Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease and inflammatory condition that attacks the joints in particular but can also damage other body systems including the skin, eyes, lungs, heart and blood vessels.
RA symptoms may include joint pain, joint aches, joint stiffness, swollen joints, decreased movement, weight loss, fever, fatigue, and weakness.
In rheumatoid arthritis patients, the joint linings become inflamed which can impair mobility and result in chronic pain.
Though the cause is not currently known, certain factors may increase the risk of RA such as old age, smoking, and obesity. This disease also affects more women than men.
Diagnosis and effective treatments can help to inhibit inflammation and reduce the damaging effects of this condition.
People with arthritis are encouraged to follow a treatment plan with their doctor while adopting an anti-inflammatory diet and lifestyle practices to reduce inflammation and pain while supporting mobility of the joints.
The conventional treatment of rheumatoid arthritis commonly includes anti-inflammatory medications in order to reduce pain and chronic inflammation as well as splints and physical therapy.
There are also many dietary supplements for rheumatoid arthritis that have been shown through research to improve this condition.
Best supplements for rheumatoid arthritis
1. SAM-e or S-adenosylmethionine
S-adenosylmethionine is a compound that is found naturally in the body and provides painkilling effects. SAMe has been shown to exert similar effects to non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications, helping to reduce inflammation and provide pain relief with fewer side effects (1).
It may also help improve RA conditions by stimulating cartilage production, which is an essential piece in reversing the disease process with arthritis conditions (2).
The use of SAM-e alongside anti-depressant medications is not recommended and cautioned against as it could cause imbalances in serotonin. Always verify with your doctor first before supplementing.
2. Boswellia Serrate or Indian frankincense
Boswellia is a herb native to India, Africa, and the Middle East and has been used for centuries to treat various inflammatory conditions.
Boswellic acids found in the plant are said to inhibit pro-inflammatory chemicals and results from animal studies are encouraging for its use in inflammatory conditions such as RA (3). In addition to its anti-inflammatory benefits, it may also help to modulate the immune system which may help to reduce autoimmune disease activity in conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis (4).
Though more human studies are needed, Boswellia is considered to be a useful natural complementary therapy alongside other treatments.
3. Capsaicin or Capsicum frutescens
Capsaicin, also known as cayenne pepper, is widely used for pain management.
A study showed that topical use of capsaicin cream reduced arthritis pain in patients within 2 weeks and has been referred to as a safe and natural treatment for arthritis (5). It may also be an alternative for patients with arthritis who do not tolerate non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or who wish to seek a natural alternative.
Capsaicin cream has been studied as a potential natural treatment for individuals with rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia, among other conditions. It is available in varying strengths depending on the level of pain that needs to be treated. Consult with your doctor in order to make an appropriate choice for your condition.
4. Turmeric/Curcumin or Curcuma longa
A popular nutritional supplement well known for its anti-inflammatory effects, turmeric and more specifically its active constituent curcumin is an effective natural treatment for pain but also inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis.
Clinical studies indicated that the use of curcumin provided a decrease in pain and stiffness among patients suffering from arthritis and rheumatoid arthritis (6).
Curcumin has been shown to be a safe and effective treatment for not only joint pain management but it also exerts protective effects in the prevention of joint inflammation (7).
Turmeric is a medicinal herb and spice that can be used in cooking, though supplementation is likely needed for therapeutic effects and more severe pain management.
5. Avocado-soybean Unsaponifiables or ASU
Not a commonly spoken about treatment, ASU are chemicals extracted from the fruits and seeds of the avocado fruit and soybean oil. These natural vegetable extracts possess potent anti-inflammatory effects and have shown promise in the treatment of arthritis conditions such as osteoarthritis as well as autoimmune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis (8).
Not only do ASU exert anti-inflammatory actions but also chondroprotective properties by stimulating cartilage tissue growth and reducing cartilage degradation (9).
ASU can be taken in soft gel or tablet form alone or in combination with other treatments for rheumatoid arthritis. The combination of ASU and glucosamine/chondroitin may actually enhance its effects.
6. Cat's Claw or Uncaria tomentosa
Cat's Claw is a traditional herbal medicine used to treat many inflammatory conditions. One of its most popular uses is for arthritis as it inhibits the production of inflammatory cytokines that activate inflammatory processes in the body, creating pain. Taking Cat's Claw may reduce symptoms of arthritis such as joint pain and stiffness. A study found that patients with rheumatoid arthritis who took Cat's Claw in addition to their usual medications reported less joint pain than those not taking it (10).
Generally considered as safe, Cat's Claw may potentially interact with medications and other supplements so always check in first with your health care provider.
7. Fish Oil or Omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA
Fish oil supplements are commonly recommended for their anti-inflammatory and antioxidant qualities due to their omega 3 fatty acids which block inflammatory mediators. Omega 3 fats may work at preventing chronic inflammation in the body while also improving symptoms associated with rheumatoid arthritis such as joint pain. Human trials noticed that patients who took fish oil supplementation experienced improved remission rates from RA symptoms compared to those who did not take fish oil (11).
Another study that followed patients taking high dose fish oil of 130 grams found that there were signifcant improvements in symptoms such as joint pain and morning stiffness (12).
It has even been shown that fish oil supplementation can help people discontinue the use of NSAIDs without experiencing flare ups.
A dosage of 2.6 grams of EPA and DHA twice per day is recommended by the Arthritis Foundation however upwards of 3 grams can increase the risk of bleeding if you are taking medications such as anticoagulants so always be cautious and consult your doctor if needed. It is generally recommended to consume fish twice per week for general health.
Potent food sources of omega 3 fatty acids include cold water fish such as sardines, mackerel, trout, herring, and wild salmon.
You can also obtain omega 3 fats from plant sources such as flaxseeds, walnuts, and chia seeds however these will be less potent sources supplementation is often recommended for vegan and vegetarian diets.
8. Gamma Linolenic Acid or GLA
Gamma Linolenic Acid is a type of omega 6 fatty acid that is found in evening primrose oil, black currant oil and borage oil. GLA has promising research backing it up as a natural treatment in RA.
Unlike other omega 6 fatty acids, GLA is a potent anti-inflammatory shown to block inflammatory molecules and reduce the inflammatory response. A study that followed patients for 6 months taking GLA showed statistically significant and clinically relevant reductions in the signs and symptoms of disease activity in patients with RA (13). Another study confirmed that it was a well tolerated and effective treatment for active rheumatoid arthritis, reducing joint discomfort among other symptoms (14).
You can take GLA in softgel or liquid form though be sure to pay attention to the quality, expiration date, and storage as it can easily go rancid, much like fish oil.
9. Ginger or Zingiber officinale
A common herbal medicine used for many conditions such as digestive upset, the common cold, headaches, migraines, and hypertension. It may also be useful in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis due to its natural anti-inflammatory effects that have been proven to be similar to NSAIDS.
Ginger has been shown to switch off certain inflammatory genes and may be used as an effective pain reliever and in the treatment of autoimmune conditions. Reduction in disease activity among rheumatoid arthritis patients taking 1500 mg of ginger powder was significant in a 12 week clinical trial (15). The various phytochemical constituents found in ginger may not only help to reverse symptoms associated with RA but also stop further progression and reduce the damage caused by this condition (16).
Ginger can of course be consumed through the diet for general health benefits however to receive the therapeutic effects higher doses of ginger supplementation will be required.
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