Folk remedies usage arthritis research

by Nathan Wei, MD, FACP, FACR

Nathan Wei is a nationally known board-certified rheumatologist and author of the Second Opinion Arthritis Treatment Kit. It's available exclusively at this website... not available in stores.

Click here: Second Opinion Arthritis Treatment Kit

In addition to the standard therapies that are recommended in conventional medicine, there are also multiple home remedies.

Some have a common-sense feel to them while others are over the top.

On the website, there are many folk remedies that show the extent of “alternative” remedies out there.

While it may be tempting to “pooh-pooh” these folk remedies, one should be reminded that many of these remedies have been found to be effective in more scientifically-controlled studies. Examples include bee venom, leeches, willow bark, cod liver oil,bromelain, boswellia, cilantro, curcumin, and so on. So keep an open mind.

Listed below are OLD-HOME-FOLK REMEDIES that have been tried by various people for treating arthritis in general and rheumatism.

- Mrs. G. had arthritis for years until she found relief taking alfalfa tea twice a day.
- Mrs. O. got relief by taking therapeutic doses of vitamins.

- Mrs. B. found relief by taking a tablespoon of fruit pectin in a small glass of cranberry juice every morning.

- Another lady found relief by gently exercising the afflicted joints in tub full of hot water.

- After learning self-control and how to avoid emotional upsets, Mrs. L. found that her pain had greatly lessened.

- Mrs. J.G. was greatly relieved when she eliminated sugar, white flour, macaroni, pie, cake, and sweet drinks from her diet.

- Mrs. H.B. prepared a drink which helped her and consisted of four raw finely sliced beets soaked in a quart of berry wine for one day. She drinks one small glass before meals, three times a day.

- Mrs. G. W. recommends dissolving 4 teaspoons of blackstrap molasses in one quart of cranberry juice and drinking one glass everyday. She also says 100 aspirins dissolved in a pint of rubbing alcohol will relieve sore joints when rubbed on three times a day.

- Mrs. P. takes equal parts of epsom salts, cream of tartar and ground rhubarb root, mixes, fills gelatin capsules, and takes one after each meal.

- Mrs. E.M. says two parts pure olive oil and one part kerosene makes a wonderful liniment to bathe afflicted joints.

- Add one tablespoon cod liver oil to the juice of one orange, whip and drink before retiring.

- Another says rub the aching joints with hot vinegar before going to bed.

- Mr. L. gives this poultice for swollen joints: 2 tablespoons mullein, 3 of granulated slippery elm bark, one of lobelia, 1 teaspoon cayenne. Mix thoroughly. Use boiling water to make paste. Spread on cloth and place on swollen joints. He also recommends oil of origanum, oil of lobelia, oil of capsicum, mixed with coconut oil for a good rub.

- Two teaspoons apple cider vinegar and 2 teaspoons of honey dissolved in a small glass of warm water taken once or twice a day brings relief.

Steep six ounces of sassafras root in fifth of whiskey for 24 hours. Take one tablespoon three times a day before meals.

- Steep 1 cup alfalfa seed in 1/2 gallon boiling water for 20 minutes. Strain, put in jar, take small glassful three times a day.

- Mix camphor, methyl salicylate. eucalyptus oil and menthol to make a rubbing mixture for aches and pains.

- Mix fresh carrot juice with equal parts of lemon juice. Take one large spoonful everyday.

- Mrs. C. says Knox gelatin is good.

- Mrs. T. wraps afflicted joints loosely with thin plastic for relief.

- A lady recommends bone meal and Vitamins A, D, and C, 3 times a day.

- Mrs. A's hands are better after she started drinking sarsaparilla tea.

- Mrs. H. takes one tablespoon of fresh lime juice in two tablespoons of water nights and mornings.

- Mrs. M.B. says 1 oz. of oil of wintergreen, 3 oz. chloroform, and 12 oz. of rubbing alcohol makes a good rub.

- Mrs. L.N. says cucumber juice controlled her arthritis.

- Contributors to arthritis are: overwork, exposure to wet, cold weather, infectious diseases, poor diet, mental strain, etc.

- After heat treatment, rub down the sore sports with a mixture of 1/2 cup of wintergreen mixed with 1-1/2 cups camphor and soap liniment.

