Antioxidants may be effective in relieving the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis (RA), research has found.
RA is an autoimmune disease, meaning that for unknown reasons the body’s immune system begins to attack and destroy its own tissues. In RA, the most damage occurs to the cartilage in the joints, typically in identical joints on both sides of the body. These joints become red, hot and swollen, resulting in difficulty moving and severe pain. Other symptoms of RA can includes nodules or lumps under the skin, inflammation of the eyes, and malaise. The disease typically manifests between the ages of 35 and 60, and is more common in women.
Typical pharmaceutical treatments for RA consist of two different drug classes: nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), designed to combat pain, and disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs), many of them immune suppressors, designed to slow the progression of the disease or even send it into remission.
There is no cure for RA, and both NSAIDs and DMARDs can carry severe side effects, particularly when used over the long term. For that reason, many RA patients turn to alternative remedies for help managing their symptoms.
Numerous alternative medicine advocates promote antioxidants as a treatment for RA symptoms. In scientific studies, vitamin E has been shown to reduce pain, although not inflammation.
Another study, conducted by researchers from VU Medical University Centre in Amsterdam and published in the journal Clinical Rheumatology in 2008, had eight RA patients consume 20 grams of an antioxidant-rich spread over the course of 10 weeks. All participants were nonsmoking women who had been receiving either NSAIDs or “second line” RA drugs for at least three months before the study began.
The antioxidant-rich spread included 400 mg of alpha-tocopherol (vitamin E), 10 mg of lycopene, 10 mg of lutein and five milligrams of palm oil carotenoids, including alpha carotene (vitamin A). The participants were also given a 200 mg daily dose of vitamin C.
The researchers found that at the end of the study, participants had significantly fewer swollen and painful joints than they had at the start of the study, and their overall health had improved. Within four weeks after the end of the intervention; however, their symptoms and health had begun to worsen again – indicating that consistent, ongoing antioxidant treatment is needed for long-term symptom relief.
By far, the most well-proven natural RA symptom treatment is fish oil and omega-3 fatty acids. At least 13 separate double-blind, placebo-controlled studies on more than 500 participants have shown that omega-3 supplements significantly reduce RA symptoms and actually enable patients to lower their NSAID usage.
Some research suggests that fish oil becomes even more effective when taken as part of a diet that is low in omega-6s, such as a vegetarian diet, or when olive oil is also taken.
Because severe joint damage occurs early in RA, and because no natural remedies have yet been proven to effectively slow the progression of the disease, it is important that RA patients continue to consult with qualified health professionals even if taking antioxidants, fish oil or other alternative treatments.