Rheumatoid Arthritis – foods and supplements

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Food Supplements

A number of supplements are known to help relieve the pain and stiffness of arthritis. Not all supplements suit all people but two out of three people who do take supplements show some improvement in symptoms. Eating a diet that is rich in Vitamin C and E seems to reduce inflammation and people who have high intakes of vitamin C are less likely to develop osteoarthritis in the knee. Clearly a diet that follows the minimum 5 fruit and vegetable portions a day helps and there is evidence that the following supplements can also help.

Fish oils high in omega 3 improve arthritis symptoms.

Fish oils high in omega 3 improve arthritis symptoms.

Omega-3 fatty acids

Recent research has demonstrated that, even if a patient is taking strong DMARDs, the addition of Omega-3 fatty acids can improve the health of those with RA. Foods with the greatest amount of Omega-3 are oily fish such as mackerel, sardines, salmon and pilchards, rapeseed, flaxseed oil and walnuts. To boost your Omega-3 intake it is recommended to eat three meals of oily fish per week. However, this is a slow acting remedy and it is important to undertake at least a three month trial before judging its efficacy.

Vitamin D

Lack of Vitamin D leads to bone abnormalities such as rickets in children because this vitamin helps the body to absorb calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphate and zinc. Recent research has shown that severe vitamin D deficiency goes hand in hand with a significantly higher likelihood of being diagnosed with RA. As low vitamin D plays such a role in the development of this disease, those at risk should take steps to keep their levels boosted.  Most of us receive sufficient vitamin D from our daily exposure to sunlight, although this may drop during winter months some areas. Other sources of vitamin D are oily fish and eggs.

Vitamin B12 and Iron

Lack of vitamin B12 leads to tiredness, lack of energy and can cause anaemia, but clinical trials have also shown that it is a natural painkiller with potential analgesic  which can protect neurons and promote the regeneration of injured nerves. These properties have led to Methylcobalamin (MeCbl), the activated form of vitamin B12, being used to help patients suffering from diabetic neuropathy, low back pain and rheumatoid arthritis.  Vitamin B12 is found in shellfish, liver, red meat, mackerel, soy products, All Bran, Swiss cheese and eggs.

Anaemia is a common condition in patients with RA and is frequently seen as a side effect of this chronic disease. However, a 2011 study demonstrated that it is important for practitioners to look closely at patients presenting with anaemia and test to determine what is the true cause of the condition as in many cases it is easily correctable. Within a group of 2000 RA patients, 10 per cent were found to have anaemia but less than 40 per cent of these were due to the chronic disease itself and could be rectified with treatment.


Fish oil in recent onset rheumatoid arthritis: a randomised, double-blind controlled trial within algorithm-based drug use. Ann Rheum Dis. September 2013.

Vitamin D status of patients with early inflammatory arthritis. Clin Rheumatol. Apr 2014.

Zhang et al. Methylcobalamin: a potential vitamin of pain killer. Neural Plast. Dec 2013.

Bloxham et al. Anaemia in rheumatoid arthritis: can we afford to ignaore it? Postgrad Med J. Sep 2011.


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