Vitamin E for easing rheumatoid arthritis pain

Scientists in the Antioxidants Research Laboratory at Tufts are conducting a 6-month study in which they give people with rheumatoid arthritis 1,000 milligrams of natural vitamin E daily to see if it can mitigate their pain and inflammation. "We are looking not only at biochemical markers of inflammation," says Jeffrey Blumberg, PhD, who heads the lab, "but also at clinical assessments--do these people really feel better?"

The study follows a smattering of earlier research suggesting that large doses of vitamin E may help reduce pain and inflammation in people who suffer from rheumatoid arthritis. In Germany, for instance, a group of people who took 1,200 milligrams of vitamin E daily for 3 weeks experienced a decrease in morning stiffness, joint tenderness, and joint pain that equaled the decrease in symptoms experienced by those taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). In another German study, people who took vitamin E every day along with their medication had less pain than those who took their medication with a placebo.

One study from Denmark suggests that high enough blood levels of vitamin E might even help to prevent rheumatoid arthritis. After following more than 1,400 people for 20 years, researchers found that those who started out with relatively low blood levels of vitamin E (and beta-carotene) were eight times more likely than those with higher levels to end up with the disease.

It makes sense when you consider that people with rheumatoid arthritis use up many more antioxidants such as vitamin E to squelch free radicals, toxic oxygen molecules that are involved in causing inflammation.

Results from the Tufts study will be available later this year. Whatever they turn out to be, Dr. Blumberg makes it clear that "we're not proposing that vitamin E is the new arthritis treatment. We're proposing that it might be an adjunctive treatment." That is, perhaps people could take vitamin E supplements with a lower dosage of NSAIDs, which would be useful since those medications can cause GI bleeding problems.

PHOTO (BLACK & WHITE): Jeffrey Blumberg, PhD, Chief, Antioxidants Research Lab

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By Jeffrey Blumberg, PhD, Chief, Antioxidants Research Lab

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