Natural and Alternative Remedies for Arthritis Relief

By Lewis, Sarah, PharmD

Turn on the television or open a magazine and you’re bound to read a headline announcing that a certain supplement relieves arthritis pain. You may view these remedies as snake oil, or you may use them religiously. The usefulness of natural and alternative arthritis remedies is probably somewhere in between. Scientific studies are limited, so natural and alternative remedies should be used cautiously and complement traditional medicine—rather than replace it.

What Remedies Might Help Arthritis?

Scientists have studied alternative remedies to varying degrees. For some, there are solid studies that show strong results. For others, the information is less convincing. Here’s a summary of the science behind some popular alternative arthritis remedies and treatments:

  • Acupuncture. Results from a large study funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) show that it can provide arthritis relief.

  • Glucosamine/chondroitin has been widely studied. Results generally show that it doesn’t stop or prevent arthritis, but some people may get pain relief.

  • Omega-3 fatty acids may have anti-inflammatory effects. High doses helped people with rheumatoid arthritis in several small studies.

  • Thunder god vine is an herb used in traditional Chinese medicine. Lab tests show that it may work to fight inflammation. Early results from a large NIH study show that it may be effective for rheumatoid arthritis.

  • Cat’s claw is an herb from South America. Although small studies show a possible benefit, there isn’t enough evidence to say it works.

  • Evening primrose oil may be useful for rheumatoid arthritis, but study results are mixed and inconclusive.

  • Feverfew may help mild rheumatoid arthritis symptoms, but more studies are needed.

  • Ginger. It isn’t clear if ginger works for any kind of arthritis pain.

  • Magnets. Generally, the scientific evidence shows that magnets have no effect on pain. However, results have been mixed and it may depend on the type of pain. Some studies have reported relief of osteoarthritis pain specifically.

What About Other Types of Alternative Medicine?

There are many types of alternative medicine that claim to treat arthritis. Here is a brief summary about some popular types:

Chiropractic care involves a variety of treatment approaches, often adjustments (manipulations) to your spine or other parts of your body to help reduce pain and improve function. Studies show that chiropractic care may benefit some people with arthritis. Spinal adjustments are not safe for everyone with arthritis so talk to your doctor first.

Homeopathy involves taking very small doses of highly diluted substances to help your body heal itself from within. There is not enough evidence that supports homeopathy as effective for any condition according to the NIH.

Naturopathy emphasizes the healing power of nature and uses a variety of traditional and modern therapies, such as combining acupuncture with exercise and diet to improve your condition. There is currently little scientific evidence on its overall effectiveness, but more research is being done in the field of naturopathy.

Arthritis Remedy Safety: Tips for Choosing Supplements

If you’re considering a dietary supplement or herbal product, you should know how to use them safely. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates these products as foods, not drugs. This means companies aren’t required by law to prove the effectiveness or safety of their products, even though they often make dramatic or misleading claims. However, these products do have effects in your body and they can interact with your medicines.

The purity of supplements and herbals isn’t regulated either and can be an issue. Scientists have found that some of these products are contaminated with other ingredients, including toxic metals.

To be safe, follow these tips:

  • Talk to your doctor or pharmacist before taking supplements or herbal products. Be sure to discuss all of your current medications for possible interactions.

  • Buy only from a reputable manufacturer. Your pharmacist is a good resource for finding reliable companies. Keep in mind that talking with a nutrition store salesperson is not the same as getting advice from your pharmacist.

  • Look for certification stamps. You have to be savvy about this because companies often put misleading stamps on their labels to make them look official. Reliable stamps include USP (United States Pharmacopeia), DSVP (Dietary Supplement Verification Program), CL (Consumer Lab), and NSF (National Sanitation Foundation, or NSF International). These organizations ensure that the content claims on the label are true.

  • Beware of misleading phrases such as “all natural,” “clinically tested,” and “prescription strength.” These phrases are not regulated by the FDA and their meaningis not clear.

Your Guide to Arthritis

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Treatments for any type of arthritis are largely the same.