22 natural remedies for rheumatoid arthritis
Currently, there is no official cure for rheumatoid arthritis.
But that doesn’t mean you have to remain in pain.
Thankfully, there is a range of home remedies for rheumatoid arthritis that may help to ease your symptoms – and we’ve listed them in one handy place for you.
In this article, we also talk you through:
- What rheumatoid arthritis is
- If rheumatoid arthritis can be treated naturally
- Which foods can make rheumatoid arthritis worse
- Natural remedies for rheumatoid arthritis
- Which supplements are best for rheumatoid arthritis
- When to see your doctor about rheumatism
What is rheumatoid arthritis?
Let’s get started with the basics. What is rheumatoid arthritis?
According to the NHS, rheumatoid arthritis is a long-term condition that causes joint pain, stiffness and swelling. It usually only affects the hands, wrists and feet.1
Can rheumatoid arthritis be treated naturally?
While there is no current cure for rheumatoid arthritis, early treatment includes certain medicines, lifestyle changes, supportive treatments and even surgery.
But if you don’t want to go down the medicinal or surgery route, there are a range of natural supportive treatments, therapies, supplements and dietary changes you could try to alleviate your symptoms.
What foods make rheumatoid arthritis worse?
If you’ve been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, eliminating specific foods and drinks may help to reduce the severity of your symptoms.
But which ones should you avoid? We’ve listed some key foods and drinks to eliminate below:
- Any food or drinks with added sugars as they may worsen symptoms of RA and even increase the risk of getting arthritis.2,3
- Processed and red meats as they have been shown to worsen RA symptoms and it may also be another risk factor for developing it.4,5
- Any food or drinks with gluten as it may increase inflammation.6,7
- Ultra-processed foods as they can lead to inflammation and obesity which is a risk factor for rheumatoid arthritis.8,9
- Omega-6 fats like vegetable oils may worsen the severity of RA symptoms.10,11
- Salty foods should be avoided as a high sodium diet has been linked to an increased risk of RA.12
What other lifestyle factors make rheumatoid arthritis worse?
The Arthritis Foundation states that triggers of RA flare-ups include:
- Poor sleep13
22 natural remedies for rheumatoid arthritis
There are plenty of reasons to include green tea in your daily diet, and just one is that it could help fight rheumatic symptoms.
Green tea contains powerful antioxidant plant compounds called polyphenols.
The polyphenol in green tea is called epigallocatechin 3-gallate (EGCG), and studies have shown that it’s up to 100 times more potent than vitamin C and vitamin E in terms of antioxidant properties.14
These antioxidants help reduce oxidative damage in your joints, and EGCG has anti-inflammatory properties as it’s known to block the signalling pathways that cause inflammation.15
Cartilage degradation is a characteristic of osteoarthritis, but the ECGC in green tea can help protect against cartilage destruction and promote the cartilage repair process.16
There are several studies that demonstrate that curcumin, which is the active ingredient in turmeric, might help to reduce the inflammation associated with conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis.
Curcumin, which is what gives turmeric its distinctive yellow hue, is a phytochemical which has potent antioxidant properties.
Antioxidant substances act to fight oxidative damage to cells within the body which leads to inflammation.17
A study in Thailand in 2009 suggested that curcumin was as effective as a painkiller at treating the pain of osteoarthritis.
The study was based on 107 participants with osteoarthritis of the knee who were either given ibuprofen or turmeric every day for six weeks.
Both groups saw a broadly equal improvement in pain levels when walking and climbing stairs, as well as seeing the same improvement in knee function.18
Research is ongoing, but taking curcumin alongside painkillers might be a more effective choice of pain relief than painkillers alone.
Omega-3 fatty acids
During an inflammatory response such as those seen in rheumatic conditions.
The body releases pro-inflammatory enzymes and cytokines, which are molecules that tell your immune system there is a threat, causing the area to become inflamed as a protective measure.
Omega 3 fatty acids reduce the production of these pro-inflammatory enzymes and cytokines, thus dampening the inflammation response where it’s not needed.19
Omega 3 fatty acids can be found in fish oils, chia seeds, ground linseed, hemp seeds and walnuts.
Beware of consuming too many Omega 6 fatty acids, which are known to be pro-inflammatory if eaten in excess quantities.