- A Canadian says to mix equal parts of the following herbs: black cohosh, genitian root, angelica, colombo, scull cap, valerian, rue and buckthorn bark, and take one heaping teaspoon in a cup of boiling water. Let steep, and drink three 1/2 cups per day.

- Drink plenty of water to keep the body clean. Keep an optimistic outlook. Avoid depressive thoughts and nervous tension. A healthy body and mind resist diseases.

- Sunshine, sunbaths, and deep breathing of fresh air are very important.

- Eat plenty of fresh vegetables and fruits, but exercise moderation when eating highly acid fruits.

Avoid cocktails, coffee, and tea. Drink plenty of fresh water instead. Select wholesome foods, eat slowly and chew thoroughly.

- Moderation in eating, avoiding overweight, and thorough elimination are excellent prevention practices.

- Good living habits, an optimistic attitude, avoiding tension, strain, and stress are good preventative practices.

- Mrs. P. finds relief by alternating hot and cold compresses on the painful area every 5 minutes.

- A 72-old man said cooked apricots without sugar helped him a lot.

- Eating too much meat, which contains uric acid, is very bad for joints.

- Avoid fat foods, fried foods, pork, uric acid, starches, sugar, sweets, carbonated drinks, salt, pepper, spices, hot sausage, hot peppers, pickled meats, alcohol and strong acid drinks. Use acid fruits moderately.

- Get plenty of rest, have the right kind of posture mattress, cover with warm comfortable blankets, get plenty of fresh air and sunshine. Take deep breathing exercises and walk often for exercise and good health.

- Mrs. P. says that fasting for two days a week relieved her pains.

- Mr. S.P. finds relief in keeping his system clean and taking herbs like wild oregon grape, birch, bitter root, bark burdock, elder, skunk cabbage and wintergreen.

- Mrs. F. finds relief mixing 3 lemons and 3 tablespoons epsom salts in one pint of warm water and taking one teaspoon morning and night.

- Mrs. M.R. obtained use of her arm again after taking 3 shots of B-12.

- Mr. D. believes cod liver oil is the best old time remedy for joints.

- J.K.L. found relief by taking plenty of calcium, vitamin D, iodine, vitamin B, and cod liver oil.

- Sleeping pills and alcohol just make things worse says M.R.D.

- A woman in Canada takes 3 wild cherry roots, 3 burdock roots, 3 oregon grape roots, washes them, chops, covers with a gallon of water, simmers for 30 minutes, strains liquid into bottle and takes a half glass every morning before breakfast.

- A good rub is made from 2 oz. each of eucalyptus oil, oil of wintergreen, rubbing alcohol and witch hazel. Mix, shake, rub on ache.

This article is not prescribing medicine or treatments, but simply passing on to you information describing how other arthritic and rheumatic sufferers have found satisfactory relief.

In an excellent article on Inflammation and Arthritis, David L. Hoffman presents the argument for listening more closely to folk remedies.

He says ...The plant kingdom is abundant in species that act against inflammation.

It should be remembered that the steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs were developed from plant material and are still largely synthesized from saponins such as diosgenin from the Mexican Yam (Dioscorea floribunda).1

Inflammation occurs in response to trauma such as sunburn and wounds, infection, and auto-immune conditions. Whatever the cause, this process is basically the same.

It is characterized by four physical signs; warmth, redness, swelling, and pain. Warmth and redness result from dilation of the small blood vessels in the injured area and increased local blood flow. Because blood vessels become more permeable during inflammation, protein rich exudate escapes from blood plasma to the damaged tissue and causes swelling. Pain is believed to result from such chemical substances as serotonin or cytokines.

Plants as medicines will reduce and soothe inflammation. A review of recent studies confirm the efficacy of traditional remedies.

Herbalists around the world know of many plants with inflammation inhibiting and anti-arthritic properties. Whether it be Bogbean (Menyanthes trifoliata), Nettles (Urtica dioica) or the Kalahari desert herb Devil's Claw (Harpagophytum procumbens), they all work. Such remedies are under intense investigations as anti-inflammatory agents. In a well known study, 163 species of plants and fungi were tested to determine their anti-inflammatory activity. Of the species tested, 17 exhibited between 30/39% inhibition of inflammation, 21 between 40/49%, 15 between 50/59%, 4 between 60/69%, and 2 gave greater than 70 % inhibition.2.

