When you have arthritis, you might be tempted to try anything that could help you feel better. Some people take vitamins and mineral supplements that have been touted for arthritis relief, like calcium, or vitamins C, D, and E. Yet it is possible to go overboard and get too much of these or other nutrients — and that could be harmful.
“It is more common for the general population to get too much of a vitamin than it is to have a deficiency, especially for those who make an effort to eat healthfully and take supplements,” says Cindy Moore, director of nutrition therapy at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation.
Certain vitamins — such as B and C — are water-soluble. If you take too much of them, your body simply flushes out the extra. Other vitamins — including A, D, E, and K — are fat-soluble. They aren’t good to consume in high doses because your body holds onto the excess. Minerals can be problematic in large doses, too. Too much iron can be toxic, causing symptoms like fatigue, joint pain, and depression. High-dose calcium supplements have been linked to an increased risk for heart disease as reported in a the National Institutes of Health-AARP diet and health study published in the JAMA Internal Medicine in 2013.
And there are other risks, too. Because supplements aren’t regulated by the FDA like medicines, you can never be entirely sure that what’s promised on the label is delivered inside the container. “There is also a risk of vitamins and minerals interfering with medicines people are taking,” says Laura Gibofsky, MS, RD, CDN, a registered dietitian at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York. For example, vitamins E and K can increase your bleeding risk if you’re already taking a blood thinning medication. Calcium can reduce the effectiveness of antibiotics according to a U.S. Pharmacist online journal article titled Drug Interactions.
Ask Your Doctor
Whether or not you have arthritis, you need to be wary about supplement interactions and overdoses. Before taking any vitamin or mineral supplement, check that it’s safe for you. “Make sure you tell your doctor and take them under the doctor’s guidance,” Gibofsky suggests.
Your doctor might recommend a supplement to correct a nutritional deficiency, or suggest that you take folic acid to reduce methotrexate side effects if you have rheumatoid arthritis. But unless your doctor says otherwise, it’s best to choose supplements that don’t contain more than 100% of the dietary reference intake (DRI) of any particular nutrient. Some high-dose supplements can contain 10 or more times the amount recommended for your age and gender according to a Colorado State University article titled Dietary Supplements: Vitamins and Minerals.
Watch the Fortified Foods, Too
It’s hard to overdose on vitamins and minerals from foods alone. However, there’s been a surge in heavily fortified foods, from orange juice boosted with calcium and vitamin D, to nutritional bars loaded with a variety of nutrients. If you eat a nutritional bar, plus a bowl each of fortified cereal and pasta in one day, you could get well more than the recommended amounts of several vitamins and minerals. Reading labels and avoiding heavily fortified foods can help prevent an overdose.
Bottom line? “There is no magic diet for arthritis,” says Gibofsky. To keep your body as healthy as possible, get as many of your nutrients as possible from real foods. “You don’t need to take supplements, when a well-balanced diet that includes all the major food groups is sufficient to provide your body with the appropriate vitamins and minerals,” she says.