Essential Oils for Rheumatoid Arthritisby Marianna Paulson, B.Ed., B.P.E.-O.R. Patient Advocate
My rheumatoid arthritis (RA) journey includes the use of essential oils to help keep me well. In addition to having inflammation and pain, people with RA can be more susceptible to infections, colds, and viruses. Brain fog, nausea, and fatigue present other challenges. For symptoms such as sleeplessness, muscle tightness, and headache, I like to start with the gentlest treatments possible. Essential oils fit the bill. Read on for some of my favorites.
Common “scents” tips for using essential oils
Check with your healthcare team before using essential oils to ensure that they are safe for you to use. Some oils, such as cedar, clove, and cinnamon, should be avoided by pregnant or nursing women. Other oils can impact pharmaceuticals. Do your research and be safe.
While there is a lot of information available online, a registered aromatherapist can help you choose the best oils for your needs.
Do your homework. Use a trusted source. That inexpensive bottle of essential oil can be a watered-down or a mixed blend that contains impurities.
Essential oils can be inhaled, applied topically, and used in the bath, but be sure to keep all of them away from your eyes.
For topical applications, see the blending chart provided by certified clinical aromatherapist, Holly Draper, for the proper dilution of essential oils.
Berkeley Wellness cautions: “Essential oils may have some therapeutic benefits but should not take the place of conventional, evidence-based medications and treatments, and they should never be ingested.”
Tea tree oil/melaleuca
The first time I used essential oils was in the 1980s. Medication for RA drugs suppress the immune system, leaving you vulnerable to infection. For me, that meant that relatively minor cuts and hangnails would often get infected. A solution of diluted tea tree oil usually resolved the problem.
As a bonus, I also discovered that it effectively removed bicycle chain grease from my legs!
Some other uses: relieve congestion, improve scalp condition, treat athlete's foot, and more.
As I tend to bruise easily, I decided to add this essential oil to my first-aid kit. I recently used Helichrysum to rapidly reduce the swelling on a badly bruised finger. Before bed, I rubbed helichrysum oil over the bruise. In the morning, there was a marked improvement in the condition of my finger.
(I first used it on our dog's ear when she developed a huge hematoma. The vet said it would take a couple of months for the blood in the hematoma to be reabsorbed, but after a week of daily applications of helichrysum, Holly's ear was back to normal.)
Some other uses: Allergies, bloating, colds, hemorrhoids, muscle pain, skin conditions, and more.
I have yet to find someone who doesn't like the scent of lavender.
Lavender oil is a great beginning oil to have because it has so many different uses. A few drops placed on your pillow can relax you enough to induce sleep. Post-operative patients at the New York Medical Center who were given oxygen with 2 percent lavender oil reported greater satisfaction with their pain control than those in the control group. The calming nature of this oil helps to ease congestion when inhaled. Skin conditions can also benefit from the topical application of lavender oil.
Even though lavender is considered a gentle oil, it can affect hormone levels. Women in their third trimester of pregnancy, and boys who have not reached puberty should consult a doctor prior to use. Lavender can combine with sedatives and heighten the effects. Avoid lavender prior to anesthesia.
Some uses for lavender: burns, cuts, skin, pain relief, sleep, stress, and more.
Perhaps the best-known use for peppermint is as a breath freshener. I like to drink peppermint tea to help soothe an upset stomach, but there's more. Peppermint oil can aid concentration and focus. It works well as a decongestant during cold and flu season. Rub some diluted peppermint EO on your stomach to aid with bloating and indigestion.
The side effects of certain arthritis medications can make patients more susceptible to colds and viruses. At the first sign of the sniffles, I like to put eucalyptus essential oil in my diffuser. Not only does it help with congestion, but the scent instantly transports me back to my childhood, when I felt cared for by my mom. At the first sign of the sniffles she would apply a Vick's VapoRub™ compress to my chest.
Some other uses: asthma, circulation, muscles, joint pain, and more.
Rosemary for remembrance. Rosemary is also good for a long list of other conditions including arthritis, brain fog, congestion, coughs, hair loss, liver function, stress, and more. I like to combine it with tea tree oil and eucalyptus in my diffuser to loosen up my sinus passages when I have a cold.
My favorite use for clove oil is to help with canker sores. It can also be used to soothe a toothache and to heal gums. It is considered a hot oil, so it should be diluted and used with caution. It has been a staple in traditional Chinese medicine for over 2,000 years to treat a wide range of ailments, including bloating, coughs, skin conditions such as fungal infections, etc.
Good to the last drop!
As your interest in the use of essential oils grows, you may want to add some tools of the trade. Use a cool mist diffuser to vaporize your essential oils. Blending or carrier oils such as jojoba, grapeseed, almond, or avocado, all have different properties. Choose one that is right for you. Remember to look for a trusted source. Essential oils come in either cobalt blue or amber-colored glass bottles to protect the oils from light and ultraviolet rays. Essential oils have different expiration dates, but don't throw them away. A Google search will instruct you in how to use them in cleaning products. Cotton balls, dabbed with a mixture of oils, placed in cupboards and closets make a non-toxic bug repellent, too.