Diet and Nutrition

Alternative Treatments for Rheumatoid Arthritis

Alternative Treatments for Rheumatoid Arthritis

Key Takeaways

  • Fish oil, plant oils, turmeric, and ginger have both anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties.
  • Tai Chi involves exercises and breathing that has been shown to reduce rheumatoid arthritic pain.
  • It is important to consult a doctor before incorporating any non-traditional medicine alternatives. 

Why go the alternative route?

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease where the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks the membranes that line the joints causing inflammation. It is a painful, chronic condition that can be managed by drugs. Although drugs may be effective, they can have terrible side effects too, ranging from nausea, anemia, and even liver damage.

Hence, the option to try out natural, alternative treatments look very attractive to those affected.  It is always recommended that you consult with your regular doctor before starting alternative therapies. Many may be effective, but many may not have any real benefits or not be well tested. Talking to others with the similar conditions may help in making right choices.

Apart from the traditional treatment there are certain alternatives that can be used to cure rheumatoid arthritis. Some treatment methods belong to natural therapy, Chinese philosophy among others. Many of them provide promising benefits. The following are some alternative treatment for rheumatoid arthritis:

  • Fish oil-  Rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, fish oil helps to decrease pain and remove inflammatory factors. The fishes which are rich in such beneficial factors include mackerel, herring, tuna, salmon, cod liver, whale blubber and seal blubber. Two of the most important fatty acids in fish oil are eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). They also reduce the stiffness associated with rheumatoid arthritis. They do have some contraindications. A doctor’s advice should always be taken because they can interfere with some medications and might produce some unwanted effects like nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain.
  • Plant oils- They contain a substance which also helps to get rid of the pain and inflammation associated with rheumatoid arthritis. They help to reduce morning stiffness and the occurrences of flare-ups. Plants like evening primrose, borage and black current contain the anti-rheumatoid substances. Side effects include abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Also it has the potential to cause damage to the liver.
  • Tai chi- It is a therapy involving exercises and deep breathing. It is still under study as to how Tai Chi actually helps but some studies have shown that it reduces the pain of rheumatoid arthritis. It is an internal Chinese martial art.
  • Acupuncture –This is a traditional form of Chinese medicine. It involves stimulating certain body points by inserting very fine needles into the body and leaving them for a certain period. According to Chinese medicine, this stimulates the energy pathways in our body and corrects imbalances of energy called ‘qi.'  Some swear by the effectiveness of this method, though there are skeptics too, who claim it is nothing but the placebo effect. Whatever the case, since it has no side effects, there is no harm in trying it out.
  • Ayurveda – Ayurveda is the traditional Indian system of medicine that is more than 5000 years old. Treatment for RA in Ayurveda involves the use of medicated oils, massages, herbs and medicated potions to treat the symptoms along with breathing exercises and yoga.
  • Vitamin D- Deficiency in vitamin D has been linked to rheumatoid arthritis. Studies have shown supplementing the diet of patients with Vitamin D significantly improved their symptoms within a short period.  Your doctor is the best person to discuss the suitability of this option for you.
  • Boswellia serrate- The active ingredient in this foodstuff is boswellic acid which has anti-inflammatory properties. This helps to decrease the damage done to bones and cartilage during the disease.
  • Capsaicin- It is the substance found in capsicum and chilly seeds. It slows down the transmitter of pain called substance P. It can be found as topical cream, gel or patches. Many studies have shown that arthritic pain had reduced by 50 percent after using capsaicin for 3 weeks.
  •  Turmeric- it is one those compounds which has been used readily for inflammatory processes as home remedies. The active ingredient in turmeric is curcumin which is very well known for its anti-inflammatory properties. It blocks the chemical messengers that are responsible for pain and swelling. Turmeric can be used topically as a paste mixed with water, used to drink by mixing with milk and by putting a pinch of turmeric in food. By putting turmeric in food, it enhances the taste, kills bacteria and gives a nice color to the food. A study in 2012 proved that turmeric works better than Diclofenac an NSAID in reducing pain and swelling.  
  •  Avocado- By blocking the inflammatory cells, it slows down the progression of rheumatoid arthritis and it also prevents the damage of the synovium. It is best used in the form of ASU (Avocado-soybean Unsaponifiables). Recent studies show that it has proved to quite helpful for hip and knee joints.
  • Uncaria tomentosa- also known as the cat’s claw, it blocks TNF (tumor necrosis factor). TNF is one of the most important chemical messenger as far as rheumatoid arthritis is concerned. It also improves own immune system. Many clinical trials have been performed on it and have been proved useful in reducing pain and swelling.
  • Ginger- One of the most used vegetable, it has strong anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties. Some studies even show that ginger is equivalent to the string steroids that are used. Ginger can be used topically or can be used in cooking.

Mind/Body Therapies

Alternate treatments also include mind/body therapies that can help in managing stress and is good for sleep and pain management. Some such therapies are meditation, rest techniques, hypnotherapy, and visualization.

All the alternative medications are according to some studies, clinical trials or researches done. Some are recommended by the practitioners and some are not. All of them might have their own adverse effects which have not been studied yet. Also the effects these alternative medications may vary depend on the severity of symptoms.   

In a Nutshell

Alternate treatments for RA abound, and newer treatments are constantly emerging. Consult with your doctor, family, and friends and use your judgment and research while deciding upon any alternative treatment method. These methods are sometimes very effective and shouldn’t be shunned down completely.