People in some parts of the world have used herbal remedies to treat diseases for centuries. But in the United States, we tend to rely heavily on traditional Western medicine.
Still, the use of dietary supplements has taken off in the last few decades. A 2011 survey from the CDC found that more than half of all adults in the U.S. take one of these products.
And in general, over half of people with rheumatoid arthritis take them, too, says Eric Matteson, MD, a rheumatologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN.
But they can have side effects, and they don’t always work well with traditional medicines. That’s why you should always talk to your doctor before you try them to make sure they’re safe for you, Matteson says.Continue Reading Below
13 Herbs and Spices for Rheumatoid Arthritis Symptom Relief
Herbs and spices can be used as natural remedies to reduce the inflammation of rheumatoid arthritis. Find out about dietary options that may help.
It’s no secret that rheumatoid arthritis (RA) involves inflammation, so adding anti-inflammatory herbs and spices to your diet is a good idea. Admittedly, on their own, these food ingredients aren’t likely to have a significant impact on easing symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. But as part of an anti-inflammatory diet, consuming certain herbs and spices throughout the day could have an additive effect in reducing inflammation and other symptoms, according to the Arthritis Foundation. And, at the very least, adding them to your recipes will liven up your meals.
In addition, some medicinal herbs can help you manage or even minimize uncomfortable symptoms. What follows are 13 herbs and spices worth considering if you have rheumatoid arthritis.
Culinary Herbs and Spices for an Anti-Inflammatory, RA-Friendly Diet
Used in Asian medicine and cuisine for centuries, ginger has anti-inflammatory properties, including the abilities to suppress inflammatory molecules called leukotrienes and the synthesis of prostaglandins, which are hormone-like substances that cause pain and inflammation, according to research published in 2014 in the journal Arthritis.
Try stir-frying a chicken or veggie dish with chopped fresh ginger, eating fresh pickled ginger, or adding grated ginger to soups or smoothies. Galina Roofener, a licensed acupuncturist and Chinese herbalist at the Cleveland Clinic, agrees that ginger can be a beneficial part of your plan to control arthritis symptoms and recommends working with a trained herbalist. 2
A fragrant herb that has high antioxidant capabilities, thyme has a rich history as a food flavoring. And it’s been found to have anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial properties that could be therapeutic for rheumatoid arthritis, according to research published in the April–June 2015 issue of Pharmacognosy Communications. In fact, thyme was found to be the most commonly used herbal medicine among people with RA, according to a study published in December 2018 in Complementary Therapies in Medicine.
A sprig of fresh thyme or the fresh leaves can be flavorful additions to meat, poultry, bean, tomato, or egg dishes, as well as soups and stews. Long used in Italian, French, Mediterranean, and Middle Eastern cuisines, “thyme’s pungency is one of its greatest benefits, but can be a drawback if it is used incorrectly,” according to Spiceography. So don’t go overboard with it.
A golden spice that’s long been used to lend color and flavor to foods, turmeric also has been used in ayurvedic and Chinese medicine to treat a variety of medical conditions, including arthritis and musculoskeletal disorders. Besides having anti-inflammatory properties, turmeric and curcumin (the active ingredient that gives turmeric its yellow color) also have analgesic effects, according to research published in August 2016 in the Journal of Medicinal Food.
Want to try turmeric? Add it to soups, stews, and curry dishes, like a Healthified Chicken Curry with Couscous. Helpful hint: Combining turmeric with black pepper helps your body absorb the yellow spice even better, according to research published in the International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition. Roofener cautions that because turmeric is also a blood thinner, it should be avoided in large doses if you take a blood-thinning medicine.4
Consumed in Asia for millennia, green tea contains polyphenols, which are antioxidant-rich substances that can help reduce inflammation, protect joints, and trigger changes in immune responses that would ease the severity of arthritis. A study published in February 2017 in the International Journal of Rheumatic Diseases compared the effects of green tea and black tea on arthritis and found that green tea extract had superior anti-inflammatory effects.
So treat yourself to a daily tea break with a cup of hot green tea, iced green tea, or even a cup of matcha, using a powder made from ground green tea leaves. You’ll do your health, and perhaps your joints, a world of good.
