When taken for RA, some supplements can lead to adverse reactions and interact with medications.
The idea of taking a supplement for rheumatoid arthritis has its appeal. Some supplements may help relieve joint pain and even allow you to take lower doses of prescription medications, according to rheumatologist Nathan Wei, MD, director of the Arthritis Treatment Center in Frederick, Maryland. But there are supplements that can do more harm than good.
Here are six supplements to avoid for RA, as well as alternatives that might be more beneficial.
Aconite. Aconite, which belongs to the buttercup family of flowers, is a plant that, though highly poisonous, has been used in homeopathy and Chinese medicine. It’s touted as able to improve circulation and, in turn, reduce inflammation; but it’s dangerous, especially when ingested as a tea. It can cause nausea, vomiting, and a potentially fatal, irregular heartbeat, according to a report in the Journal of Cardiology Cases in January 2013. Don’t consider it as part of your RA management.
Arnica. A perennial plant, arnica has been used for medicinal purposes for centuries and continues to be popular for a number of conditions, including osteoarthritis. A study published in 2008 in Holistic Nurse Practice found arnica applied to the skin in a gel form to be as effective as ibuprofen for relief of pain from hand osteoarthritis. However, no studies have documented its effectiveness as an RA supplement, and arnica is on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) poisonous plant list.
Arth-Q. Arth-Q is sold over the counter as a dietary supplement to ease joint, muscle, and arthritis pain. However, an FDA analysis found that its main ingredient is actually ibuprofen, a common non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID). Depending on the medications you’re already taking for RA management, Arth-Q could interfere with them or put you over your dosage maximum without your realizing it. Excessive amounts of NSAIDs can lead to gastrointestinal bleeding, or perforation of your stomach and intestines, as well as heart problems and even stroke. If you’ve bought Arth-Q, the FDA recommends throwing it out immediately.
Cat’s Claw. Cat’s claw is made from the root and bark of a vine found in the Amazon rainforest as well as in Central America. It’s thought to help RA management by reducing inflammation. Though some older studies did find some positive results, cat’s claw can cause nausea, headaches, dizziness, and vomiting, according to the Arthritis Foundation. It’s also a danger to people on blood thinners or high blood pressure medications because it can lower blood pressure. The foundation also states that it’s not advised for anyone with tuberculosis or on immunotherapy, such as biologics.
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Chaparral. Chaparral is a shrub found in the Southwest and Mexico. Available as a tea or in pill form, it’s been promoted as a way to reduce inflammation and relieve arthritis pain, yet there are no studies to support these claims, according to the NYU Langone Medical Center. What’s more, according to a study review published in Liver International in November 2012, chaparral is toxic to the liver. People who take methotrexate for RA management should definitely avoid chaparral because of the potential for liver damage, which is already a concern with methotrexate, says Matthew Husa, MD, an assistant professor in the division of rheumatology and immunology at Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center in Columbus. In addition, when chaparral is taken with other commonly prescribed medications, including statin drugs for high cholesterol, the risk of liver damage increases dramatically as well.
Kombucha. This brew has been trending for a variety of supposed health benefits, from cancer to osteoarthritis. It’s made by fermenting black tea with a mix of yeast and bacteria, according to information from the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. Proponents claim that it boosts the immune system and can improve the body’s ability to detox. However, no studies have shown that it’s effective in people. Indeed, a number of adverse reactions have been reported: liver damage, nausea, and vomiting; because of the brewing process, it can easily become contaminated by bacteria. The tea is highly acidic and could also decrease the effectiveness of any medications that depend on pH balance in the stomach for absorption.
How to Learn More
To keep the public better informed about supplements, the FDA has a program called MedWatch. It includes a way to report adverse reactions to any dietary supplements you take for RA management or anything else through what the agency calls its Safe Reporting Portal. You can also get warning information about supplements.
Get Moving: A Better RA Rx
One of the best drug-free steps you can take for rheumatoid arthritis pain and other aspects of RA management is to be active, says Dennis Cardone, DO, division chief of primary care sports medicine at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City. “Performing strengthening and range-of-motion exercises will help with function and ultimately decrease pain,” offering a more effective route than supplements, he explains. Most supplements people take for arthritis seem to be safe, Dr. Cardone says, “but there’s no evidence that they provide pain relief.”
Last Updated: 5/1/2015