Alternative Medicine for RA

4 Evidence-based Treatments for Rheumatoid Arthritis

Determining the best alternative treatment for rheumatoid arthritis starts with understanding the basics of this disease. Rheumatoid arthritis is a debilitating autoimmune condition that results when your immune system attacks the tissues in your body.  Specifically, among individuals with rheumatoid arthritis, also known as RA, the immune system attacks the lining of the joints, known as the synovium, which restricts movement and causes significant pain. However, RA is not confined to a single joint; rather, it is a systematic condition, which means it runs throughout the body affecting many different organs and tissues.  When RA settles in these joints, your cartilage becomes weakened, and the membranes surrounding your eyes, heart, lungs and other organs also become inflamed.  Typical symptoms of RA include joint swelling, warmth, inflammation, tightness, pain, stiffness, decreased range of motion and the presence of rheumatoid nodules (tiny bumps underneath the skin).

Alternative Treatment for Rheumatoid ArthritisCredit: wikimedia commons



Standard Rheumatoid Arthritis Treatments

Standard or typical rheumatoid arthritis treatments generally include exercising consistently, engaging in a physical therapy program, implementing joint protection methods (e.g., lifting things correctly and maintaining appropriate posture), applying hot compresses to your joints and taking medication.  There are four primary types of medications prescribed, which include corticosteroids to suppress immune functioning, biologic response modifiers to reduce inflammation, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs to relieve pain and decrease swelling and disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs to prevent joint damage and inflammation.   

Below are pictures of individuals with varying degrees of rheumatoid arthritis in their hands.

Rheumatoid Arthritis in the HandsCredit: Wikimedia Comons

This X-ray demonstrates the inflammation in the joints of the fingers, where rheumatoid arthritis has settled. 

Alternative Treatments for Rheumatoid ArthritisCredit: Wikimedia Commons

Alternative Treatment for Rheumatoid Arthritis

Alternative treatments generally have fewer side effects and may be more readily available than traditional or standard treatments. There are four primary alternative treatments for rheumatoid arthritis that have garnered scientific support.  These evidenced-based alternative treatments for RA include acupuncture, omega-3 fatty acids, gamma-linolenic acid and Thunder God Vine. Before implementing any of these alternative treatments, please consult your treating physician. 


Acupuncture, a traditional form of Chinese medicine implemented to increase energy flow, may help relieve RA symptoms.  According to a 1987 Russian study, participants receiving electroacupuncture applied to acupoints on the ear reported a significant reduction in pain and inflammation, as well as overall improvement.  In another scientific study published in the “Journal of Rheumatology,” individuals with RA pain in their knee joints received acupuncture on the knee acuppoints.  Ninety percent of the participants reported a decrease in pain for 1 to 3 months, as well as 30 percent reported an increased range of motion.   Additionally, according to the World Health Organization, acupuncture is considered an effective treatment for rheumatoid arthritis, as this form of treatment offers significant pain relief and has been verified via clinical control trials.  However, it should be noted that acupuncture does not help fix the existing damage to your joints.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are primarily found in fish, such as salmon, cod, anchovies, herring and mackerel.  The body converts omega-3 fatty acids to prostaglandins, a natural anti-inflammatory.  This anti-inflammatory assists in easing the pain and suppresses aversive immune functioning.  Taking a daily dosage of 130 milligrams of omega-3 fatty acid per kilogram of body weight may decrease the tenderness of your joints, the duration of morning stiffness and a physiological marker of RA, known as interleukin-1 beta.  Further support for taking omega-3 fatty acids for RA was garnered in a 2000 study published in “Journal of Rheumatology.”  In this study, participants took omega-3 fatty acids daily.  After 15 weeks, participants reported less pain, stiffness and fewer effected joints.  Other studies have echoed similar results, as well as improving the efficacy of prescription ant-inflammatory drugs and reducing the amount of prescription medication needed.  Bruising, bleeding or a drop in blood pressure may result if you take omega-3 fatty acids in combination with other medications, such as blood thinners (aspirin or heparin) or blood pressure medication, like atenolol.

Gamma-Linolenic Acid

Gamma-linolenic acid, also known as GLA, is contained in the seed oil of borage, black currant plants, evening primrose, hemp and spirulina.  GLA is an essential fatty acid that is essential in brain, bone, skin, hair and reproductive health.  Additionally, GLA assists in relieving inflammation, as this oil has been effective in relieving in inflammation in psoriasis, PMS and chronic fatigue syndrome.  Individuals with rheumatoid arthritis may benefit from GLA’s anti-inflammatory properties by taking 1 to 2.8 grams of GLA daily.  According to double-blind research studies, consuming GLA daily helps decrease tender and swollen joints, as well as an overall reduction in RA signs and symptoms.  Additionally, in the 2001 Cochrane Library review of herbal therapies treating rheumatoid arthritis, all seven studies including GLA treatment revealed significant improvement in GLA symptoms.  Unfortunately, GLA may cause some minor side effects, such as belching, nausea, diarrhea, interference with clotting and bruising.

Thunder God Vine

The Chinese have been using the Thunder God Vine has been used centuries to treat, eczema, leprosy and rheumatoid arthritis.  The Thunder God Vine is a woody shrub that produces flowers.  The extract from the root of this shrub encompasses anti-inflammatory properties, as well as assists in balancing immune functioning.  While only a few scientific studies have been conducted on the efficacy of the Thunder God Vine (TGV), these studies yielded promising results, which support daily ingestion of 180 to 570 milligrams of Thunder God Vine extract for RA.  According to a study conducted by the National Institutes of Health, 80 percent of the participants, even those classified as treatment resistant, taking 360 milligrams of this vine reported significant improvement in their rheumatoid symptoms. Other studies have reported daily ingestion of TGV help alleviate RA tenderness in the joints and morning stiffness, as well as improve grip strength.  Certain parts of the TGV are poisonous, such as the flowers and leaves, so check the safety of the supplementation product you choose to purchase. 

Always consult your physician prior to implementing any alternative treatment for rheumatoid arthritis, as there may be a potential for adverse interactions between alternative treatments and your current medications.