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Many patients with arthritis choose to take supplements to help their condition. However, some supplements can have toxic effects. This article outlines the 10 supplements and herbs you should avoid if you have arthritis.

Many patients with arthritis, a disease that is characterized by inflammation of joints, turn to supplements as a method of treatment. However, while there are some supplements that may hold some benefit for treatment of arthritis, others can actually have a negative effect. This is particularly important if you are on medication as use of certain supplements can interfere with how your body processes these medications. Hence, it is vital that you consult with your doctor before you chose to use any external supplements. These are some of the supplements you should avoid.

1. Arnica

Arnica is a supplement that is thought to relieve aches and pain by acting as an anti-inflammatory compound. However, you should actually avoid arnica as it becomes toxic when it enters your body. Therefore, when taken orally, it is poisonous unless it is significantly diluted in the form of a homeopathic pill. When used topically (on skin), it is generally safe but you have to make sure to use it on top of unbroken skin. Arnica can cause several side effects, some very severe, including miscarriages, allergic reactions, paralysis, heart palpitations and death.

2. Aconite

Aconite is a supplement that is thought to ease inflammation of joints in gout and rheumatoid arthritis. However, it is best to avoid aconite as it is actually a strong, fast-acting and potent poison that affects the heart and central nervous system.

3. Extracts of the adrenal gland, spleen and thymus

These supplements claim to help improve fatigue levels, ease stress and reduce inflammation. However, it is best to avoid these extracts as they are derived from raw animal organs and the FDA states these could be contaminated.

4. Autumn crocus

This is a supplement that is used to lower gout attacks and ease symptoms of arthritis. However, it is best to avoid this supplement as it is toxic and should only ever be taken as a prescription drug (colchine), under a doctor’s guidance.

5. 5-HTP (5-hydroxytrytophan)

5-HTP claims to help treat fibromyalgia. However, it should be avoided as it gets converted into serotonin, which is a brain signaling molecule. When you take 5-HTP, it significantly raises the levels of serotonin, particularly if you take them in combination with anti-depressants. If you have very high levels of serotonin, then that leads to development of serotonin syndrome, which is a dangerous condition that involves cognitive changes, hot flashes, rapidly changing blood pressure levels, high heart rate and in extreme cases, coma.

6. Chaparral

Chaparral is made from leaves and twigs of a type of shrub. Chaparral, which is available as a tea or a pill, is thought to help reduce inflammation and relieve pain. Therefore, it may be used by patients with arthritis. Unfortunately, studies don’t support the claim. In fact, studies have shown that chaparral may cause hepatitis, as well as kidney and liver damage. As chaparral causes liver damage, you should especially avoid it if you are on methotrexate, which also has an effect on the liver. Finally, if you are already on other medication such as statins, then the risk of liver damage significantly increases.

7. Kombucha

Similar to chaparral, people believe that kombucha tea helps ease arthritis pain, particularly osteoarthritis. Kombucha is made by fermenting black tea along with yeast and bacteria. While people claim that it can help boost the immune system, research doesn’t necessarily back up the claim. Furthermore, home brewed kombucha is unsafe as it is made under non-sterile conditions after being fermented and it can easily become contaminated with bacteria. It has been linked to a number of side effects including liver damage, nausea, and vomiting. Additionally, as it is highly acidic, it can actually reduce the ability of your body to absorb any medication you may be on. Therefore, if you want to have kobucha, you should buy it from a reputable company.

8. Arth-Q

Sold as a dietary supplement, Arth-Q is thought to help reduce joint, muscle and arthritic pain. However, the main ingredient for Arth-Q is actually ibuprofen, which is found in NSAIDs (a medication you may already be taking for managing arthritis). Thus, taking Arth-Q can put you over the maximum recommended dosage for ibuprofen, which can lead to significant side effects including bleeding in your stomach and intestine, heart problems and stroke.

9. Cat’s Claw

This is a type of supplement that is thought to help manage rheumatoid arthritis by decreasing inflammation. Actually, studies have shown that use of cat’s claw was associated with positive results with regards to reducing inflammation. However, cat’s claw comes with side effects such as nausea, vomiting and headaches. Additionally, it can be dangerous for patients that are on blood thinners (such as warfarin) or patients that are on blood pressure medication.

10. Gamma-butyrolactone (GBL)

GBL is thought to help treat fibromyalgia. However, use of GBL has been linked to incidences of death, comas and seizures.

  • Abebe, Worku. "Herbal medication: potential for adverse interactions with analgesic drugs." Journal of clinical pharmacy and therapeutics 27.6 (2002): 391-401.
  • Kennedy, Jae. "Herb and supplement use in the US adult population." Clinical therapeutics 27.11 (2005): 1847-1858.
  • Sardesai, Vishwanath M. "Herbal medicines: Poisons or potions?." Journal of Laboratory and Clinical Medicine 139.6 (2002): 343-348.
  • Photo courtesy of SteadyHealth

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