs.
Vitamin B12 is used to treat B12 deficiency, or pernicious anemia. It can also be used for a variety of other things, including memory loss, IBD, allergies. Many people find it especially useful for boosting energy. As most people who have RA experience significant issues with fatigue, vitamin B12 shots may be useful in increasing energy.
Ginger has a number of beneficial effects that can help people with RA. It has been shown to have anti-inflammatory effects that are similar to NSAIDs. One study showed that taking a special ginger extract reduced the inflammation in people with RA. Ginger can also be used for gastrointestinal side effects to RA meds, and is particularly useful in the treatment of nausea.
Cat’s Claw works as an anti-inflammatory. It affects the tumor necrosis factor, which is also a target of several biologic drugs, such as Enbrel, Humira, and Remicade. A recent small study showed that taking cat’s claw had a significant impact on joint swelling and pain. If you want to try Cat’s Claw, make sure that you choose a brand that is free of tetra-cyclic oxindole alkaloids.
Echinacea and other immune system boosters
Many people using echinacea when they feel a cold or flu coming on, but it is important that people with RA and other autoimmune diseases not do this. Echinacea and others immune system boosters, such as golden seal, can cause a flare in disease symptoms.
Using supplements safely
Supplements and other forms of natural medicine are a form of medication. As all medications, they may have side effects and interactions with other drugs. Inform your doctor of any supplements you take. As well, you may want to consider consulting a licensed doctor of naturopathy, who can advise you about the best supplements, as well as inform you of which may cause problems.