Omega 6 fatty acids are found in sunflower oil and durum wheat.20
These simple remedies can be done every day at home to make your joints feel more comfortable.
Whether it’s to soothe the aching of a stiff knee, or to reduce swelling in ankles after exercises, both warm and cold temperatures can be beneficial for relieving the symptoms of rheumatism in the joints.
Just make sure you know which approach to use for which type of pain.
Use heat when your joints are stiff, aching or creaky.
Applying heat to a joint can help increase the blood flow and warm up the tissues which can increase joint flexibility.
Take a warm bath or use a hot water bottle to ease stiff muscles and joints, for example in the morning.
The sensation of the heat can be very comforting, but also your pain receptors actually decrease the transmission of pain signals to the brain when heat over 40 degrees Celcius is applied to the skin near where it hurts.21
Use cold temperatures when a joint is inflamed, red or hot to touch.
This will constrict the blood vessels and reduce the blood flow to the area, which decreases swelling.
The combination of cold and slight compression helps move fluids away from a swollen joint, which helps bring the swelling down.
An ice pack or bag of frozen peas wrapped in a towel works very well, but make sure you don’t leave it on the joint for more than 20 minutes at a time.
Although it might seem counter-intuitive to manipulate your limbs and joints when they’re inflamed or sore, a gentle massage can actually work wonders to soothe pain, redistribute fluid and help to relax stiff muscles.
Massage can lower the body’s production of the stress hormone cortisol, leading to lower levels of stress and anxiety which can make it harder to manage pain.
It can also promote better sleep.
If you can afford to get a regular professional therapeutic massage, that’s great and would be a worthwhile investment in your overall wellbeing.
If not, then you’ll be pleased to hear that self-massage is also very effective and can be done every day at a time and place to suit you.
Massaging sore joints can help ease stiffness and could help improve range of motion.
If your joints are swollen, massage can help to push fluid away from the affected area.
A study from the US, based on people with osteoarthritis of the knee, found that after 8 weeks of regular massage, participants had less pain and increased functionality of their knee joints.22
The study team also found that the optimum amount of massage is one hour-long session per week.
You can do it yourself by rubbing over your joints gently until they become slightly warm.
You can apply pressure with your fingertips, and gently knead the tissues around each joint.
You can use the heel of your hand for more robust areas such as hips and knees.
Trust your instincts when it comes to self-massage. If it hurts, stop.
Sticking to a consistent exercise routine is one of the best ways to build strength in your muscles and increase the scope of motion in your joints.
As well as this though, one study from 2014 highlighted have exercise helped to improve the quality of sleep and reduce the levels of fatigue in people with RA.23
But it is important to choose exercises that aren’t too harsh on your joints, such as swimming, walking, water aerobics and even using resistance bands in strength training workouts.
As well as the above exercises, tai chi classes help to exercise both the body and the mind.
Research from 2013 explored how group tai chi classes reduced anxiety levels and encouraged social support in people with RA.24
While studies also found that tai chi can be an effective natural remedy for osteoarthritis symptoms, there isn’t enough research on whether this has the same effect for people with RA.25
Yoga is a great stress reliever and the benefits are well known – but does this extend to symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis?
Fortunately, a study that took place in 2013 highlighted how taking lyengar yoga classes for 6 weeks helped with mood, fatigue and the acceptance of chronic pain in young women who have RA.26
In addition to this, research from 2017 also found that yoga could reduce the pain that comes with RA as well as inflammation, helping to increase the quality of life of RA patients.27
This traditional Chinese medicine goes back a long way – but there’s a reason why it’s still popular today.
Multiple different studies show that acupuncture has benefits for RA sufferers.
In particular, a research review from 2018 suggested that it could potentially improve the quality of life and physical function for those with the condition.28
A more modern version of acupuncture that uses lasers may also be effective at reducing RA inflammation and other disease activity.29
Mindfulness and meditation are also natural remedies for rheumatoid arthritis.
Multiple studies have indicated the benefits of this practice, as it can help to improve well-being, general health, pain, depression and other RA symptoms – but more research is needed to confirm the latter.30,31
What you eat and drink is so important for staying healthy – and this extends to rheumatoid arthritis symptoms too.
