The Effects of Vitamin C on Arthritis

Studies show conflicting findings for osteoarthritis and RA

Vitamin C might protect against the development of osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and inflammatory polyarthritis, according to some studies. A powerful antioxidant, it fights molecules that trigger inflammation. Vitamin C also protects an important protein in your bones and joints.

However, that doesn't mean you should start taking high doses. Research is mixed, especially on its role in osteoarthritis, and taking too much may actually cause damage.

Vitamin C and Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis (OA) is characterized by a gradual deterioration of the joints, the main reason it is also referred to as the wear-and-tear arthritis. Research suggests that vitamin C is beneficial to bone and joint health and may help prevent and manage osteoarthritis.

Not all research agrees—an animal study from back in 2004 suggested the long-term use of vitamin C may worsen the severity of osteoarthritis of the knee. A 2019 study linked higher vitamin C intake with lower average cartilage. Some studies have shown an insignificant impact.

According to a different 2019 study, however, the majority of research has reported either significant positive correlations or non-significant positive associations.

Research published in 2016 found that a 100 mg/kg dosage was effective at preventing OA, but that higher doses were actually less effective. The current recommended daily allowance (RDA) may be adequate without supplementation. If you want to take vitamin C supplements, be sure to review your diet and discuss options with your doctor.

Vitamin C and Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease that leads to inflammation of the lining of the joints, resulting in destruction and deformity of the affected joints.

According to a June 2004 study—one of the earliest done on the topic—with results published in the Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases, consumption of foods high in vitamin C is associated with a reduced risk of developing inflammatory polyarthritis, which includes rheumatoid arthritis (RA). This population-based, case controlled study of residents of Norfolk, United Kingdom, consisted of men and women ages 45 to 74 who were followed from 1993 to 2001. All the participants kept food diaries and were arthritis-free at the study onset.

Seventy-three participants went on to develop inflammatory polyarthritis during the eight-year period while 146 remained arthritis-free. After analysis, researchers concluded that the study participants who developed arthritis ate fewer fruits and vegetables than those who did not develop the disease. Participants who ate the least fruits and vegetables had twice the risk of developing inflammatory arthritis.

There was also a significant difference in how much vitamin C the people with arthritis consumed compared to those who did not develop arthritis. Participants who consumed the lowest amounts of vitamin C were three times more likely to develop the arthritic condition than those who consumed the highest amounts of vitamin C.

A 2019 study on antioxidant intake and RA found significant correlations between vitamin C and low levels of interleukin-1beta (IL-1beta). Researchers concluded that vitamin C and other antioxidants may reduce the risk of developing inflammatory conditions and improve antioxidant activity in people with RA.

Vitamin C might protect against the development of polyarthritis and RA for a variety of reasons.

  • Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that fights molecules that trigger inflammation.
  • Vitamin C serves a role as a co-factor in collagen synthesis, the main protein in joint tissue and bone.
  • Vitamin C plays a role in fighting infection and may work to control inflammation linked to infection.
  • Some believe infection can trigger flares of rheumatoid arthritis.

A Word From Verywell

There is no denying that vitamin C benefits everybody, whether they have arthritis or not. Therefore, it is a good idea to maintain a healthy balance of vitamin C-rich foods, including citrus fruits, kale, strawberries, raspberries, and red peppers. Talk to your doctor about a vitamin supplement if you struggle to get enough vitamin C from your diet. 

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