As examples of such chemical research, consider the aerial parts of Dianthus barbatus which has yielded two saponins (barbatosides A and B) having analgesic and anti-inflammatory activities.3 The aglycone of each saponin was identified as quillaic acid. The glycone of barbatoside A consisted of rhamnose, arabinose, fructose, xylose, galactose, glucose and one unidentified sugar; whereas the glycone of barbatoside B contained arabinose, fructose, xylose, mannose, galactose, glucose and three unidentified sugars. Astragalin, kaempferol-3-O-[[beta]]-D-sophoroside, D-pinitol and L-leucine were also isolated. Conyza canadensis is another herbal remedy found to exhibit a significant anti-inflammatory in the laboratory. Eight sesquiterpenes have the highest anti-inflammatory activity, including beta-santalene, beta-himachalene, cuparene, alpha-curcumene, gamma-cadinene.4

While much of the anti-inflammatory research concerns herbs that do not come to mind immediately to the European or North American herbalist, some of our prized remedies have received attention. Meadowsweet, with its high levels of analgesic salicylates is described in the section on the digestive system. An excellent remedy introduced into British usage by the American Physio-medicalists is Prickly Ash (Zanthoxylum americanum), now under study as a source of effective anti-inflammatory chemicals such as piperonyl-4-acrylic isobutyl amide.5

Devil's Claw(Harpagophytum procumbens) is a remedy from the Kalahari desert in Namibia with a well deserved reputation as an effective rheumatic remedy. A group of glycosides called harpagosides found in the root show a marked antiinflammatory effect.6 Similarly Greater Celandine (Chelidonium majus) has revealed alkaloids that justify in chemical terms the ancient herbal wisdom about its use.7

In many studies, the herb or its components are compared to a commonly used anti-inflammatory drug such as aspirin or phenylbutazone. Results are compared to see if the effect of the herb is statistically significant. When Cucumis trigonus was studied for both analgesic and anti-inflammatory activity using a standard drug for comparison it showed statistically significant activity.8 Anti-inflammatory agents such as phenylbutazone, ibuprofen and Commiphora mukkul were compared. All three decreased the thickness of the joint swelling during the course of treatment, confirming the value of this Ayurvedic herb used in the treatment of Arthritis.9

A Chinese medicine known as Shosaikoto has been shown to have mild anti-inflammatory action but more importantly it significantly increased the anti-inflammatory effect of prednisolone in laboratory tests. This points to the possibility of using herbal remedies to potentiate drug treatments while using lower doses of the potentially dangerous chemicals involved.10

Investigation of Ficus elastica as an anti-inflammatory was prompted by the fact that practitioners of herbal medicine in West Africa use the plant for the treatment of muscle and joint pain. The results of the investigation confirm that the herb markedly inhibited experimentally induced inflammation. This effect of Ficus elastica was very similar to that of the commonly prescribed anti-inflammatory drug indomethacin. Similarly, both Ficus elastica and indomethacin inhibited the primary as well as the secondary lesions of arthritis in the rat. The impressive anti-inflammatory activity of the herb may have been due to the presence of a flavonoid.11

Much of the observation of real herbal usage of these remedies is undertaken by ethnobotanists rather than overtly medical researchers. From a survey of anti-arthritic remedies used in Igbo tribal ethnomedicine in Nigeria, they selected three plants (Lonchocarpus cyanescens, Costus afar andTerminalia ivorensis) for closer study. Twenty-five volunteers were monitored while receiving treatment from two reputable herbalists, and the result of the clinical investigation were so impressive that they prompted pharmacological and phytochemical studies on the herbs. Extracts of the herbs reduced inflammation and the associated swelling, stopped diarrhea, and ameliorated all signs associated with polyarthritis in rats.12

Many cultures have received cursory examination by the ethnobotanists, but all too rarely by open minded clinicians. While the surveys carried out are excellent, as in Panthong's review of Thai herbalism, this rarely comes to the attention of therapists considering possible techniques.13

A considerable number of Chinese medical herbs have been found to be anti-inflammatory upon screening for the inhibition of acute inflammation, allergic reaction, and for the alleviation of arthritis symptoms.14 This research has been published exclusively in Japanese or Chinese, making it little known in the west. Many popular Chinese medical prescriptions used in the treatment of arthritis base their anti-inflammatory action on synergistic interactions of the herbs present.15 This makes biochemical conclusions difficult to reach as research protocols for complex mixtures pose a formidable problem for the research pharmacologist.