Research from 2017 suggested that diet had the potential to influence the progression of RA to slow it down, as well as decreasing further damage to joints.32
The types of foods that the review recommended included antioxidant-rich ingredients and foods with anti-inflammatory properties, including:
- Spices like turmeric and ginger (as mentioned earlier in the article)
- Raw or lightly cooked vegetables
Probiotics are essential for maintaining a healthy gut.
You can take probiotic supplements or try to eat foods and drinks that are rich in them, such as kimchi, yoghurt, sauerkraut, kefir, tempeh, miso, kombucha, pickles and some types of cheese.
Specifically, though, studies have shown that probiotic supplementation may help to decrease disease activity, inflammation and positively impact insulin levels in people with RA.33,34
Fish oil supplements
Fish oil supplements are often a good source of omega-3 fats which are an important type of fat to consume – especially for people with RA.
This is because the omega-3 fats in fish oil could help to reduce disease activity, inflammation and even delay the need for medication.35,36
But remember to speak to your GP or a medical professional before trying these supplements, as there’s a chance it could interfere with other medication that you may be taking.
Evening primrose oil
Another supplement that may help with the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis is evening primrose oil.
One study found that taking this in conjunction with fish oil supplements could help to reduce inflammation and disease activity.37
But more research is needed on the effectiveness of evening primrose oil for rheumatoid arthritis on its own.
Thunder god vine supplements
The impressive name of this supplement also offers some potential benefits for people with RA.
A study from 2015 found thunder god vine to be as effective as the standard medication for RA in alleviating symptoms.38
However, as with most traditional medicines, it is best to speak to a doctor before trying them for yourself as they may cause some unpleasant side effects.
While maybe not a remedy, using assistive supports on your joints is another way to help with the symptoms of RA without necessarily taking medication or having surgery.
One research review indicated that using wrist splints could reduce the level of swelling and pain for people with RA.39
What’s more, another study found that using both customised foot orthotics and insoles can help to reduce pain for people with rheumatoid arthritis.40
Creams and gels
If you don’t want to take tablets for RA, there are a number of different topical gels and creams you could try that are applied directly to your joints.
These may help to provide temporary relief from joint pain, especially in products that contain menthol, benzocaine and procaine hydrochloride.41
Lemongrass essential oil
Aromatherapy has been used throughout history to help with a lot of conditions – and it may help with RA too.
Specifically, when rubbbed onto the skin, lemongrass essential oil has been found to slightly reduce pain, but more research is needed to confirm the effectiveness of this.42
If you are going to try this natural remedy, remember to dilute the essential oil first as it could cause skin irritation otherwise.
Reservatrol is a polyphenol that is commonly found in red grapes and red wine.
This plant compound is said to have modulatory effects on systematic and joint inflammation.43
Making sure you get adequate rest and good quality sleep is key for people with rheumatoid arthritis.
This is because poor sleep quality has been said to influence people’s pain levels as well as the ability to move.44
Homeopathic remedies for rheumatoid arthritis
Recently, studies have found homoeopathic remedies including Rhus Toxicodendron, Bryonia cretica, Strychnos nux vomica, Berberis vulgaris, and Ledum palustre to have a significant improvement in pain and stiffness, compared to participants who received the placebo.
As well as this, the people who received the treatment showed a decrease in their perception of pain compared to those in the placebo group.45
What supplements are best for rheumatoid arthritis?
While there may not be enough evidence to suggest that particular supplements are 100% effective at treating RA alone, there are some that may help with the side effects of RA medication.
According to the NHS, calcium and vitamin D supplements may help to prevent osteoporosis if you’re taking steroids and folic acid if you’re taking methotrexate.46
When to see your doctor about rheumatism
It’s best to see your doctor about rheumatism if you’re experiencing any of the following symptoms:
- Joint pain
- A high temperature
- Loss of appetite
- Unexplained weight loss47
That way, your doctor can try and find the underlying cause and potentially give you a diagnosis and treatment before the symptoms worsen.
The final say
There are a variety of home remedies for rheumatic arthritis with evidence to suggest that they’re effective at easing some symptoms of inflammation.
However, it is still best to speak to your doctor about any remedies you’re interested in trying so you can get personalised medical advice beforehand.
Last updated: 27 September 2021