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What Are the Treatments for RA Without Medicine?

What Are the Treatments for RA Without Medicine?

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an abnormal immune reaction that targets the synovium, the membrane lining the joints, particularly of the limbs and extremities. The disease is chronic, but symptoms of swelling, inflammation and pain may be worse in the morning or after exertion. RA may be triggered by traumatic life events, bacteria or viral infection along with a genetic predisposition to the disease. While there is not one self-help treatment that works in all cases of RA, comfort measures and lifestyle changes may have benefits.

Comfort Measures

Heat increases circulation and warms joints, cold reduces inflammation and relieves pain. Alternating heat and cold works best for some RA sufferers. Creams that contain menthol or capsaicin, a component of hot peppers, may give temporary relief. DMSO is a solvent cream sold in health food stores that may relieve pain and inflammation when applied to clean skin over joints; side effects include a harmless garlicky odor and possible skin irritation. A dip of melted wax can provide direct heat to joints in the hands and feet. Soaking in a hot bath on awakening and before bed helps with stiffness and provides better sleep. Range of motion and stretching exercises or swimming in a heated pool can help preserve mobility and improve circulation. Alternative therapies to manage pain include acupuncture, massage, hypnosis, ultrasound, biofeedback and transcutaneous electrical neural stimulation (TENS). A 2003 Cochrane review of three studies involving 78 people found evidence that TENS relieved the pain of RA in the hand.


James McKoy, M.D., chief of rheumatology at Kaiser Permanente in Honolulu, stated in an Arthritis Today article that an acid-producing diet high in animal products contributes to inflammation. Dr. McKoy recommends an alkalizing plant-based diet high in vegetables and fruit. The raw vegan diet, with its emphasis on fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds, is an alkalizing diet. Add probiotics, or the friendly bacteria in cultured foods, for the most benefits. Researchers in Finland tested the effects of a lactobacilli-rich uncooked vegan diet on patients with rheumatoid arthritis and found the intervention group experienced relief and a decrease in disease activity. Symptoms were aggravated, however, by a return to a regular diet.


Some herbs that may reduce inflammation are tumeric, ginger, cayenne pepper, cat's claw and boswellia. Dr. McKoy recommends using a commercial blend of hops, olive leaf extract and rosemary leaf extract, explaining that components of hops inhibit the formation of inflammatory prostaglandins, while olive leaf and rosemary leaf extracts relieve pain.

Evening primrose oil and borage seed oil contain GLA, an omega-6 fatty acid that also inhibits the production of prostaglandins. According to nutritionist Phyllis Balch, author of "Prescription for Nutritional Healing," omega-3 essential fatty acids found in fish may alleviate symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis by suppressing the immune system reaction that causes joint inflammation. Several months of taking large doses of omega-3 oils may result in fewer tender and swollen joints and less morning stiffness.

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