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Vitamins and Supplements for Spondylitis

Posted on November 08, 2021
Medically reviewed by
Ariel D. Teitel, M.D., M.B.A.
Article written by
Liz Aguiniga, Ph.D.

Vitamin D | Omega-3 Fatty Acids | Turmeric, Curcumin, and Ginger | Diet | Get Support

Certain foods, spices, and dietary supplements are known to have anti-inflammatory properties. For those that suffer from inflammatory diseases — including spondylitis, a type of arthritis that affects the spine — it may be 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. People with spondylitis may benefit from taking supplements that have been shown to help reduce inflammation.

It’s important to note that even if supplements have strong biologic effects, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not consider supplements a treatment or cure for medical conditions. Some supplements have been shown to interact negatively with certain medications. While the following over-the-counter supplements are deemed safe if taken following the package’s instructions, you should still talk to your doctor before taking supplements.

Vitamin D

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.

Women with spondylitis: 5 health tips to reduce osteoporosis risk

Vitamin D can only be produced by the body when it 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 had a protective effect on 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 IU for people from ages 1 to 70. Talk with your rheumatologist before adding vitamin D to your diet.

Potential Risks of Vitamin D Supplementation

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 for spondylitis.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids have anti-inflammatory properties and have been shown to help control disease symptoms compared to the use of a placebo (“sugar pill”) for 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. While 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:

  • Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)
  • Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)
  • Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA)

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 for their anti-inflammatory effects.

Potential Risks of Omega-3 Fatty Acid Supplementation

While omega-3s can be helpful for pain management, 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 can increase the risk of bleeding and may cause heartburn, nausea, or diarrhea.

Moreover, people that take naproxen for pain management and supplements with fish oils can also be at increased risk of bleeding. It is important to consult a health care provider to ensure that omega-3 supplements do not interact with any antirheumatic drugs prescribed for spondylitis.

Turmeric, Curcumin, and Ginger

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. Given its anti-inflammatory properties, many clinical trials have studied curcumin as a potential therapeutic. Researchers have found that it may be beneficial for people with rheumatoid arthritis, arthritis, psoriasis, inflammatory bowel disease, Crohn’s disease, and other autoimmune conditions.

One literature review showed that ginger, another anti-inflammatory, taken at 750 mg twice per day can decrease disease activity in people with rheumatoid arthritis. Studies have shown that curcumin can have the same pain-relief effects as ibuprofen, though more research is needed to confirm these findings. It is considered safe to take up to 8 grams of curcumin per day. Higher doses or long-term use may increase the risk of gastrointestinal issues in some people.

Diet

A balanced diet is important for overall health. For people with spondylitis — especially those who have inflammatory bowel disease as a symptom — it can be especially helpful to maintain an anti-inflammatory diet. To identify if any foods trigger symptoms or flare-ups, nutritionists recommend keeping a food diary for a few weeks and noting any symptoms you experience after eating specific foods.

Some types of food have been shown to cause inflammation, including:

  • Alcohol
  • Aspartame (and high doses of regular sugar)
  • Gluten and casein
  • Monosodium glutamate (MSG, a flavor-enhancing additive)
  • Trans fats and saturated fats
  • Refined carbohydrates

Dairy products can also be inflammatory for some people. It may be helpful to watch for flare-ups when consuming these foods. Several studies have researched the role of low-starch diets to reduce the symptoms of ankylosing spondylitis; however, the results have been inconclusive.

Because nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are a popular treatment for pain relief, 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.

It is important to maintain a healthy weight, as extra weight will put additional stress on the bones and joints and can cause additional bone pain. The combination of medications, a healthy diet, and dietary supplements may improve quality of life for people with spondylitis.

Even though some of the supplements listed above have been proven to help manage symptoms and decrease disease activity through clinical trials, it is essential to seek medical advice from a health care provider before beginning any supplement regimen.

Read more on the anti-inflammatory diet for spondylitis.

Talk With Others Who Understand

MySpondylitisTeam is the social network for people with spondylitis and their loved ones. On MySpondylitisTeam, more than 85,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with spondylitis.

Are you or someone you care for living with spondylitis? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.

All updates must be accompanied by text or a picture.
Ariel D. Teitel, M.D., M.B.A. is the clinical associate professor of medicine at the NYU Langone Medical Center in New York. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Learn more about him here.
Liz Aguiniga, Ph.D. is a freelance medical writer with a doctorate in life sciences from Northwestern University. Learn more about her here.

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