Herbs and Rheumatoid Arthritis


I really like when I can use a standard protocol for a disease and receive consistently good results. This is especially true when it is a condition such as rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune condition. Specifically, “autoimmune disease” refers to a condition where the body mistakes its own tissues for foreign invaders such as bacteria and viruses and creates antibodies to seek out and destroy those specific tissues. In the case of rheumatoid arthritis, the body attacks its own synovial tissues within the joints.

Besides being an autoimmune disease, rheumatoid arthritis differs from the more common osteoarthritis in terms of cause. Where rheumatoid arthritis is characterized by redness, swelling and eventual crippled joints and may affect all tissues of the body including soft tissues, osteoarthritis is caused by wear and tear of the joints that occurs in most animals as a somewhat normal course of aging.

At the onset RA might first affect the small joints of the fingers and toes with symptoms of warm, redness, stiffness, and swelling in these joints.  Eventually this can spread to larger joints including hips, shoulders and knees with occasional periods of remission. RA can damage the joints within three to six months of onset and individuals with RA may be unable to work after 10 years. Furthermore, it can affect other tissues including theheart, lungs, vascular system, eyes, skin and blood. All of these further complicate diagnosis. Western medicine has no cure for RA.

There is a standard blood test for used to diagnose rheumatoid arthritis.[1] Personally, I don’t refer to the RA factor blood test in my practice to treat a condition such as RA because traditional herbal medicine doesn’t require such a test. Furthermore, sometimes such tests applied to incurable diseases such as RA deepen a commitment in the patient’s mind to having a condition which from the body-mind perspective only makes rallying the complete healing forces of the body more difficult. Additionally, the RA factor test is unreliable; it can test positive in normal people and negative if there are other autoimmune conditions active in your body such as Sjogren’s disease, lupus, and viral hepatitis. Finally, I have treated many people who tested positive for RA successfully, provided the condition is not so advanced as to exhibit severe bone degeneration with twisted, crippled joints. In all cases, significant pain relief can be consistently achieved with the adoption of an anti-inflammatory diet and nature’s wonderful healing herbs.

It is estimated that approximately 41 out of 100,000 are diagnosed with RA per year and 1.3 million American have been diagnosed with it. The risk is somewhat higher for women and begins earlier in life than for men. Heart attack and stroke risk increases as much as 60% one year after diagnosis, people with RA are more liable to infections, and twice as likely to suffer from depression.

Drugs used to relieve symptoms are among the worst in terms of short- and long-term adverse effects. Drugs used in the treatment of RA include:

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), which are the mildest pharmaceutical treatment option. They range from aspirin to many others including ibuprofen. These help to reduce inflammation but do not halt the progression of the disease.
  • The next in line are corticosteroids, which quickly reduce inflammation and are supposed to be limited to short-term usage.
  • The next group of drugs are classified as disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) which work to slow down the progression of RA and biologic DMARDs which are often used in combination to increase the efficacy of DMARDs.

Conventional medicine is beginning to acknowledge that dietary changes, lifestyle changes and herbs can relieve RA symptoms. My own clinical experience concurs with this.

There are few serious diseases that I can say seem to respond to a basic treatment protocol. However, so many patients who have come to me diagnosed with RA and osteoarthritis have responded positively to essentially the same basic protocol, which I share with you below.

Adopt an anti-inflammatory diet which consists of eliminating all refined white sugar, refined flour products, dairy, alcohol, and coffee. For some this may include gluten as well as other possible allergenic foods. Instead one should adopt a fiber-rich diet of organic fruits and vegetables, animal products such as naturally and organically raised animal foods, free-range chicken and eggs.

For many this may mean beginning with a special healing diet of kicharee, based on a combination of rice (white or brown), split yellow mungs beans, spices such as turmeric, cumin coriander and ghee.

Omega-3 fatty acids are well known to reduce inflammation throughout the body and are extremely beneficial for the treatment of RA. Various brands are of good quality including Nordic Naturals, Life Extension, Dr. Mercola’s krill oil, Carlsen’s, and Kirkland’s. I suggest a daily dose of 1000 to 1600 milligrams daily.

