5 Supplements to Avoid or Limit With Rheumatoid Arthritis

Taking certain dietary supplements can lead to bad reactions when you have RA.

While some dietary supplements can be a great add-on to your treatment plan, certain forms of others, like arnica and cat’s claw, can cause problems.Canva (2)

The idea of taking a dietary supplement for?rheumatoid arthritis (RA) has its appeal. Natural relief from inflammation and joint pain? Check. Fewer daily medications to swallow? Check.

In some cases, supplements can be a great?addition to your RA management plan. For example, curcumin, the active ingredient in the spice known as turmeric, has been proven to lessen markers of?RA inflammation, according to research published in the?International Journal of Molecular Sciences.

But the reality is that a number of dietary supplements touted for?RA relief may actually do more harm than good. And supplements that provide benefits for people without RA, may be detrimental for those with this autoimmune condition.

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According to the?Arthritis Foundation, some supplements can interfere with the way your body processes other medications you might be taking.

Plus, you can’t always trust the labels on supplements. The bottle may claim each dose contains a certain amount of active ingredient, but there’s no way to know this for sure, as supplements are not regulated the same way conventional food and drugs are by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

If you do want to give a supplement a try, first check with your doctor — and discuss all of the medications you take for RA, since some supplements contain ingredients that might lessen or even negate their effectiveness.

5 Supplement Formulations to Skip for RA

If you have RA, be aware that the supplements below, when taken orally or in certain formulations, may cause problems.

1. Arnica

This perennial plant has been used for medicinal purposes for centuries and continues to be popular for a number of conditions, including?osteoarthritis. A review of research published October 2021 in Medicines concludes that arnica extract and topical formulations in the form of creams or gels applied to the skin, “shows promising effects for pain relief.”

When used topically, it can help soothe achy muscles and reduce inflammation, and topical use is fine for people with RA. But it can cause serious side effects if taken as an oral supplement, notes Mount Sinai, such as dizziness, tremors, and heart irregularities.

2. Cat’s Claw

This supplement is made from the root and bark of a vine found in the Amazon rainforest and in Central America. Cat’s claw is thought to help RA by reducing inflammation.

Though some older studies found positive results, side effects can be an issue. Cat’s claw can cause reactions such as nausea, headaches, dizziness, and vomiting, according to the?Arthritis Foundation. It’s also dangerous for people taking?blood thinners, such as warfarin, and for people taking?high blood pressure medications, as it can lower blood pressure. The Arthritis Foundation also warns that people with tuberculosis?or those who take drugs that suppress the immune system, such as biologic?medications for RA, should avoid taking cat’s claw.

3. Chaparral

This remedy is made from the leaves and twigs of a shrub that grows in the American Southwest and Mexico. Available as a tea or in pill form, chaparral has been promoted as a way to reduce inflammation and relieve arthritis pain. The problem is there aren’t studies to support these claims, according to the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.

What’s more, chaparral can be toxic to the liver. People who take?methotrexate for RA management should definitely avoid chaparral because of the increased risk for liver damage, which is already a concern with the drug. In addition, when chaparral is taken with other commonly prescribed medications, like statins for high cholesterol, the risk of liver damage increases dramatically.

4. Kombucha

This sweet and fizzy brew is popular for a variety of supposed health benefits for a range of conditions, from cancer to?osteoarthritis.?Kombucha is made by fermenting black tea with a mix of yeast and bacteria.

Proponents claim that the antioxidants and probiotics in kombucha can help reduce inflammation. Small amounts (2 to 4 ounces a day) can help maintain gut health in people with RA. But when consumed in high amounts, a number of adverse reactions are possible, including headache, nausea, and digestive trouble, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Kombucha beverages can also be high in sugar, another reason not to go overboard in your consumption. Because of how it’s brewed, homemade kombucha can easily become contaminated by bacteria, notes Mayo Clinic, which can make you sick. Stick to small amounts of reputable store brand kombucha.

5. Blue-Green Algae

Blue-green algae, a group of bacteria which includes spirulina, is used for high blood pressure and as a protein supplement. People also take it for weight loss, to boost the immune system, and to treat viral infections, according to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.

The National Institute of Health's (NIH)?MedlinePlus notes that blue-green algae is “possibly effective” for treating high blood pressure but there’s not enough evidence to support other uses. While there’s conflicting evidence on whether blue-green algae can cause the immune system to become more active, the immune system is already overactive when you have RA, which means blue-green algae could theoretically further stimulate your immune system, worsening your symptoms, notes Mount Sinai. The NIH recommends avoiding these supplements if you have an autoimmune condition, including RA.

Alternatives to Supplements for RA Pain Relief

When looking into supplements, if your goal is to find a natural, anti-inflammatory way to relieve RA pain, keep in mind that effective alternatives are available — such as getting physically active, says?Dennis Cardone, DO, the division chief of primary care sports medicine at NYU Langone Health in New York City. “There’s a lack of evidence that supplements provide pain relief,” he says.

Other natural remedies to try instead for RA relief include?yoga, meditation, massage,?acupuncture, and getting good sleep.

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