Does vitamin C help osteoarthritis?

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Dr. Grant Cooper, MD
Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation Specialist

In the Framingham Osteoarthritis Cohort Study, which was part of the Framingham Heart Study that has yielded important information on the causes and prevention of heart disease, people who consumed a higher amount of vitamin C had a three-fold lower risk of cartilage loss and disease progression than people who took in less vitamin C.

A study in Britain involving more than 23,000 participants found that people who consumed less vitamin C had a higher risk of developing inflammatory polyarthritis, a form of rheumatoid arthritis that affects two or more joints. Reducing the risk of inflammatory polyarthritis may or may not correlate well with other types of arthritis, but the fact that vitamin C plays a positive role in protecting joints seems obvious.

Of note, a 2004 animal study showed that high levels of prolonged vitamin C intake actually increase the risk of arthritis progression in the knee. Human studies are needed to confirm or refute these results, but this does offer an argument to not exceed the recommended daily allowance (RDA), which is 90 mg for men and 75 mg for women. Because of this somewhat conflicting evidence, I do not recommend vitamin C supplementation for arthritis.

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Vitamin C, a water-soluble vitamin, is plentiful in fresh fruits and vegetables. This key antioxidant helps to maintain the strength of collagen, ligaments and tendons and can block the effect of inflammatory substances, which can lead to pain and destruction in the body. There are studies showing that vitamin C inhibits the breakdown of cartilage and may be beneficial to those with back pain from osteoarthritis, as the cartilage is often adversely affected.

You can get enough vitamin C by eating five servings of fresh fruits and vegetables daily including the following: broccoli, cauliflower, peppers, kale, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, citrus fruit, melons, asparagus, avocado, kohlrabi, mustard greens, peppers, tomato and watercress. A deficiency of vitamin C might lead to the development of weak cartilage. Supplementation with a vitamin C tablet may be advised if your diet is inadequate, so ask your doctor if you are concerned.

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Yes, in some short-term studies, vitamin C from dietary sources (OJ, broccoli, strawberries, red peppers, etc.) has been shown to help prevent loss of cartilage (the cushion between your bones) and even protect you from developing osteoarthritis. In fact, in the Framingham study, exercise that strengthens muscles above and below the joint, vitamin C, vitamin D and calcium helped stop the progression of osteoarthritis. However, other long-term studies haven’t been quite as positive. In fact, one showed that taking C actually made osteoarthritis symptoms worse, especially cartilage loss. That being said, National Institutes of Health (NIH) on a scale of effective to ineffective said that vitamin C would be “possibly effective” at slowing the worsening of osteoarthritis. So talk to your doctor about your options and what will work best for you.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.