Vitamins and supplements

Vitamins for Rheumatic Disease: Friend or Foe?

April 26, 2023 | Rheumatic Disease


In an era where there is a new supplement, herb, vitamin, or some other magic cure marketed at a rapid rate, it can be confusing and daunting to pick the right one for you. The alternative medicine market is a $100 billion industry globally and it is constantly growing.

This means there is a supplement available for virtually any symptom. Headaches, sleep, skincare, weight loss, and even rheumatic diseases.

Which supplement is best for my rheumatoid arthritis? What about osteoarthritis? Should I start with turmeric? Curcumin? What’s the difference?

The truth is there is limited research data on most herbs and minerals. Thousands of available products do not have appropriate testing, formulations are not FDA reviewed, and long-term side effects are not explained. However, there are a handful of supplements that have been studied and have demonstrated efficacy.

This blog posts focuses on supplements that have been studied and proven to be helpful in two very commonly seen types of arthritis: osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.

Glucosamine Sulfate


Glucosamine sulfate is one of the most talked about supplements for osteoarthritis (OA). Safe, well tolerated, and studied in over 20 clinical trials, glucosamine can provide modest pain relief for osteoarthritis. It may also reduce disease progression; however, there is not enough research on various formulations of glucosamine to support that claim. Glucosamine should not be the sole method of treating pain in OA, but it is recommended over Chondroitin, another widely used supplement. Relief from analgesics, such as acetaminophen and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), may still be needed. The recommended dose for glucosamine is 1500 mg once daily.

Vitamin D

Rheumatoid Arthritis

Vitamin D is emerging as an essential vitamin in managing multiple rheumatic diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Vitamin D plays a role in the immune pathways of multiple diseases, which is why supplementation is recommended if you are vitamin D deficient. Normal vitamin D levels range from 30–100 ng/mL. We can obtain vitamin D from our diet with intake of dairy, juices, or cereals fortified with vitamin D. Several varieties of fish and egg yolk also are rich in vitamin D. Ask your doctor to check your vitamin D levels and start appropriate supplementation while incorporating more vitamin D rich foods in your diet. Other beneficial supplements are Omega-3 and Omega-6. These are found commonly in fish, nuts and berries. Omega vitamins can help to reduce the amount of tender and swollen joints in RA. There has also been evidence that Omega-3 vitamins can prevent the onset of RA in certain high-risk groups. Additionally, this group of vitamins has the added benefit of reducing the risk of stroke and coronary artery disease.


Osteoarthritis and Rheumatoid Arthritis

This yellow spice can help to reduce symptoms of both OA and RA. Turmeric comes from Curcuma longa, a perennial plant native to South Asia. For millennia, turmeric has been used as a spice in Indian cuisines. It is also commonly used in various home remedies. Turmeric has had a role in medicine for a long time, and now it’s gaining traction in modern medicine for its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. The active component of turmeric is called curcumin, which is the recommended formulation for the supplement. A single 1000 mg capsule daily is sufficient. Studies show there is a significantly increased health benefit to curcumin depending on how it’s ingested. More curcumin gets absorbed into your bloodstream when you take it with some black pepper and with a healthy fat, such as milk.

Golden Milk

My favorite way to get some turmeric into my diet is by cooking it into my foods and making “golden milk” each night. Here is my quick recipe: Start by boiling ½ cup of water in a pot. Add ½ teaspoon of ground turmeric, ½ teaspoon of finely chopped ginger (or ginger powder), ½ stick of cinnamon, and a pinch of black pepper. Once the water boils, add ½ cup of milk and let the mixture return to a boil. Remove pot from heat and add in a sweetener of your choice (I use maple syrup). Let the drink cool and enjoy. Incorporating turmeric regularly may help to improve pain from both RA and OA.

Talk to Your Rheumatologist

If you have any questions regarding which supplement is best, discuss them with your doctor. Some supplements on the market have no health benefits and may be harmful or expensive. Remember that supplements can never replace traditional therapies for your rheumatic disease; supplements are complementary treatments that can be used in addition to medical therapies.

Bhakti Shah, MD

About the Author

Bhakti Shah, MD

Bhakti Shah, MD, is a board-certified rheumatologist, practicing in New York. Dr. Shah is passionate about well-rounded care and emphasizes mindfulness practices such as yoga and meditation in conjunction with evidence-based medical treatments. Dr. Shah is a member of the American College of Rheumatology's Communication and Marketing Committee and is also active as a member of the Association of Women in Rheumatology.

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