This is a question that people frequently ask. They’ve been to the doctor and were shocked to receive a diagnosis of Rheumatoid Arthritis and a stack of prescriptions. I was the same way when I first learned about Rheumatoid disease: I wanted to be sure I didn’t have something more easily treated. Hey, I live a healthy lifestyle! Why isn’t that enough? Years ago, I even met one GP who wanted to treat my disease with 12 Omega-3 capsules per day… which is hogwash. While there are several valuable posts on this website about natural treatments for Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) (click here to see them all), I want to put here in one place the simple answers I frequently give when asked about treating RA with supplements.
Q. What about treating Rheumatoid Arthritis with supplements?
Answer 1: Rheumatoid disease is more complicated than can be easily explained. Genetic differences in our immune system responses make it even more complicated. That is why there is not a one-size-fits-all treatment for RA, not even a natural one.
Answer 2: What we call Rheumatoid Arthritis is actually a systemic autoimmune disease. So the symptoms you notice such as joint inflammation (pain, stiffness, weakness, tenderness, or redness, etc.) are only symptoms. Treating joint symptoms is not treating the underlying disease. Many supplements with anti-inflammatory properties can be compared to NSAIDs such as ibuprofen (Motrin) or naproxen (Aleve) which may temporarily improve symptoms in some people, but not treat the disease which affects the whole body.
Answer 3: The requirements for testing of supplements sold without prescription are not nearly as rigorous as those of the USFDA. While a pharmaceutical may require up to a billion dollars and a decade of testing to bring a new Rheumatoid Arthritis treatment to market, clinical trials are not required with over the counter supplements. A lack of controlled testing on patients who have your condition means there is less certainty about how the treatment will affect your health.
Answer 4: The ingredients in supplements may be potent, and that might even be the problem. The measuring of ingredients in over the counter supplements is not strictly monitored or standardized so a person cannot always be certain of the dose she is taking. Exact dosing can be critically important when large or regular doses are involved OR when interaction with other medications is possible. Both over-dosing and drug interactions have occurred with supplements because the potency of the active ingredients cannot be precisely predicted.
Answer 5: Unfortunately, most people who promote any treatment for Rheumatoid Arthritis, including natural supplements have something to gain: money. For some reason, it’s popular to criticize pharmaceutical companies for making advertising claims and profits, but makers of supplements are immune from the same criticisms. The claims vitamin companies make in advertising are often outrageous. We need to apply the same healthy suspicion of anyone who wants to sell us something: Can you prove it works? How much do I risk do I take in believing your claim?