Supplements for Rheumatoid Arthritis

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Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a painful autoimmune condition that often causes crippling joint pain. While there are drugs available to help treat the disease, they often come with unpleasant side effects. This is why many people with rheumatoid arthritis seek out alternative forms of treatment, including supplements.

However, not all supplements are proven to help with RA. Let’s take a look at some supplements people use for RA and what the research says. 

S-adenosylmethionine (SAM-e)

Your body makes this compound naturally. But it’s also available in man-made supplement form. 

Research

There’s some evidence that SAM-e is effective in treating arthritis-related pain. However, the research also suggests that its effects on pain are about on par with taking a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID).

Most of the research on SAM-e for arthritis focuses on osteoarthritis (OA), and even then, the evidence is far from conclusive.

Side Effects and Precautions

There’s not enough research to say whether SAM-e is safe for use in certain people, like those who are pregnant. However, people with bipolar disorder shouldn’t use this supplement.

SAM-e can also interact with certain medications or supplements, like levodopa (L-dopa). The most common side effect of taking SAM-e is gastrointestinal upset.

Dosage 

This supplement’s recommended dosage may vary, but studies use doses of between 400 to 1,600 milligrams (mg).

Capsaicin

You’ll know this one well. It’s more commonly known as cayenne pepper, the spicy stuff that heatseekers like to sprinkle on their favorite dishes. Cayenne pepper is often used in pain relief products because capsaicin helps block pain-related nerve signals. 

Research

Capsaicin is a well-known pain reliever, so there’s no shortage of research out there on the stuff. Studies show that topically applied capsaicin cream is effective in treating different forms of chronic pain.

Side Effects and Precautions

If you want to try out a capsaicin product, be sure to do a patch test on your skin first. Anything topical has the potential to irritate your skin, and capsaicin is certainly no exception. Avoid getting capsaicin in your eyes, mouth, or mucous membranes.

Dosage 

Apply it liberally to your skin (after doing a patch test). You might have to apply it several times a day for sustained pain relief.

Turmeric 

Here’s another familiar ingredient you might find in your pantry. Turmeric is a root used in various cuisines. It contains a compound called curcumin, which is well-known for its anti-inflammatory properties. 

Research

A 2016 review of studies suggests that turmeric is effective in treating arthritis. However, the review concludes that more research is needed to confirm the results of the randomized clinical trials.

Side Effects and Precautions

In some studies, participants report experiencing stomach upset while taking turmeric supplements. Turmeric may also interact with certain medications, like blood-thinners. 

Dosage 

In the review of studies cited above, the effective dose was found to be 1,000 mg.

Cat’s Claw

This rainforest-sourced supplement may help with a variety of arthritis symptoms. 

Research

Evidence suggests that cat’s claw may produce some benefits in people with RA, without any alarming side effects. However, people in the study were also taking other medications at the time, which may have impacted study results.

Side Effects and Precautions

Some side effects of taking this supplement include dizziness, vomiting, and headaches. People with the following conditions should talk to their healthcare provider before taking any supplement, including cat’s claw:

  • Autoimmune disorders other than RA
  • Low blood pressure
  • Leukemia

Cat’s claw may interact with some medications or supplements. People who are pregnant should not use this supplement.

Dosage and Preparation

According to the Arthritis Foundation, a recommended dose is 250 to 350 mg.

Fish Oil

Fish oil is a popular supplement sourced from coldwater fish. It is a source of omega-3 fatty acids. The body doesn’t naturally produce fish oil, so you can only get it through diet or supplements. 

Research

Studies suggest that taking fish oil supplements can help reduce RA symptoms such as joint pain, swelling, and stiffness. People taking fish oil also found they had to rely less on NSAIDs for pain relief. 

Side Effects and Precautions

Taking fish oil shouldn’t produce any notable side effects, but this supplement can interact with blood thinners like Coumadin (warfarin).

Dosage and Preparation

The Arthritis Foundation recommends taking fish oil supplements that contain at least 30% EPA/DHA. They suggest a dose of 2.6 grams EPA/DHA twice a day for RA.

Ginger

You probably know that the root of the ginger plant has many culinary uses. It can also help with joint pain caused by RA, thanks to its anti-inflammatory properties. 

Research

Studies show that ginger extract can help with pain in people with osteoarthritis of the knee. Animal studies also suggest that high doses of the supplement can produce anti-inflammatory effects that help treat RA.

Side Effects and Precautions

Ginger supplements may interact with certain medications.

Dosage and Preparation 

The Arthritis Foundation recommends a dose of 2 grams (g) three times a day.

Glucosamine 

Glucosamine is probably one of the most commonly referenced supplements for arthritis. Your joints are primarily made up of glucosamine. However, glucosamine supplements are typically sourced from shellfish and not human cartilage.

Research

Studies show that glucosamine (when combined with chondroitin) can effectively reduce pain, stiffness, and swelling in people with OA of the knee. However, other research points to the supplement having a neutral effect. More research is still needed before confirming that glucosamine can help with arthritis symptoms.

Side Effects and Precautions

Some side effects of glucosamine supplements include:

  • Stomach upset
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Heartburn 
  • Increases in blood pressure, triglyceride levels, cholesterol, and glucose

People should carefully check supplement labeling if they are allergic to shellfish. Those with glaucoma should avoid taking glucosamine supplements.

Dosage and Preparation

The recommended dosage for glucosamine is between 500 mg and 3 grams. It may take time to feel results.

Talk to Your Healthcare Provider

When considering taking any kind of supplement, always check with your healthcare provider. Many supplements can interact with one another or with other medications. 

What to Look For

While the FDA regulates supplements to some extent, they often step in after a company has done something they aren’t supposed to—like make wild, unsubstantiated health claims. When you’re shopping for supplements, the best thing to do is to read labels carefully. Avoid products that promise to cure ailments.

Remember, too, that more isn’t necessarily better. Check with your healthcare provider to find out the dosage that’s appropriate for you. 

Buy from reputable brands with positive customer reviews. Opt for products that are certified by third-party independent laboratories like ConsumerLabs or NSF International. 

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