13 Supplements That Could Ease Your RA

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Let’s set one thing straight first: No one pill is going to cure your rheumatoid arthritis (RA). But research suggests some dietary supplements can improve your overall health and can be one part of your Master Plan for dealing with the disease. In fact, when it comes to controlling RA symptoms, a holistic approach is your best bet, says Weijia Yuan, M.D., a rheumatologist at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City. That means eating clean, exercising, practicing stress management, and for some patients, taking dietary supplements. While most supplements don’t have enough data to support definitive claims about their benefits (and hello, they are not regulated by the FDA), some patients find them helpful, says Dr. Yuan. Before you start pill-popping, talk to your doctor. They should check for any Rx interactions and provide the right dosage. You knew we were going to say that, right?


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Vitamin D

Possibly the trendiest vitamin of the moment, Vitamin D has been linked to greater bone density and immune health, and people with RA tend to have lower levels in their bodies. That was true for HealthCentral RA patient advocate Cathy Kramer, 51, who’s been living with RA for 10-plus years and has taken vitamin D: “It gives me more energy.” Some research suggests that people with RA are less sensitive to vitamin D, possibly increasing the need for supplementation. Look for vitamin D3, which is more easily absorbed, recommends Dr. Yuan.


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Fish Oil

A recent study review in the journal Nutrients found that this supplement can significantly reduce joint pain and stiffness in RA patients. Credit its omega-3 fatty acids, in particular EPA and DHA, which fight inflammation. “I’ve tried tons of supplements over the years,” Kramer confides. “The one I keep going back to is fish oil.” She finds it helps ease her dry eyes, another common eye-related symptom of RA.


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Turmeric

This anti-inflammatory spice from India contains a chemical called curcumin, which may reduce joint swelling in people with RA. Dr. Yuan has noticed it’s especially helpful in her patients with milder symptoms. As a bonus, it may relieve acid reflux, a possible side effect of some RA medications. Just don’t expect results overnight; give it at least three months, suggests Dr. Yuan.


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Calcium

People with RA are at increased risk for osteoporosis, a condition that causes weak, brittle bones. The corticosteroids often prescribed for RA can trigger bone loss and interfere with calcium absorption. Plus, the pain of RA can lead to inactivity, further increasing risk. If you take a calcium supplement, try taking it with your vitamin D to improve absorption.


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Vitamin C

A powerful antioxidant, vitamin C is key for immune function, making it important for anyone with a chronic disease, says Robert Hylland, M.D., a rheumatologist in Muskegon, MI. It also plays a role in bone health, repairing and maintaining healthy bones throughout the body.


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Boswellia (Frankincense)

Some studies suggest this anti-inflammatory herb may be an effective therapy for RA. Boswellic acids have strong anti-inflammatory effects and analgesic properties. They can also fight cartilage loss and the autoimmune process.


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Folic Acid

This synthetic form of vitamin B9 may help manage methotrexate side effects, such as GI issues, mouth ulcers, and liver damage. In fact, a recent Cochrane Review found that just 1 mg of folic acid a day was enough to help patients taking the drug. It may even help you tolerate a higher (and possibly more effective) dose of methotrexate.


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Glucosamine and Chondroitin

These are important components of cartilage and connective tissue. Studies show they can be effective in osteoarthritis, and a few have investigated the impact on RA too. The supplements are safe to try, but if you don’t notice any improvement after a couple of months, you likely never will.


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Coenzyme Q10

Coenzyme Q10, or CoQ10, is an antioxidant that feeds your cells. It’s found in meat, fish, and whole grains, though not in high enough amounts to meaningfully impact the levels in your body. Taking it as a supplement may improve your RA symptoms. In one randomized clinical trial, RA patients who took 100 mg of CoQ10 a day saw inflammatory markers in their blood go down after two months. Still, if you’re on blood thinners, take note: It may interfere with the drug, increasing blood clot risk.


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Grape-seed Extract

You know rheumatoid arthritis can wreak havoc on your bones and joints. But grape-seed extract may slow the destruction—that’s what some animal research suggest. In a PLOS One study, the extract appeared to suppress cells responsible for bone degradation while boosting those that promote bone growth.


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Iron

Up to two-thirds of people with RA have anemia, an iron deficiency where your blood does not have enough hemoglobin to transport oxygen throughout the body. What’s more, RA patients with anemia may suffer more severe symptoms and joint damage than those who don’t have it. Iron supplements could help.


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Probiotics

Beneficial bacteria in the gut help regulate inflammation, making them especially important for those with RA. You can get them from some yogurts, sauerkraut, and kimchi. But if you’re not a fan of those foods, try a supplement. Look for products with a USP label. This means a third party has verified the ingredients. Dr. Yuan has her patients rotate different brands to ensure they get a variety of bacteria strains.


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Prebiotics

Your prebiotic intake is important too, says Dr. Yuan. These dietary fibers feed the good bacteria, promoting their growth. Jerusalem artichokes, raw asparagus, dandelion greens, and onions (raw and cooked) are all good sources. Bananas are too, but only if they’re still green, she adds. You can buy green-banana flour—try it in pancakes!