Natural Medicine and RA

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a disease with many contributing causes, from genetics to diet. A natural medical approach to treating RA addresses known contributing factors by taking a holistic, comprehensive approach.

While some holistic therapies and herbs may help patients feel better, none have been shown to cure RA or slow down the progression of the disease. In addition, some herbal preparations may actually increase activity of the immune system, which could be dangerous in a patient with RA. It is important to remember that herbs and holistic therapies are medicines that have effects on the body and can interact with prescription medications.

If you decide to take herbal therapies or see a holistic practitioner, please inform your rheumatologist to ensure you are not taking anything that could be harmful to you. Also, it is important to continue your prescribed therapy as recommended by a rheumatologist for RA, rather than relying upon holistic or herbal therapies on their own.

Diet and RA

The effects of diet on the treatment of RA are controversial. There are no studies showing that any particular diet can control the disease and prevent disability and deformity. However, there have been some reports showing that patients who either fast, or who eat a pure vegetarian diet (containing no meat products) may feel better overall.

Of course, eating is essential in order to live, so prolonged fasting is not recommended. Eating a pure vegetarian diet is possible, but this is very difficult for most people. Due to an increased risk for malnutrition on a pure vegetarian diet, it is very important to received counseling from a dietitian and from your physician before embarking upon such a diet.

Physical Medicine and RA

The goals of physical medicine in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis are to increase muscle strength, improve joint range of motion, decrease pain, and to increase function.

Heat and cold therapy can help patients with rheumatoid arthritis feel better. Heat can help with muscle spasms, and cold can help decrease pain from inflammation. Whether heat therapy or cold therapy is best for a particular patient can be difficult to tell beforehand. Patients should use whichever feels best. Heat can be applied for up to 20 minutes at a time, and cold compresses can be used for 5–10 minutes at a time.

Publication Review By: Donald E. Thomas, Jr., M.D., FACP, FACR

Published: 31 Dec 1999

Last Modified: 02 Oct 2015