While many people with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) finger milk as one of their trigger foods, a fatty acid found in milk may be an effective treatment for the condition. Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) is a fatty acid found in meat and the milk of grazing animals such as cows and sheep. Studies show that it has anti-inflammatory properties and can protect bones from damage.

"Despite beneficial effects of conjugated linoleic acids in animal studies, there is little information on their effects on human inflammatory and autoimmune diseases," explain the researchers, led by Farhad Shahram, M.D. of the Rheumatology Research Centre at Tehran University for Medical Sciences.

Shahram and his team investigated the effects of CLA on rheumatoid arthritis through a randomized, double-blind placebo-controlled trial involving 87 patients with RA. They were divided into four groups and given the following daily supplements for three months: group C received CLA; group E received vitamin E; group CE received both CLA and vitamin E; and group P received a placebo.

The researchers measured serum vitamin E levels, complete blood count (CBC), erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR), C-Reactive protein (CRP), rheumatoid factor (RF) and the disease activity score in 28 joints in each of the patients. Clinical data came from a physician examination and questionnaire.

Pain and morning stiffness were significantly lower in the groups taking conjugated linoleic acid and CLA with vitamin E, compared to group P after 12 weeks of supplementation. Compared to the beginning of the study, ESR levels - a good indicator of inflammation in the body -  were significantly lower in groups C, E, and CE, with group CE having significantly lower ESR levels than the placebo group. The researchers conclude that conjugated linoleic acids decrease inflammation and improve clinical outcomes in patients with RA.

In another study led by Shahram, conjugated linoleic acid decreased lipids in the blood, which can reduce the risk of heart disease in patients with rheumatoid arthritis. Other studies suggest that CLA can also block the pathway of COX-1 and COX-2 enzymes that trigger inflammation in conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis.

Bone damage is another common side effect of rheumatoid arthritis. Conjugated linoleic acid can prevent bone resorption (a process that breaks down bone and releases essential minerals such as calcium). It also enhances calcium absorption and may increase bone formation, allowing people RA to enjoy better bone health for a longer period.

Conjugated linoleic acid is also used for weight loss - an effect that benefits patients with rheumatoid arthritis. In the case of people who are obese or overweight and have RA, weight loss allows them to take significantly less oral steroid or immunosuppressive medications.

Speak to your doctor to find out if conjugated linoleic acid is appropriate for treating your rheumatoid arthritis. You can get conjugated linoleic acid by drinking milk, but you'd have to drink several glasses a day to see any effect. This isn't ideal because of the overall fat content in milk, and isn't an option if you're lactose intolerant. The alternative is a supplement: Look for brands that contain at least 1250 mg of CLA from safflower oil.

Study Reference

Journal Name: International Journal of Rheumatic Diseases, Vol. 12 Issue 1, pp. 20-28

Study Date: Published Online: 28 Mar 2009

Study Name: Effect of conjugated linoleic acids, vitamin E and their combination on the clinical outcome of Iranian adults with active rheumatoid arthritis

Website: http://www3.interscience.wiley.com/journal/122293677/abstract?CRETRY=1&SRETRY=0

Authors: Naheed Aryaeian, Farhad Shahram, Mahmoud Djalali, Mohammad Reza  Eshragian, Abolghassem Djazayeri, Abdolfattah  Sarrafnejad, Ahmad Salimzadeh, Nasim Naderi, and Chamari Maryam

Journal: Vascular Health and Risk Management; Vol.4(6), pp. 1423-1432.

Date: 2008 December

Study Name: Effect of conjugated linoleic acid, vitamin E and their combination on lipid profiles and blood pressure of Iranian adults with active rheumatoid arthritis

Website: http://www.pubmedcentral.nih.gov/articlerender.fcgi?artid=2663461

Author: Naheed Aryaeian, Farhad Shahram, Mahmoud Djalali, Mohammad R Eshragian, Abolghasem Djazayeri, Abdolfatah Sarrafnejad, Nasim Naderi, Maryam Chamari, Fariha Fatehi, and Mahnaz Zarei