Like many people I have RA and live with the symptoms and flare ups of pain and fatigue, some days worse than others. People who suffer with RA use supplements and vitamins in a variety of ways to help ease symptoms of the disease. Others can build your general health, and some may help control side effects from medications. In this post let’s 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.
Many people with rheumatoid arthritis are deficient in folic acid, according to a study published in the January 1964 issue of “British Medical Journal.“ Furthermore, the deficiency of folate is severe enough to determine anemia.
The authors found evidence of megaloblastic anemia in patients with RA. Megaloblastic anemia is a form of anemia that may be caused by other shortage of vitamins as well.
However, the researchers suggested that folic acid deficiency played a key role in developing this megaloblastic anemia in the participants of the study.
Researchers hypothesized that there may be a link between folic acid and the severity of RA symptoms, however, larger studies are needed to confirm these findings.
In some cases of rheumatoid arthritis, physicians may prescribe a drug called methotrexate.
Although used in low doses, methotrexate can have significant side effects and may also deplete your body of folic acid, according to National Institute of Health.
Diets high in folic acid or folic acid supplements may help decrease the toxic effects of this drug without reducing its efficacy. Important sources of dietary folate include beef liver, spinach and asparagus.
Folic acid is an over-the-counter supplement available alone or in combination with other B vitamins.
To improve overall health, the recommended daily dosage is 400mcg in adults. Your physician may prescribe higher doses of folic acid depending on your particular condition. Folic acid has an excellent safety profile, though in rare situations it causes mild stomach upset, sleep disturbance or skin problems.
Daily doses of 1000mcg or higher of folic acid should be avoided because they may mask an underlying vitamin B12 deficiency.
Glucosamine and Chondroitin
Glucosamine and Chondroitin Sulfate have been found to have considerable success in the treatment of osteoarthritis in both humans and animals.
Results from the American College of Rheumatology’s medical studies indicate that both supplements have been found to reduce joint inflammation and swelling, with most evidence being present in the knee.
Glucosamine and Chondroitin Sulfate effectiveness studies for rheumatoid arthritis sufferers have been fewer and farther between.
In fact, only a handful of studies have been conducted on Glucosamine in relation to rheumatoid arthritis.
While very few documented studies related to Chondroitin Sulfate and its effectiveness in treating RA have been conducted.
People with inflammatory diseases (like RA) have inflammation in their digestive tracts. This makes it easier for bacteria and other elements to enter the bloodstream and trigger an inflammatory response in areas such as joints. 1 If this is true, maintaining a healthy balance of gut bacteria should help minimize the overall inflammatory response and thereby reduce RA symptoms.
Although people have been using turmeric to treat inflammatory conditions for thousands of years, there is a lack of research studies on curcumin. A study performed in 2012 on 45 people with active rheumatoid arthritis revealed that the individuals who were given curcumin saw decreased Disease Activity Scores as well as a decrease in the number of tender and/or swollen joints over the group not given curcumin.3 In addition, no adverse effects were seen in the individuals taking curcumin. The researchers who conducted this study stated the need for further research on a larger scale, but were encouraged by their findings.
While turmeric is a natural supplement derived from a shrub, it can still have some side effects. One of the most common symptoms of taking turmeric in high doses or for long periods of time is digestive issues such as diarrhea, indigestion or nausea and, in extreme cases, ulcers. In addition, people with gallbladder disease should avoid turmeric, as it can exacerbate the condition. Also, turmeric may lower blood sugars. Therefore, if you have diabetes it is important to discuss taking turmeric with the endocrinologist or doctor who treats your diabetes before adding it to your diet. Lastly, while it is safe to eat foods containing turmeric while pregnant or breastfeeding, it is not recommended to take turmeric in high doses or in supplement form.
Once you and your doctor(s) have determined it is safe for you to try turmeric, there are many ways of ingesting the spice to choose from.
If you want to add it to foods you eat, there are many recipes available on the internet that feature turmeric, including rice dishes, vegetables, salad dressings, soups, and Indian cuisine.
