Does a Vitamin Deficiency Make Rheumatoid Arthritis Symptoms Worse?
Millions of people across American currently suffer from the painful disease that is rheumatoid arthritis. However, dealing with the symptoms of RA can be frustrating.
But changing a few nutritional factors could make a big difference. Read on to learn more about RA and the important role of vitamins in lessening its effects.
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What Is Rheumatoid Arthritis?
While the term “arthritis” is commonly known, this doesn’t necessarily mean arthritis as a disease is well understood. In fact, the Arthritis Foundation1 states that currently, there are more than 100 different types of arthritis that are collected under the header of “arthritis.” One of these is rheumatoid arthritis.
Rheumatoid arthritis is a joint disease that affects the body’s autoimmune system, causing the immune system to attack the body’s own joints and systems. While the extremities, like hands, feet, wrists, ankles, elbows, and knees, are most commonly affected, in most cases if one side of the body is affected, the other side will be also.
Rheumatoid arthritis is what is called a systemic disease because it can affect whole-body systems as well, including the respiratory and cardiovascular systems.
The Causes and Symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis
To date, medical researchers still haven’t conclusively identified what causes RA. However, it’s thought there may be a genetic link.
Adults suffering with RA tend to first show symptoms after age 30. In children, it can show up as early as age 2. Cases of rheumatoid arthritis can range from very mild to severe. Because of this, symptoms can vary greatly in each individual.
Commonly, the following symptoms are reported:
- Joint stiffness, swelling, feelings of warmth or soreness.
- Stiffness after not moving for a time or in the mornings.
- Feelings of fatigue in the body or joints.
- Unexplained weight loss.
While a list of patient-reported symptoms may provide initial clues about the diagnosis, rheumatoid arthritis can best be diagnosed with a blood test.
Typically, a blood test will look for the presence of any/all of these factors:
- Anti-cyclic citrullinated peptide (anti-CCP) antibodies.
- Rheumatoid factor antibodies.
- Elevated erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR, or sed rate).
- C-reactive protein (CRP).
- Tests for anemia can also be helpful in narrowing down the diagnosis, since the low red blood cell count can be a sign of systemic chronic illness.
Finally, imaging tests (X-rays, MRI, ultrasound) can identify what is going on in affected body systems and joint areas to track the progress of the disease itself and of treatment results.
Can Vitamins Treat Rheumatoid Arthritis?
Vitamins and minerals can be vital for developing effective treatments for RA.
There are a number of reasons for this:
- The weight loss (“wasting disease”) caused by RA can deplete the body of vital nutrients and vitamins/minerals.
- Many people diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis also suffer from food sensitivities, ranging from specific allergies all the way to celiac disease (gluten intolerance), making getting adequate nutrients especially challenging.
- Eating the wrong foods can contribute to exacerbation of symptoms, particularly joint pain, while eating the right foods can minimize symptoms.
Certain vitamins are considered of paramount importance to help people suffering from rheumatoid arthritis live the most active, productive and pain-free daily lives. If you are suffering from RA or caring for a loved one who has received a diagnosis of RA, these are the vitamins and minerals health experts highlight as most critical to alleviating symptoms:
- Vitamin D, which is essential for calcium absorption and bone growth.
- Vitamin E, which can increase the effectiveness of some RA medications.
- Omega-3 fatty acids can ease joint stiffness and nourish body systems affected by RA.
- Folic Acid (Vitamin B9). Some RA medicines inhibit folic acid absorption.
- Bromelain and/or Turmeric, which are anti-inflammatory aids that can serve as natural pain killers.
- Gamma linolenic acid has shown some promise in reducing the pain and swelling associated with RA.
It’s vital to ensure your vitamin and mineral levels are adequate for maintaining physical nutrition and health. If blood tests show a vitamin D deficiency, it is important to begin treating your vitamin deficiencies without delay.
It is also important to talk with your doctor before you start any new regiment of vitamin or mineral supplementation, especially if you are pregnant, have cardiovascular issues, are on blood thinners, are taking medications for any health condition where interactions may be a danger.
The Connection Between Vitamin D and Rheumatoid Arthritis
Vitamin D is often highlighted by medical professionals as an essential vitamin for rheumatoid arthritis sufferers. This is because there’s a link between Vitamin D deficiency and severe symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis.
Increasing Vitamin D levels is easy. Simply getting some daily natural sunlight is one of the easiest ways to boost your Vitamin D levels naturally. You can also eat fish and eggs to take in more Vitamin D through food. Some products such as milk, eggs, cereals, fruit juices, and soy-based foods also have Vitamin D enrichment added to them.
If you’re unable to or don’t want to sit in the sun or eat enriched foods, then one of the best ways to take in more Vitamin D is through supplements. Supplements are available in many different forms, including liquid and pills.
By understanding how maintaining healthy levels of vitamins can ease the suffering associated with your rheumatoid arthritis, you can begin to supplement your diet as needed to feel better and become more active again.
While there’s no doubt handling rheumatoid arthritis requires a lifelong learning curve, medical science is learning new things every day about how to reduce symptoms, enhance mobility, improve quality of life and facilitate healing for joints and affected body systems.
By taking in proper levels of vitamins and nutrients, you can give your body extra fuel to fight RA.