Certain foods, spices, and dietary supplements are known to have anti-inflammatory properties. People with inflammatory diseases — including spondylitis, a type of arthritis that affects the spine — may find it helpful to consume foods that have anti-inflammatory properties and to take supplements that have been shown to reduce inflammation.
Dietary supplements include vitamins, amino acids, herbs, minerals, and botanicals. Some supplements may help reduce inflammation. Recently, more research has been dedicated to testing the effectiveness of these nutritional supplements for people with chronic conditions like spondylitis.
The Spondylitis Association of America warns that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not consider supplements a treatment or cure for medical conditions. Some supplements may interact negatively with certain prescription medications.
This article covers some of the supplements and nutrients that have been studied for spondylitis and other rheumatic conditions. Although these over-the-counter supplements are generally deemed safe if you follow the package’s instructions, you should still talk to your doctor before taking supplements. They can make sure any supplements will work safely with your spondylitis treatment plan.
Vitamin D is necessary for many body functions, including bone health, regulation of cellular functions, and immune system support. Vitamin D has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Vitamin D also helps the body absorb calcium — which is why it may be a good supplement for people who live with inflammatory diseases, such as spondylitis, osteoporosis, and rheumatoid arthritis.
Vitamin D can only be produced by the body when the skin is in direct sunlight, and vitamin D is not found naturally in most foods. Some foods, like cereals and milk, are fortified with vitamin D. Given the role of vitamin D in promoting bone health and its anti-inflammatory properties, people with spondylitis might benefit from taking a vitamin D supplement.
One study reviewed the role of vitamin D in people with ankylosing spondylitis (a type of axial spondyloarthritis) and found that vitamin D lowered spondylitis risk and disease activity. Furthermore, vitamin D deficiency is associated with higher disease activity for people who have spondylitis. Taking supplemental vitamin D could help with symptoms.
One MySpondylitisTeam member wrote, “I take a mixture with B vitamins and vitamin D every morning, and it’s the difference between doing and don’t-ing!”
The recommended daily dose for vitamin D is 600 International Units (IU) for people ages 1 to 70. Talk with your rheumatologist before adding vitamin D to your diet.
While vitamin D is essential for overall health, too much vitamin D can create health issues. Specifically, high doses of supplemental vitamin D can cause kidney stones and kidney damage, irregular heart rhythms, nausea and vomiting, constipation, poor appetite, and weight loss. Vitamin D can also interact with several medications, including prednisone (a steroid that can be used to treat inflammatory arthritis).
Read more about vitamin D and spondylitis.
Omega-3 fatty acids have anti-inflammatory properties. Studies have shown these nutrients help control symptoms in people with rheumatic diseases, including ankylosing spondylitis and rheumatoid arthritis. Omega-3 fatty acids are necessary for muscle activity, cell growth, and other body functions.
One small study found that omega-3 fatty acid supplementation led to reduced disease activity for people with ankylosing spondylitis. However, because of its small sample size, the researchers could not tell what doses of supplements were most effective. Another more recent study argued that omega-3 fatty acids are a necessary part of one’s diet for people living with inflammatory conditions, including spondylitis. Larger studies are necessary to determine whether omega-3 fatty acids should be used as an effective part of spondylitis treatment.
Although the body cannot produce omega-3 fatty acids, omega-3s can be consumed by eating different foods.
There are three types of omega-3 fatty acids:
Fish oil supplements and fatty fish like salmon, trout, and mackerel are good sources of EPA and DHA. Natural sources of ALA include canola, soybean, and flaxseed oils or fatty nuts like walnuts and pecans. Some people take fish oil or ALA as a dietary supplement.
Omega-3s can be helpful, but it is important to note that fish oil supplements can interact with medications, including drugs that reduce blood clotting, birth control drugs, and blood pressure medications. Fish oil supplements may cause heartburn, nausea, or diarrhea.
Moreover, people who take naproxen for pain management and supplements with fish oils can also have an increased risk of side effects, such as bleeding. Consult a health care provider to ensure omega-3 supplements do not interact with any antirheumatic drugs you may take for spondylitis.
Turmeric is an orange-yellow spice often found in Chinese, Indian, and East and West African dishes. Curcumin is the biological compound in turmeric that gives turmeric its anti-inflammatory properties. Turmeric can be purchased as a spice or as a dietary supplement, while curcumin can only be purchased as a dietary supplement.
Many clinical trials have studied curcumin as a potential therapeutic. Researchers have found it may help people with rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, inflammatory bowel diseases like Crohn’s disease, and other autoimmune conditions.
Studies have shown curcumin can have the same pain-relief effects as ibuprofen, though more research is needed to confirm these findings. It’s considered safe to take up to 8 grams of turmeric per day. Taking more than that or taking it over a long period of time may increase the risk of gastrointestinal issues.
Ginger is a root vegetable that also has inflammatory effects. One small study showed taking 750 milligrams of ginger twice per day can decrease disease activity for people with rheumatoid arthritis. More research is needed on the effects of ginger for people with spondylitis.
Natural Spondylitis Treatments
|Natural Treatment||What It Could Do for Spondylitis|
|Vitamin D||May lower spondylitis risk and disease activity|
|Turmeric (Curcumin)||May reduce inflammation and offer pain relief|
|Omega-3 fatty acids||May reduce disease activity|
|Ginger||May reduce disease activity|
NOTE: Natural treatments are not a substitute for a spondylitis treatment plan. Talk to your doctor before trying any natural therapies.
A balanced diet is important for overall health. For people with spondylitis, it can be especially helpful to maintain an anti-inflammatory diet. To see if any foods trigger your symptoms or flare-ups, nutritionists recommend keeping a food diary and noting any symptoms you experience after eating specific foods.
Some types of food have been shown to cause inflammation, including:
Read more on the anti-inflammatory diet for spondylitis.
Several studies have researched the role of low-starch diets to reduce the symptoms of ankylosing spondylitis. However, the results have been inconclusive.
Dairy products can also be inflammatory for some people. There is no conclusive evidence that avoiding dairy products improves spondylitis, but it may be helpful to watch for flare-ups when you eat dairy or any other potentially inflammatory foods. You can get a better idea of which foods feel best for your body.
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are a popular treatment for spondylitis pain relief. If you take NSAIDs regularly, it may be beneficial to eat yogurt and bananas to help protect the lining of the gut, which can be damaged by prolonged use of NSAIDs.
Some of the supplements listed above have been proven to help manage symptoms and decrease disease activity through clinical trials. Still, it’s essential to seek medical advice from a health care provider before beginning any supplement regimen. The combination of medications, a healthy diet, and dietary supplements may improve quality of life for people with spondylitis.
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Have you tried any natural treatments for spondylitis? Has your doctor recommended any supplements? What have you found to be helpful? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.