Arthritis and Natural Relief

older person with arthritis in hands

I want to start by saying that I’m not a medical professional, but I am completely passionate about exploring natural (and often healthier) alternatives. I am not against doctors but rather for combining allopathic and natural medicine. This blog is meant to provide you with options to explore. Do not stop taking any medication you are on without discussing it with your doctor first.

Osteoarthritis (OA) is when the cartilage at your joints breaks down. Symptoms include joint stiffness in the morning, pain with movement, swelling, joint cracking and tenderness and restricted mobility. It usually affects the knees, hips, spine and hands and usually occurs after the age of 40. 

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a disease where the immune system attacks the joints. Symptoms include painful swollen joints preceded by fatigue, fever and stiffness. The joints are usually warm and tender, and the skin may have a purplish colour. It usually affects both hands, feet, wrists, ankles or knees and has a gradual onset.

Risk factors include family history, increasing age, previous joint injury and obesity. Carrying extra weight puts stress on joints, particularly the knees, hips and spine.

Common essential oils that are helpful for relieving OA include: black pepper, Roman or German chamomile, clove bud, eucalyptus, frankincense, geranium, ginger, grapefruit, juniper berry, lavender, lemon, marjoram, nutmeg, oregano, peppermint, pine, tea tree, thyme, and turmeric. For RA, try basil, Roman chamomile, clove bud, myrrh, vetiver and yarrow. All essential oils need to be diluted before applying topically.

I couldn’t find many studies using essential oils. Some animal studies were found, one used a blend of 16 different essential oils and had some positive results while another found that rosemary and peppermint essential oils reduced the pain in rat’s knees. Unfortunately the only human study I found was one funded by doTERRA and included researchers that were doTERRA employees (hence a potential for bias). Their study involved hand massages in 36 participants with OA, RA and chronic inflammation with their own essential oil blend mixed with copaiba essential oil. The study was randomized, double-blind and placebo controlled. Their results showed that the essential oil group had a decrease in pain, increased finger strength and took less time to complete dexterity tasks.

Capsaicin gel or cream can be applied topically but it may increase pain in OA for the first 3-4 days. In a double-blind randomized study, patients with both types of arthritis used capsaicin cream or a placebo. The RA patients had a 57% reduction in pain and OA patients experienced a 33% reduction in pain, some in as little as two weeks.

Glucosamine sulfate appears to address the cause of osteoarthritis by promoting cartilage synthesis and helps repair damaged joints. It has a 72-95% success rate when taken for four weeks (as demonstrated in more than 20 published clinical trials). It even reduced pain and inflammation more than nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS). The longer it is used the better are the results. (Murray, M., The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods)

This study in 2016 states that patented crystalline glucosamine sulfate demonstrates superiority over other glucosamine formulations.

It is recommended to increase your intake of antioxidants (cherries, blueberries, blackberries, strawberries and raspberries) for both types of arthritis. For OA, increase your intake of garlic, onions, Brussel sprouts, cabbage or supplement with methylsulfonylmethane (MSM), as sulfur helps repair cartilage. Consume 1g ginger powder or ¼” slice of fresh ginger daily. OA sufferers should avoid nightshade vegetables (tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, peppers and tobacco). Those with RA should eat a vegetarian diet, avoid common food allergies (wheat, corn, dairy, milk, beef, nightshade vegetables and coffee), and increase omega-3s by consuming more halibut, salmon, herrings, sardines and mackerel (or fish or olive oil). RA flare ups can be reduced by drinking pineapple juice with fresh ginger or turmeric. Ginger is also found to be helpful. (Murray, M., The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods)

study from 2014 found no improvement on pain and inflammation in RA with antioxidant supplements. A pilot study from 2008 found that an antioxidant-enriched margarine significantly reduced the number of swollen and painful joints in RA, even though laboratory measures of inflammation were unchanged. As this was a pilot study, there were only 8 participants and no control group. Many articles stated that of the studies available, most of them were of poor quality.

The Mayo Clinic says that moderate exercise is crucial for those with arthritis as it increases strength and flexibility, reduces joint pain, and helps with fatigue. Your doctor or physiotherapist can recommend range of motion, strengthening and other exercises.

Despite much scientific evidence, there are safe alternatives you can try. Try a diluted essential oil blend or see an aromatherapist, try an over the counter capsaicin cream, or try crystalline glucosamine sulfate (or glucosamine sulfate sodium chloride). And increasing your antioxidants and getting regular exercise will only do you good.

What about you? Have you had any success with alternative treatments?

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