A delicious spice, cinnamon has powerful antioxidant properties that help inhibit cell damage from free radicals. But that’s only part of what’s behind cinnamon’s health halo: It also helps reduce blood sugar and cholesterol levels, and it appears to protect cognitive function as people get older. What’s more, a study published in May 2018 in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition found that when women with rheumatoid arthritis consumed four capsules of 500 milligrams of cinnamon powder daily for eight weeks, they had a significant decrease in blood levels of C-reactive protein (a marker of inflammation), as well as reduced disease activity, including tender and swollen joints.
Dried cinnamon can be added to oatmeal, smoothies, soups, stews, or even oranges for a delicious and healthy dessert. Cinnamon sticks can be added to teas or ciders for an extra flavor infusion. Just don’t overdo it, Roofener cautions. “Although it’s fine on your cinnamon bun, if it’s overdosed, it might not be safe for pregnant women.” Large doses of the spice also could interfere with blood clotting and blood thinner medication.6
Sliced, minced, or chopped, fresh garlic can liven up any dish and may help ease rheumatoid arthritis pain. Like leeks and onions, garlic contains diallyl disulfide, an anti-inflammatory compound that decreases the effects of pro-inflammatory cytokines. An experimental study published in 2018 in the Journal of Environmental Pathology, Toxicology, and Oncology found that the administration of garlic had anti-arthritic activity — preventing cartilage destruction and reducing inflammation — in arthritis-induced rats.
Garlic can be added to many foods, including pasta dishes, roasted chicken or vegetables, stir-fries, and sandwich spreads.
It’s a staple on most dining tables and widely used to add a dash of flavor to everyday dishes. But did you know that black pepper, including piperine, the active compound it contains, has bona fide health benefits? It’s true. Research has found that black pepper has antioxidant, antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, and protectiveness effects. A study published in September 2018 in the European Journal of Pharmacology suggested that the administration of piperic acid has anti-inflammatory effects, inhibiting swelling and the production of cytokines in animals. Earlier research, published in the journal Arthritis Research & Therapy, found that piperine administration relieved inflammation, pain, and other symptoms of arthritis in animals.
You already know what to do with black pepper: Use it to season any dish you’d like—salads, soups, eggs, and more.
Willow bark has significant anti-inflammatory properties and reduces various markers of inflammation, according to an article published in Phytotherapy Research. When researchers gave a willow bark extract to 436 people with rheumatic pain, due to osteoarthritis and back pain, they saw a significant reduction in pain after three weeks, according to a report published in the journal Phytomedicine.
Derived from the bark of the Boswellia tree, found in India and North Africa, Indian frankincense has strong anti-inflammatory properties as well as analgesic effects. It also may help prevent cartilage loss and inhibit the autoimmune process, according to the Arthritis Foundation, which would make it especially helpful for RA.10
Green-Lipped Mussel Extract
Technically this substance is a seafood extract, not an herb, which is touted for inflammation-fighting properties. Nutritional supplements containing extracts from the New Zealand green-lipped mussel (Perna canaliculus) are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which have anti-inflammatory effects. So it stands to reason that these supplements could be helpful for RA; however, little research has been done in people, and so far results from studies in animals and humans have been mixed, according to the Arthritis Foundation.
Borage Seed Oil
The oil comes from the seeds of the borage plant, native to certain parts of Europe and North Africa, and it’s a rich source of gamma linoleic acid (GLA), a type of omega-6 fatty acid. Research published in the journal Rheumatology suggested that when people with RA take daily oral supplements of borage seed oil, they experience significant improvements in joint tenderness, swelling, and pain after six months.12
Thunder God Vine
Used for hundreds of years in traditional Chinese medicine, thunder god vine reduces inflammation from autoimmune diseases, including RA, when taken as an oral extract. A review of 22 studies published in July 2016 in BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine found that treatment with thunder god vine (aka Stripteaser wilfordii Hook F) was superior to conventional drugs, including sulphasalazine and methotrexate, in treating RA symptoms. On a cautionary note, the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health warns: “Thunder god vine can be extremely poisonous if the extract is not prepared properly.”
A plant used for centuries in Africa to treat pain and many other medical conditions, devil’s claw (Harpagophytum procumbens) has considerable anti-inflammatory effects. One study found that when 259 people with rheumatic disorders took daily tablets of devil’s claw for eight weeks, they experienced significant improvements in pain, stiffness, and function, especially in the hand, wrist, elbow, shoulder, hip, knee, and back.