Green Tea for Rheumatoid Arthritis Relief? Maybe.

Mark Borigini, M.D. Health Pro
  • It appears that whenever the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is under fire, patients become a little scared and begin asking me about "natural" therapies for rheumatoid arthritis.


    Well, the FDA is on the hot seat again. You know: the tomato problem.


    And I am being asked about something safe and effective -- and "non-medical" -- for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis.


    Green Tea: An Alternative Treatment for Rheumatoid Arthritis?

    Lately, some patients have expressed an interest in green tea, as green tea appears to be touted as having potential benefits for a variety of ailments, including rheumatoid arthritis.

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    Green tea contains antioxidants, known as polyphenols, which may reduce the incidence and the severity of rheumatoid arthritis.  A study performed at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, found that mice suffering from an illness similar to rheumatoid arthritis in humans that were given a dosage of green tea equivalent to the four cups of green tea for a human each day were found to have more mild arthritis; and, for some, the green tea prevented the development of arthritis. 


    When the researchers examined the joints of the mice under a microscope, they found that the mice fed the green tea had significantly less inflammatory cells invading the joints.


    Another study, performed at the University of Michigan Medical School, studied a strong anti-inflammatory compound derived from green tea, epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG).  This compound was found to inhibit certain aspects of the immune system that contribute to the inflammation and joint destruction seen in people suffering from rheumatoid arthritis.


    Specifically, EGCG inhibited a series of molecular activities that did not allow for production of other molecules which caused the destruction of bone.  In addition, EGCG blocked the ability of the inflammatory cytokine IL-1b to produce proteins and enzymes which attack the joints of individuals with rheumatoid arthritis and then destroy the cartilage.


    Later studies showed that EGCG blocked the activity of IL-6 and Cox-2, two more molecules involved with causing joint destruction in rheumatoid arthritis.  Remember, doctors now prescribe the Cox-2 inhibitor Celebrex for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis; and we rheumatologists hope to have the new IL-6 inhibitor Actemra available soon for our patients.  So, green tea may be in good company.


    Green tea may be an effective "non-drug" option for the patient with rheumatoid arthritis, but it is too early to recommend patients to drink green tea specifically for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis. 


    For the time being, the standard agents used to treat rheumatoid arthritis have no reason to be green with envy over green tea taking over as the best treatment for rheumatoid arthritis.


    On the other hand, drinking green tea appears to be a safe thing to do for most people.  It has many health benefits, and the side effects are almost non-existent.  There are many brands of green tea, and I am not sure which is the best.  Perhaps someone in the "blogosphere" would be able to help with this bit of advice. 


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    There are certainly no well-designed studies telling us which brand of green tea to purchase.


    See also:


    Do Gin Soaked Raisins Really Work for Rheumatoid Arthritis?


    Tart Cherries and Cherry Juice for Rheumatoid Arthritis?


    The Promise of Actemra to Relieve Rheumatoid Arthritis Pain

Published On: June 26, 2008