You can also sprinkle it on top of egg dishes or add it to smoothies.
It is also possible to make tea by boiling water and adding fresh turmeric root or dried turmeric powder.
Lastly, there are supplements available that come in capsule form.
Some of these contain higher concentrations of curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric, than the powdered spice form.
The University of Maryland Medical Center recommends the following dosing guidelines for adults taking turmeric for its health benefits: 1.5 to 3 grams per day of cut root; 1 to 3 grams per day of dried, powdered turmeric root (spice); 400-600 mg three times per day of curcumin powder.
I experimented with taking a curcumin supplement but found that it exacerbated the hypoglycemia (low blood sugars)
I have in addition to RA. Unfortunately, my blood sugars were falling too frequently for me to take the supplement long enough to see if it had benefits on my rheumatoid arthritis symptoms.
One way to treat RA-related anemia is to directly treat the RA by decreasing inflammation in your body.
People with low iron levels can benefit from iron supplements, but too much iron can create other serious medical problems.
Though it’s rarely used, a drug called erythropoietin can be used to stimulate bone marrow to produce more red blood cells.
It’s important to treat anemia as soon as it develops. The lack of oxygen in your blood makes your heart work harder to pump more blood through your body. Anemia that isn’t treated can lead to irregular heartbeat, or arrhythmia, or if severe, a heart attack.
Consuming omega-3 fatty acids, a type of polyunsaturated fat, may help reduce symptoms in people suffering from rheumatoid arthritis because of their ability to modulate the inflammatory process.
There are two main forms of omega 3 fatty acids: docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA).
These omega 3’s can be found in foods such as fatty fish, flaxseeds, chia seeds, and walnuts. Omega-3 fatty acids are also available in a supplement, typically in the form of fish oil.
Consult with your doctor for the right amount of fish oil supplement you should be taking.
Vitamin B-12 is essential for normal brain and nervous system function; and it helps make red blood cells and DNA. It also forms the genetic material in cells; produces energy; and converts folate to its active form.
How Much: Recommended dietary allowance (RDA) = 2.4 mcg (micrograms) daily.
Too Much: There is no tolerable upper limit (UL) for vitamin B-12.
Too Little: Too little vitamin B-12 can cause exhaustion, cognitive difficulties, nerve damage and anemia. The ability to absorb vitamin B-12 from food decreases with age.
Most experts recommend older adults get this vitamin from supplements or fortified foods.
Foods: Vitamin B-12 occurs naturally in animal foods, especially liver, clams, egg yolks and salmon.
Easier-to-absorb synthetic forms are added to supplements and some cereals, pastas and breads.
Interactions: Antacids; drugs for indigestion and reflux disease; cholesterol-lowering medications and the diabetes medication metformin.
A University of Miami study concluded that ginger extract could one day be a substitute to nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).
The study compared the effects of a highly concentrated ginger extract to placebo in 247 patients with osteoarthritis (OA) of the knee. The ginger reduced pain and stiffness in knee joints by 40 percent over the placebo.
“Research shows that ginger affects certain inflammatory processes at a cellular level,” says the study’s lead author, Roy Altman, MD, now at the University of California, Los Angeles.
What makes ginger so helpful? “Ginger has anti-inflammatory, anti-ulcer and antioxidant activities, as well as a small amount of analgesic property,” says Roberta Lee, MD, vice chair of the Department of Integrative Medicine at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City.
Cat’s claw is a herbal remedy which has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Only one RCT was conducted to evaluate its role in treating rheumatoid arthritis, which showed some clinical benefits with only minor side-effects when taken along with conventional medications.
Family: Herbal medicine of the Rubiaceae family
Scientific name: Uncaria tomentosa
Other names: Life-giving vine of Peru, una de gato
Cat’s claw is taken from the stem and root of some woody vines native to South and Central America. You can buy capsules over the counter in pharmacies and health food shops.
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