9 Rheumatoid Arthritis Remedies You Probably Haven’t Tried
Got RA? Chances are, you’re probably already taking prescription drugs to treat the body-wide inflammation and pain caused by the autoimmune condition. “Medications can control 70 to 80 percent of rheumatoid arthritis cases,” says Stan Cohen, M.D., a Dallas-based rheumatologist and past president of the American College of Rheumatology.
And while modern medicine is certainly powerful, there are other remedies you can add on for even greater relief, says Dr. Cohen. We've got nine worth checking out.
High-Intensity Interval Training
HIIT, as it’s called, is a heart-pumping form of exercise that mixes short bursts of maximum effort with quick rest periods. The last workout, you’d think, that would be good for stiff joints. But ironically, it’s quite the opposite. Duke University researchers recently found that when a small group of people with rheumatoid arthritis did 10 weeks of a walking-based HIIT program, their fitness levels and overall immune function increased.
Looking for a gentler workout? Yoga can ease both the physical aches of rheumatoid arthritis and the mental stress many people with the disease experience, according to a 2019 study published in Restorative Neurology and Neuroscience. The mind-body practice is flexible (in all ways), so you can modify your mat time based on how you feel. When pain isn’t flaring, take a movement-based flow class. On tougher days, a restorative practice might be a better option.
A Plant-Based Diet
A growing body of evidence shows that an out-of-whack gut microbiome plays a role in rheumatoid arthritis, so it makes sense to try to fix it with food. Researchers have identified several eats that can allay symptoms and slow down the progression of the disease. Among them are whole grains and fruits—notably prunes, grapefruit, grapes, blueberries, bananas, mango, peaches, and apples.
More on those gut (microbiome) feelings: People with inflammatory forms of arthritis, such as rheumatoid, have been shown to have inflammation of the intestinal tract, says Susan Blum, M.D., an assistant clinical professor in the department of preventive medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City. This may be why probiotics—which help balance the gut microbiome, calming inflammation—can help lessen painful symptoms.
You can get probiotics in fermented foods like kimchi and sauerkraut, or pop a supplement. If you choose the pill route, picking the right strain is key.
Lactobacillus casei has been found to be particularly useful to those with rheumatoid arthritis.
Omega Fatty Acids
Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids get a lotta buzz for a lotta things—and the hype is true for RA. These potent anti-inflammatories can decrease pain and improve function in people with rheumatoid arthritis, says Dr. Blum, who has authored two books on arthritis.
Fatty fish like mackerel, salmon, anchovies, and sardines are great sources of both omega types. Eating two servings a week can reduce rheumatoid arthritis symptoms, per a study published in BMJ. If you prefer a supplement, aim for 3 grams of omega-3s (EPA and DHA) daily, along with 400 to 500 mg of omega 6 (GLA), says Dr. Blum.
As spices jack up flavor, they can tamp down levels of inflammation in the joints. Curcumin, the active chemical in turmeric, and ginger may be particularly beneficial, but thyme and cinnamon also moonlight as anti-inflammatories. Double down by spicing up a cup of tea—and go green. A 2017 study published in the International Journal of Rheumatic Diseases found that green tea is more effective than black at alleviating RA-related joint pain.
Boswellia, the plant that produces frankincense, is a natural pain-reliever and anti-inflammatory agent. Ingesting the compound as a supplement, according to a study published in the journal Scientific Reports, can help relieve symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. The Arthritis Foundation recommends taking a supp with 300 mg to 400 mg of frankincense three times a day. Check the label to ensure each capsule is comprised of at least 60 percent boswellic acids, the active ingredient.
Ice Packs and Heating Pads
Science has yet to fully prove this one, but it may be worth experimenting with hot and cold therapies to see if they relax your symptoms, says Dr. Cohen.
Which to choose when? Heat dilates blood vessels, stimulating circulation, which may reduce muscle spasms linked to rheumatoid arthritis, he explains. Cold can soothe inflammation, so it can be a potent ally when joints feel especially swollen. Just limit sessions with an ice pack to 10 to 15 minutes, and wear a protective layer between the pack and your skin (a.k.a, keep your clothes on!) to prevent an ice burn.
Getting jabbed with needles hardly sounds soothing, but many people swear it assuages pain from rheumatoid arthritis. And a recent review of 43 studies backs them up. The study authors note that acupuncture can improve mobility and quality of life—and, unlike medications, it has no side effects.
HIIT Program: Barlett, D.B., et al. (2018). Ten weeks of high-intensity interval walk training is associated with reduced disease activity and improved innate immune function in older adults with rheumatoid arthritis: a pilot study. Duke University School of Medicine. Retrieved from https://medicine.duke.edu/node/1356397
Yoga Eases Aches: Gautam, S., et al. (2019). Impact of yoga based mind-body intervention on systemic inflammatory markers and co-morbid depression in active Rheumatoid arthritis patients: A randomized controlled trial. Restorative Neurology and Neuroscience, vol. 37, no. 1, pp. 41-59, 2019. Retrieved from https://content.iospress.com/articles/restorative-neurology-and-neuroscience/rnn180875
Fatty Fish Reduces RA Symptoms: Mayor, S. (2017). Eating fish regularly is linked to reduced rheumatoid arthritis, study finds. BMJ. Retrieved from https://www.bmj.com/content/357/bmj.j3084.full
Green Tea Trumps Black Tea: Ramadan, G., et al. (2017). Anti-inflammatory activity of green versus black tea aqueous extract in a rat model of human rheumatoid arthritis. National Center for Biotechnology Information. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25964045
Boswellia As a Supplement: Su, S., et al. (2015). Frankincense and myrrh suppress inflammation via regulation of the metabolic profiling and the MAPK signaling pathway. National Center for Biotechnology Information. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4556964/
Cold Packs and Ice Burns: Cadman, B. (2018). Everything you need to know about ice burns. Medical News Today. Retrieved from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/322606.php