Rheumatoid arthritis can have a considerable impact on the patient’s quality of life due to the pain and disability it causes. It can negatively impact your work, home, and social life, because it restricts movements and mobility. Rheumatoid arthritis tends to affect multiple joints of the body simultaneously. The joints that are most commonly affected in rheumatoid arthritis are those of the hands, wrists, and knees. In some studies, it has been observed that antioxidants can help in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis. Let’s look at how they help and some natural sources of antioxidants.
Although the exact cause of rheumatoid arthritis remains unknown, certain compounds known as “free radicals” have shown to play a role in the development of this condition. Free radicals are extremely reactive compounds found in body tissues. Our bodies produce these compounds naturally in response to stress. These compounds have the potential to damage different components of our tissues. Free radicals contribute to the development of a number of diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis.
Antioxidants are substances that counter the negative effects of free radicals in our body. When our body does not have enough antioxidants to counter the free radicals, it leads to an imbalance. This state of imbalance contributes to various autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis. Some antioxidants are produced by our body while others are derived from our diet. Examples of antioxidants derived from our diet include vitamin E, vitamin C, beta-carotene, and selenium.
A number of free radicals play a role in rheumatoid arthritis. Studies have found that vitamin C levels tend to be low in people with rheumatoid arthritis. Moreover, the fluid in the joints of patients with rheumatoid arthritis has low concentrations of both vitamin C and E as compared to the joints of people without rheumatoid arthritis. Research has also shown that even before the development of rheumatoid arthritis, blood levels of antioxidants are lower in people who go on to develop rheumatoid arthritis as compared to people who do not. This puts in perspective the role antioxidants may play in the development as well as the progression of rheumatoid arthritis.
A number of studies have suggested that antioxidant supplements may benefit patients with rheumatoid arthritis. A study has shown that supplementing with antioxidants leads to considerable relief from the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis as well as an increase in blood antioxidant levels. Also, patients of rheumatoid arthritis who took antioxidants along with their standard treatment experienced better improvement in their symptoms.
Taking supplements containing vitamin C, vitamin A, and zinc in addition to standard rheumatoid arthritis treatment resulted in better control of disease development as compared with patients only on standard treatment. Another study revealed that taking antioxidants comprising selenium, zinc, vitamin A, vitamin C, and vitamin E may be helpful in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis, as these nutrients increased the levels of antioxidants in the body. Let’s look at the role of each of these nutrients in treating rheumatoid arthritis.
Vitamin E is beneficial in controlling the symptoms of arthritis. Vitamin E has also shown to play a vital role in relieving the pain associated with rheumatoid arthritis, thereby complementing standard treatment for this condition.
A study that evaluated patients who had been supplemented with selenium found that they had lesser joint pain, swelling and morning stiffness. They also needed fewer steroids and painkillers to manage rheumatoid arthritis as compared to those who did not take selenium supplements.
Though all the above findings are favorable, they still do not constitute a strong enough evidence to support the use of antioxidant supplements in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis.
Certain diets such as the “Mediterranean diet” are rich in antioxidants. The Mediterranean diet includes plenty of plant foods (like fruits, vegetables, cereals, legumes, nuts, and seeds), fish, and poultry. In this diet, olive oil is the main source of fat, and dairy products and red meat are consumed in low to moderate amounts. Fresh seasonal and locally-grown foods are preferred. Studies have reported that patients with rheumatoid arthritis can benefit from a Mediterranean diet.
The role of free radicals in rheumatoid arthritis has been well established. However, we still do not have a clear understanding of which dietary antioxidants are beneficial for treating symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. A regular intake of a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables that are rich in antioxidants is a good starting point. You can also take antioxidant supplements in consultation with an expert.