blog detail banner


Antioxidants: A Potential Treatment For Rheumatoid Arthritis

Feb 28, 2018

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.

The Connection Between Rheumatoid Arthritis & 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.

Can Antioxidant Supplements Help In 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

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.

An Antioxidant-Rich Diet For Rheumatoid Arthritis

Meditteranean Diet Can Help

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.

Fruits And Vegetables Rich In Antioxidants

  • Vitamin C: Blueberries, strawberries, kiwi, citrus fruits & juices, green peppers, broccoli, and brussels sprouts
  • Vitamin E: Wheat germ, green leafy vegetables, vegetable oils, nuts, and seeds
  • Vitamin A: Milk, cheese, egg yolk, meat, liver, kidney, oily fish, and fish liver oil
  • Carotenoids & Carotenes: Carrots, squash, pumpkin, apricots, spinach, and broccoli
  • Xanthophylls: Oranges, papaya, mangoes, tangerines, bell peppers, green leafy vegetables, certain yellow/orange vegetables and fruits such as corn, nectarine, and squash
  • Selenium: Brazil nuts and sesame seeds


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.

 Dr. Rachita Narsaria
Dr. Rachita is a practising doctor with a passion for prose. With over 6 years of medical writing experience for patients and doctors alike, this doctor-cum-entrepreneur loves learning and sharing knowledge.


  1. CDC – Rheumatoid arthritis [Internet] [Updated Jul 7, 2017]. Available at: Accessed on Jul 22, 2017.
  2. Hadjigogos K. The role of free radicals in the pathogenesis of rheumatoid arthritis. Panminerva Med. 2003 Mar;45(1):7-13.
  3. Finaud J, Lac G, Filaire E. Oxidative stress: Relationship with exercise and training. Sports Med. 2006;36(4):327-58.
  4. Pattison DJ, Winyard PG. Dietary antioxidants in inflammatory arthritis: Do they have any role in etiology or therapy? Nat Clin Pract Rheumatol. 2008 Nov;4(11):590-6.
  5. van Vugt RM, Rijken PJ, Rietveld AG, van Vugt AC, Dijkmans BA. Antioxidant intervention in rheumatoid arthritis: Results of an open pilot study. Clin Rheumatol. 2008 Jun;27(6):771-5.
  6. Mahajan A, Tandon VR. Antioxidants and rheumatoid arthritis. J Indian Rheumatol Assoc. 2004;12:139-42.
  7. Nourmohammadi I, Athari-Nikazm S, Vafa MR, Bidari A, Jazayeri S, Hoshyarrad A, et al. Effects of antioxidant supplementations on oxidative stress in rheumatoid arthritis patients. Journal of Biol Sci. 2010;10(1):63-6.
  8. Jalili M, Aref-Hosseini SR, Kolahi S, Ebrahimi-Mamegani M, Sabour S. The effect of antioxidants supplement on lipid peroxidation and serum aryl esterase enzyme in rheumatoid arthritis patients. Am Med Journal. 2011;2(2):119-24.
  9. Edmonds SE, Winyard PG, Guo R, Kidd B, Merry P, Langrish-Smith A, et al. Putative analgesic activity of repeated oral doses of vitamin E in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis. Results of a prospective placebo controlled double blind trial. Ann Rheum Dis. 1997 Nov;56(11):649-55.
  • Heinle K, Adam A, Gradl M, Wiseman M, Adam O. [Selenium concentration in erythrocytes of patients with rheumatoid arthritis. Clinical and laboratory chemistry infection markers during administration of selenium]. Med Klin (Munich). 1997 Sep 15;92 Suppl 3:29-31.