If you suffer from Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA), you would probably try anything that promises relief from the joint pain, stiffness and swelling that are typical of the disease, and you would certainly want to try anything that might help halt its progression. Unfortunately, many of the supplements don't live up to their promises. To avoid wasting money, or worse, risk dangerous side effects, it's important to have your supplement facts straight.

More research needs to be done on some supplements that have been touted for reducing the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis.  Most have never proven to be effective, including vitamin E, ginger, and turmeric, which contain an anti-inflammatory substance known as curcumin. While these supplements may in fact help some people, there is still no scientific evidence that they work because research is still in the early stages.

According to a review of studies by the researchers at Bethesda North Hospital Pharmacy in Cincinnati, research does appear to support the effectiveness of some supplements, such as omega-3 fatty acids. Though they appear to be effective, these supplements need further study to clearly evaluate proper dosing, long-term safety, and potential interactions with other medications. Here, four supplements that may prove effective:

1. Gamma Linolenic Acid (GLA)

Found in primrose oil, and oils from other plant seeds, GLA is converted in your body into an anti-inflammatory agent and, as such, may help relieve joint pain and stiffness and reduce the need for conventional treatment such as NSAIDs, according to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM). GLA is not thought to help prevent the progression of disease, however, and in some cases could have serious side effects and interact with other medications.

2. Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Fish oil supplements have long been of particular interest in alleviating RA symptoms. Their use stems from population studies that showed people who eat large amounts of fatty fish have lower rates of inflammatory disease compared to the general population. Like GLA, omega-3 fatty acids from fish oils are converted in your body into anti-inflammatory substances that have been shown to relieve symptoms of the autoimmune disease.

3. Thunder God Vine

A centuries-old remedy used in Chinese traditional medicine, extract from the root of the thunder good vine has been shown in small studies to relieve symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. Unfortunately, this extract is poisonous and can cause serious side effects such as diarrhea, hair loss and skin rashes and may cause bone loss, increasing your risk of developing osteoporosis. According to the NCCAM, the risk of using thunder god vine supplements likely outweighs the benefits.

4. Vitamin D

A 2004 looked at the diets and supplement use of more than 29,000 women and the development of rheumatoid arthritis in this group over a period of eleven years. Results showed that significantly fewer cases of RA in those with a greater intake of vitamin D. More recently, a study published in Environmental Health Perspectives found women who live in the northern hemisphere are at higher risk of developing RA because they have less exposure to sunlight, which provides the body with the material it needs to naturally produce its own vitamin D.

While some of these supplements seem promising, scientists needs to learn more about their role in alleviating RA symptoms, or halting the progression of the disease. Bottom line: Be sure to speak with your doctor before you take any dietary supplements to treat rheumatoid arthritis.




Merlino, L., et al; "Vitamin D Intake is Inversely Associated with Rheumatoid Arthritis: Results from the Iowa Women's Health Study." Arthritis & Rheumatism 2004 January; 50(1):72-77. Web 12 Jan 2012

National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine: Rheumatoid Arthritis and CAM. Oct 2010 Web. 12 Jan 2012

Rosenbaum, C., et al. "Antioxidants and Anti-inflammatory Dietary Supplements for Osteoarthritis and Rheumatoid Arthritis." Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine 210 Mar-Apr;16(2):32-40. Web 12 Jan 2012

Vieira, V., et al; "Association between Residences in U.S. Northern Latitudes and Rheumatoid Arthritis." Environmental Health Perspectives Jul 2010; 118(7). Web 12 Jan 2012