Although numerous herbal medicines are available for treating rheumatoid arthritis, the efficacy and safety of only a few herbal preparations are supported by scientific researches and clinical trials.
Despite claims made about the effectiveness of herbs in traditional medicine literature, often there is insufficient evidence to support the positive effect of herbs in reducing inflammation, pain and preventing joint deformities.
Nonetheless, herbal medications are frequently used either alone or along with conventional pharmacological drugs to alleviate the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis.
Herbal Medicines For Treating Rheumatoid Arthritis
Borage Seed Oil
A small number of trials have supported the efficacy of borage seed oil supplements for treating rheumatoid arthritis. Borage seed oil is a rich source of omega-6 fatty acids known as gamma linolenic acid (GLA) and linolenic acid, which is converted into GLA in the body. Prostaglandins derived from GLA help to modify the abnormal activities of the immune system, thereby reducing inflammation of the joint.
Moreover, GLA acts directly on the inflammatory cells, healing inflammation, joint tenderness and morning stiffness. According to a study, regular intake of 2.8 gram of GLA from borage seed oil can provide significant relief from the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. Minor side effects such as diarrhea, burping and flatulence can occur by taking borage seed oil.
Evening Primrose Oil
Just as borage seed oil, evening primrose oil is another rich source of GLA. It works in the same manner as borage seed oil in suppressing inflammation and improving mobility of joints affected by rheumatoid arthritis.
Trials with evening primrose oil have shown that regular intake of 6 grams of evening primrose oil can cause significant reduction in morning stiffness within six months. Diarrhea, nausea and skin rash are common side effects of this natural treatment for rheumatoid arthritis.
Blackcurrant Seed Oil
According to few randomized controlled trials, blackcurrant seed oil causes moderate reduction in joint tenderness and mild decrease in morning stiffness and joint pain. Therefore, blackcurrant seed oil can be effective only in treating mild symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis.
Blackcurrant seed oil owes its anti-inflammatory property to GLA. No serious side effects have been reported following consumption of blackcurrant seed oil.
Capsaicin is the active ingredient in hot pepper. Application of capsaicin cream to the swollen and painful joints helps to reduce the pain.
Topical use of capsaicin is considered an effective and safer alternative to non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) used for reducing rheumatoid arthritis pain. Studies have shown that capsaicin affects the metabolism of the synovial cells. By stimulating synthesis of collagenae and prostaglandin, capsaicin alleviates the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis.
Curcumin, the most active ingredient in the rhizome of turmeric, is noted for its anti-inflammatory property. Preliminary evidences suggest that curcumin is more effective than conventional NSAIDs in reducing inflammation and pain. Studies have shown that curcumin can inhibit the activities of pro-inflammatory substances such as COX-2, PLA2 and 5-LOX.
Mild to moderate improvement in the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis may occur following prolonged intake of feverfew. The active components of feverfew are believed to possess analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties.
Researchers speculate that by reducing production of inflammatory compounds released by the immune system, feverfew helps to reduce inflammation and pain. Common side effects of the herb include heartburn, dizziness, stomach pain, ulcers and skin rash. People prone to migraine should use feverfew with caution.
Flaxseed oil is a rich source of the omega-3 fatty acid called alpha linolenic acid (ALA). The body converts ALA into DHA and EPA, which are converted into anti-inflammatory substances called prostaglandins.
Prostaglandins play an important role in regulating the immune system and suppressing production of inflammatory substances responsible for swelling of the joints. Side effects associated with flaxseed oil intake include stomach upset, breathing problems and skin rash.
Boswellia serrata is recommended in Ayurvedic texts for treating rheumatoid arthritis. Animal studies have revealed that beta boswellic acid, one of the active components of boswellia serrata reduces primary antibody synthesis, thereby treating the underlying cause of rheumatoid arthritis.Moreover, boswellic acids obstruct synthesis of pro-inflammatory compounds.
Tripterygium wilfodii, also known as thunder god vine, is an indigenous herb of China. It works by suppressing the immune system, thereby treating the underlying cause of rheumatoid arthritis. However, thunder god vine can cause serious side effects such as stomach upset, skin rash, amenorrhea and infertility.
White Willow Bark
White willow bark contains salicin that can cause mild to moderate improvement in the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis by inducing production of anti-inflammatory prostaglandins.
Willow bark is considered safe when taken in recommended doses. Stomach upset, high blood pressure, stomach ulcers and allergic reactions are some of the common side effects of the herb. Diabetics and people with stomach or liver problem should take white willow bark with caution.