Supplements for RA: what to Know

Articles On Natural Remedies for RA Pain

Medication and other forms of treatment play a major role in managing rheumatoid arthritis. Supplements aren’t a treatment -- they don’t promise to cure or treat any condition, and they don’t have to meet the same standards as medications. But if you’re looking into trying some in addition to your treatment plan, here’s what you should know.

First, be sure you talk to your doctor before you begin using any supplement or herbal medication. They may interact with other drugs, supplements, or herbal medicines you are taking and cause serious side effects. They may also put you at a higher risk for certain conditions.


Food is the best source of nutrition. But making sure you have enough of these vitamins is important when you have rheumatoid arthritis:

  • Folate/folic acid, if you take methotrexate
  • Calcium, especially if you use corticosteroids
  • Vitamin D, also helpful if you use corticosteroids

Omega-3 Fatty Acids From Fish Oil

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If you take this supplement after you wake up, it may help you get moving faster. There’s some evidence that when taken by itself or with a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID), morning stiffness might not last as long and fewer joints may feel tender. It might also mean you need a lower dose of an NSAID if taken together.

Borage Seed Oil

This is a plant-based oil. This supplement might help reduce joint swelling and tenderness if taken with a pain reliever or anti-inflammatory medication.

Borage seed oil can cause serious side effects. Your liver may not work as well, and you could have problems with bleeding.

Omega-Not Enough Research3 Fatty Acids

Early research shows that some of these supplements may help with rheumatoid arthritis, but there haven’t been enough good studies to tell. In other cases, studies are too preliminary, or findings are conflicting or aren’t high quality.

You’ll notice that some of these items -- like green tea, ginger, turmeric, and probiotics -- are found in foods. The research here is on their use as supplements.

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Boswellia: The research on this is limited and conflicting.

Cat’s claw: Though it’s been used for more than 2,000 years for various health concerns, there haven’t been enough high-quality clinical trials, and there’s no conclusive evidence of any benefits.

Evening primrose: Research on the use of evening primrose oil is both preliminary and conflicting.

Ginger: Studies show that this herb has anti-inflammatory benefits in animals. In a study of 70 people with RA, using ginger powder helped their Disease Activity Score, a measure the researchers used to note how active RA is.

Green tea: Research shows that this supplement may be able to lower inflammation and protect cartilage. But it hasn’t been tested for rheumatoid arthritis in people.

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Moringa: Early studies done in lab animals show that this plant can reduce inflammation and swelling from fluid buildup. It’s not clear if that would be true in people.

Probiotics: A type of probiotic called lactobacillus can slightly affect Disease Activity Score, which is a way researchers note how active RA is. But it doesn’t seem to make a difference with joint swelling or signs of inflammation, which are factored into the Disease Activity Score. And there are many strains of probiotics, and they don’t have enough research behind them.

Sesame (Sesamum indicum): Sesamin, a plant compound from sesame seeds, showed some promise in an early study of 44 women with RA. For 6 weeks, half of the women took the supplement; the rest got a placebo. They had less inflammation during the study period. But it’s too early to know how that translates into symptoms.

Turmeric/curcumin: Some studies show that taking a substance within turmeric called curcumin in higher doses may help with symptoms like swelling and stiffness. Lower doses or different formulations may not help with joint swelling and tenderness or make rheumatoid arthritis less active, some researchers note.

Safety First

Arnica: Don’t take it by mouth, as it’s poisonous when used orally.

Chaparral: Don’t take it by mouth. It can be toxic for your liver and kidneys if you take products with it by mouth.

Thunder god vine: Some early research suggests this supplement may be helpful for rheumatoid arthritis but can cause serious side effects -- and there haven’t been enough studies of it. If the supplement isn’t prepared correctly, it can be poisonous. The risks may outweigh the benefits, according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health.

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