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RA: Best and Worst Supplements and Herbs


What Works? continued...

Borage oil supplements can cause side effects like gas pains, constipation, or soft stools. Some products contain substances called pyrrolizidine alkaloids, which can cause liver damage.

Turmeric. Thiskey ingredient in Indian and Middle Eastern food contains the chemical curcumin, which may fight joint inflammation. A 2006 study even suggested that certain turmeric extracts were better at preventing it than easing it. Like fish oil, turmeric can act as a blood thinner if you take high doses of it, so be careful if you’re taking warfarin or other blood thinner meds.

Boswellia. It's also known as Indian frankincense, and it appears to have similar anti-inflammatory properties as NSAIDs without the stomach problems.

Like turmeric, boswellia is used in a form of holistic medicine from India. While study findings are mixed, it remains one of the most researched and promising supplements for RA.

Ginger and green tea extract also are said to have anti-inflammatory effects, but they need to be studied more.

Probiotics. There’s a lot of buzz around these good bacteria. A 2014 study found that they helped lower signs of inflammation.

“Probiotics support and enhance digestion and absorption, as well as support the immune system,” Mendelsohn says. “In addition, probiotics help ‘push out’ bad bacteria.”

What to Avoid

Certain products are best left on the shelves.

Some supplements can be bad for your liver, Matteson says. “These include arnica, chaparral and Kombucha tea -- especially if homemade.”

Studies have shown that chaparral causes liver toxicity. That means it isn’t a good choice if you take methotrexate, a commonly prescribed drug that also can affect your liver.

Other products might ease your RA symptoms, but the side effects aren’t worth the risk. Thunder god vine, for example, has shown promise as an anti-inflammatory in lab tests. But it can bring on severe nausea, diarrhea, and respiratory infections. That "high side-effect profile" is one reason why David Leopold, MD, of the Scripps Center for Integrative Medicine, doesn’t use it in his practice.

Bottom line: If you're interested in trying a supplement, “talk with a physician who is skilled in the use of natural medicines,” Leopold says. “Do not assume that supplements are either safe or effective.”

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Reviewed on December 28, 2015
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