Do nutritional supplements help treat rheumatism? | devotion
Turmeric, omega-3 fatty acids, and vitamin D: Some rheumatology patients swear by it. But what does the science say?
To get rid of rheumatic problems, one Trouw reader (85) took dietary supplements for nine months. Under the guidance of an orthopedist, the man then lost four kilos, felt reborn and since then has no longer suffered from rheumatic problems. Nice story? Or will more patients benefit from nutritional supplements?
The fact that vitamins and herbs are popular with rheumatism patients is evident from the many results on Google. If you search via the ChatGPT chatbot, a clear list will appear at the top: omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D, glucosamine, and turmeric. Supplements are popular because medications don’t always work as well and many patients look elsewhere to reduce pain and stiffness.
But does this work? Anneliese Bonin, rheumatologist and researcher at UMC Maastricht University, should know. In recent years, I have contributed to a large-scale European study, in which professional organizations and patient associations also participated. In this project, the results of 174 studies were collected and cross-checked.
In doing so, the potential beneficial effects of 83 of the nutritional supplements in the seven most common rheumatic diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis, were considered. To get to the point straight: taking supplements doesn’t make sense. So little that doctors don’t recommend them.
Some bright spots appear, though: supplemental glucosamine and chondroitin — endogenous substances — can somewhat relieve pain in some osteoarthritis patients and slightly improve daily functioning, such as climbing stairs. How this happens is unknown. And please note: These supplements do not slow or repair cartilage damage.
Another boost: Extra omega-3 fatty acids ease rheumatoid arthritis symptoms. Bonin emphasizes: “It is important that patients continue to take our medications. Among other things, they prevent joints from suffering further damage.”
Not only nutritional supplements, but different diets were also examined in the study. A few years ago, for example, the Mediterranean diet was popular with rheumatism patients, but we found no evidence that it worked. This also applies to all vegetarian diets. Like the World Health Organization, we recommend a balanced and varied diet. For patients with osteoporosis, which is also a form of rheumatism, it is important that they get enough calcium and vitamin D.”
Food may not make much difference overall, Bonin says, but exercise more than ever before. Rheumatic patients benefit from moderate physical fitness and muscle-strengthening exercises. As a result, they experience less pain, are physically better on their feet, and their quality of life increases. Which means they also feel better mentally. It’s ideal if patients start exercising immediately after diagnosis, but they also benefit if they choose it later.”
Rheumatic patients, like everyone else, benefit from a healthy lifestyle, including relaxation and adequate sleep. “Those who smoke or are overweight gain a lot of health by quitting smoking or losing weight. Then the severity of complaints goes down and the medications work better. Why exactly? We don’t know that.”
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