Alpha Lipoic Acid (ALA) is a powerful detoxifying antioxidant with special affinity for the liver and kidneys. ALA assists in converting glucose into energy, improves insulin sensitivity which asserts blood sugar control and is even known to reduce neuropathy in diabetics. It also naturally increases glutathione, the most powerful antioxidant that is produced naturally by our body. There are many fine products on the market, including Source Naturals time-released capsules available in 100, 300 and 600 mg doses, NOW Alpha Lipoic Acid, Pure Encapsulations Metabolic Xtra, and Vitacost. Take 200-600 mg daily.

A single daily good quality multivitamin should be taken for a few months to remedy any vitamin deficiencies. I use Source Natural’s Life Force Vitamins, but there are many other good quality multivitamins on the market. I usually like anything that Now brand produces. Rainbow Light also has a fine multivitamin.

Herbal formulas:

The single most effective formula I have used with consistent beneficial results is the TCM formula known as Angelica and Loranthes Combination (Du Huo Ji Sheng Tang). The brand I most commonly rely on is Active Herbs formulation called JointsJoy. It is available in easy to swallow pilules or tablets. This consists of a highly concentrated 5:1 herbal formula of 14 herbs, minimal fillers and binders made in a GMP-certified kitchen and imported in accordance with U.S. FDA guidelines. The recommended dose is 6 tablets taken two or three times daily with warm water. Because an RA patient might be taking this supplement for several months, I recommend purchasing a case of 12bottles at a time.

Another formula that is particularly effective when arthritis flares up in cold, damp weather is Feng Shi Xiao Tong Pian which in Active herbs brand is conveniently called ArthritEZ.

In addition, I recommend two capsules of Planetary Herbals’ Triphala complex which assists in normal detoxification, digestion and elimination. Triphala is a basic formula that can be used for all conditions as well as general health and wellness.

Planetary Herbals’ Flex Ability (Shu Jin San) is a Chinese formula consisting of 10 herbs. It treats arthralgia, both osteo- and rheumatoid arthritis, neuralgia, neuritis, numbness and pain in the legs, hemiplegia, chronic B vitamin deficiency, and paresthesia.  It is famous for increasing flexibility and works more on the muscles and tendons. It is available in liquid extract and tablet form. Take two tablets three times daily.

The above three formulas can be taken concurrently or on alternate weeks. 

Finally, every herbal anti-inflammatory protocol should include turmeric (with other herbs as appropriate for the patient’s constitution). I use Planetary’s Full Spectrum Turmeric extract at a dose of 30 to 40 drops three times daily.

Other optional herbs and supplements that can be included are MSM (methylsulfonylmethane) and Planetary’s Guggul-Cholest.

One should get moderate daily exercise; a vigorous walk or swim are excellent options. Yoga stretches, besides making for more flexibility and limberness, also work on activating the deep hormonal systems of the body – be careful to not overdo yoga when beginning as it can result in sprains and strains which may limit further exercise at least for a while. Remember, a personal exercise routine is not a competition. Any exercise can be overdone. All one needs is about a half hour daily.

If one has access and can afford it, a series of acupuncture treatments can be extremely beneficial, especially if the acupuncturist employs methods other than just needles such as moxibustion  (applying heat close to acupoints and areas on the body), gua sha (a relatively painless rubbing over specific areas), and cupping therapies. I feel confident that this protocol will absolutely relieve or cure most cases of early stage arthritic conditions of all kinds (before deformity has occurred) and relieve inflammation and pain generally in all cases.

If one wishes to set up a telephone consultation or an office visit with myself, Lesley or one of my associates call (831) 429-8066, East West Herb and Acupuncture Clinic 912 Center Street, Santa Cruz, California.






[1] Sjogren’s syndrome is characterized by dry eyes and dry mouth. It is also an autoimmune disease. In traditional herbal medicine Sjogren’s syndrome is a form of Yin Deficiency. I have also treated this condition successfully with a dietary and herbal protocol.

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