Natural remedies for rheumatoid arthritis: Options, diet, and lifestyle

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Natural remedies for rheumatoid arthritis

Several medication-free measures can help reduce the discomfort of rheumatoid arthritis (RA).

In 2014, RA affected 1.28–1.36 million adults in the United States, according to research published in 2017.

This article covers a range of natural remedies for RA symptoms, as well as dietary and lifestyle changes that can help.

Natural remedies

According to clinical guidelines published in 2011, targeted physical therapy can benefit people with RA. This may involve stretching, exercise, and alternating between hot and cold.

Stretching

Stretching the muscles around the affected joints can provide some relief from RA symptoms.

A 2015 study published in Health Technology Assessment found that simple stretches and strengthening exercises can help alleviate symptoms of RA in the hands and wrists.

The authors concluded that the stretches can support conventional methods of care.

Check with a doctor or physical therapist before attempting any stretching in an area with RA. Some exercises can add harmful stress to the joints.

In addition to performing targeted stretches, some dynamic, low-stress forms of exercise can benefit people with RA.

Activities such as swimming or cycling can strengthen the muscles around the affected joints. This can help reduce the overall impact on the joints and slow the progression of RA.

Heat and cold

There is conflicting medical evidence about the benefits of applying heat or cold to relieve RA pain in the joints.

Some people find temporary relief from either heating or cooling these sore areas. At home, a person can use heat or ice packs.

Tip: Never put ice directly on the skin. Wrap it first in a towel.

Balanced rest

Rest is important for treating joint aches, but too much rest or a sedentary lifestyle can make aching joints worse.

Working with a doctor or physical therapist can help ensure that a person finds the right balance between rest and strengthening exercise.

Lifestyle changes

Reducing physical and emotional stress can benefit some people with RA. Gentle methods of relieving stress can include mindful meditation, tai chi, and yoga.

Inflammation is a main characteristic of RA, and following an anti-inflammatory diet can help reduce symptoms.

Research published in 2015 studied the effects of a plant-based diet on levels of a protein known to cause inflammation.

The researchers concluded that a vegan diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds significantly reduced systemic inflammation in participants.

In people with RA, a similar diet aimed to reduce inflammation may ease pain and promote overall wellbeing.

Supplements

Fish oil from cold-water fish, such as salmon, mackerel, tuna, cod, and herring, contain high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids. These acids help combat inflammation by blocking inflammatory receptors.

In 2010, researchers published a meta-analysis of investigations into the effects of fish oil on RA.

They found that a combination of fish oil supplementation and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs resulted in less joint tenderness in people who had long-standing symptoms of RA.

The researchers concluded that fish oil may be a beneficial supplemental therapy.

Fish oil supplements are available for purchase online and in many health stores.

Indian frankincense, or Boswellia serrata, also has powerful anti-inflammatory properties, and supplements may help relieve symptoms of RA.

Tumeric and curcumin supplements have shown promise in the treatment of arthritis, according to some research.

Results of multiple studies suggest that turmeric and curcumin can prevent and combat inflammation.

However, use supplements that contain turmeric with care. People who take blood thinners, such as warfarin, should avoid turmeric.

Probiotics may also benefit people with RA. A 2014 study found that administering the Lactobacillus casei 01 probiotic to people with RA for 8 weeks resulted in improved disease activity and inflammation.

Foods such as some yogurts and pickles are rich sources of probiotics, which are also available as supplements.

Anyone planning to start taking supplements should consult a doctor. Some can have side effects or interfere with other treatments.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) do not regulate herbs and supplements. As a result, the doses can be irregular, and there have been some reports of contamination.

The aims of any treatment for RA are to:

  • reduce pain and swelling
  • slow damage to the joints
  • maintain a person’s range of motion and mobility

Many people with RA benefit from a combination of conventional and complementary therapies.

Because the disease is progressive, growing more severe without intervention, treatment tends to be intensive.

A doctor will often prescribe disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs within 3 months of an RA diagnosis. These can reduce the activity of the disease and prevent deformation in the joints.

It is important to discuss medical treatments and other remedies with a healthcare professional.

When to see a doctor

It essential to speak with a doctor before using any new remedies, including exercises and supplements.

Also, contact a doctor if swelling, pain, or other symptoms become worse.

Anyone who has received an RA diagnosis should consider a combination of medications, natural remedies, and lifestyle changes that can reduce pain, support mobility, and promote wellbeing.

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Additional information

Article last updated by Adam Felman on Thu 27 September 2018.

Visit our Rheumatoid Arthritis category page for the latest news on this subject, or sign up to our newsletter to receive the latest updates on Rheumatoid Arthritis.

All references are available in the References tab.

References

Daily, J. W., Yang, M., & Park, S. (2016, August 1). Efficacy of turmeric extracts and curcumin for alleviating the symptoms of joint arthritis: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized clinical trials. Journal of Medicinal Food, 19(8). Retrieved from http://online.liebertpub.com/doi/full/10.1089/jmf.2016.3705

Hurkmans, E. J., van der Giesen, F. J., Bloo, H., Boonman, D. C. G., van der Esch, M., Fluit, M., . Vliet Vlieland, T. P. M. (2011). Physiotherapy in rheumatoid arthritis: Development of a practice guideline. Orgão Oficial da Sociedade Portugue sa de Reumatologia, 36, 146–158. Retrieved from http://www.actareumatologica.pt/oldsite/conteudo/pdfs/10_-_PC_AR_ARP2010-124.pdf

Hunter, T. M., Boytsov, N. N., Zhang, X., Schroeder, K., Michaud, K., & Araujo, A. B. (2017, September). Prevalence of rheumatoid arthritis in the United States adult population in healthcare claims databases, 2004–2014 [Abstract]. Rheumatology International, 37(9), 1551–1557. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28455559

Rheumatoid arthritis: In depth. (2016, May 4). Retrieved from https://nccih.nih.gov/health/RA/getthefacts.htm

Siddiqui, M. Z. (2011, May–June). Boswellia serrata, a potential antiinflammatory agent: An overview. Indian Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences, 73(3), 255–261. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3309643/

Sutliffe, J. T., Wilson, L. D., de Heer, H. D., Foster, R. L., & Carnot, M. J. (2015, February). C-reactive protein response to a vegan lifestyle intervention [Abstract]. Complementary Therapies in Medicine, 23(1), 32–37. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0965229914001836

Vaghef-Mehrabany, E., Alipour, B., Homayouni-Rad, A., Sharif, S.-K., Asghari-Jafarabadi, M., & Zavvari, S. (2014, April). Probiotic supplementation improves inflammatory status in patients with rheumatoid arthritis [Abstract]. Nutrition, 30(4), 430–435. Retrieved from http://www.nutritionjrnl.com/article/S0899-9007(13)00439-5/abstract

Williams, M. A., Williamson, E. M., Heine, P. J., Nichols, V., Glover, M. J., Dritsaki, M, … Lamb, S. E. (2015, March). Strengthening and stretching for rheumatoid arthritis of the hand (SARAH). A randomised controlled trial and economic evaluation. Health Technology Assessment, 19, 19. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK279710/

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