Many examples can be given of the specific herbs shown to have value. A well known traditional remedy, Scutellaria baicalensis; a relative of Skullcap, has excellent properties partially attributable to the flavonoids present. It has an ancient history of use in, among other things, allergic conditions.16

Root and stem decoctions of Sinomenium acutum, one type of Fang-chi, have been used as a folk remedy for neuralgia and rheumatoid arthritis in many areas of the Far East. In Japan and China various plants have been identified as Fang-chi (Boi in Japanese) since antiquity. This uncertainty is a common example of the difficulty researchers have in evaluating the efficacy of herbs described in classical Chinese literature.

In investigation of the range of traditional Fang-chi plants only Sinomenium acutum has been demonstrated to contain the alkaloid sinomenine, which is now known to be effective in neuralgia and rheumatic diseases. Sinomenine is a unique plant alkaloid, as it potently releases histamine in association with degranulation of mast cells in connective tissue, preferentially in the skin and joint capsules. The released histamine is responsible for the pharmacological actions of sinomenine, such as vasodilation, increased vascular permeability, acceleration of the thoracic and peripheral lymph flow, contraction of smooth muscles, increased peristalsis of the intestines, and stimulation of gastric acid secretion.

This all provides a clear pharmacological basis for the anti-inflammatory action of this traditional herbal remedy.17

On pharmacological evaluation, the Ayurvedic anti-inflammatory remedy Salai guggal displayed marked activity in laboratory animals. No side effects were seen on cardiovascular, respiratory and central nervous system functions. Of great interest was the lack of ulceration in the rat stomach. Stomach ulcers are a common complication of drug treatment of arthritis.18

South America is one of the richest botanical areas in the world. Under the tragic pressure of deforestation of the rain forest and resultant plant extinction much research is going into plant resources. Croton lechleri, from the Upper Amazon Valley of Peru, has yielded a new anti-inflammatory alkaloid called taspine. The anti-inflammatory activity of taspine hydrochloride has been shown to have value in arthritis treatment.19

A recent paper reports on the use of more than 90 plant species as folk remedies to treat rheumatic and arthritic diseases in Northern Italy. The study focused on the pharmacology of the mode of action of these remedies, not questioning that they have some empirical value. Rubefacient activity was shown to have its basis in moieties such as protoanemonin, isothiocyanate or allicine yielding plants and species containing capsaicin, oleoresins, volatile oils, resins and alkaloids. The effectiveness of other herbal remedies appeared to depend on their content of salicyl derivatives. A considerable number of the plant species contained chemicals for which anti-inflammatory properties have been demonstrated.20

1 Tyler (1981) PHARMACOGNOSY 8th Edn., Lea & Febiger
2 Benoit Biological and phytochemical evaluation of plants. XIV. Antiinflammatory evaluation of 163 species of plants. LLOYDIA 1976 Mar-Jun; 39(2-3):160-71
3 Cordell Biological and phytochemical investigations of Dianthus barbatus cv. China Doll (Caryophyllaceae). LLOYDIA 1977 Jul-Aug; 40(4):361-3
4 Lenfeld J Motl O Trka A Anti-inflammatory activity of extracts from Conyza ccanadensis. PHARMAZIE 1986 Apr; 41(4):268-9
5 Oriowo Anti-inflammatory activity of piperonyl-4-acrylic isobutyl amide, an extractive from Zanthoxylum zanthoxyloides. PLANTA MED (1982 Jan) 44(1):54-6
6 Eichler Antiphlogistic, analgesic and spasmolytic effect of harpagoside, a glycoside from the root of Harpagophytum procumbens. ARZNEIM FORSCH (Jan 70) 20(1):107-9
7 Lenfeld Antiinflammatory activity of quaternary benzophenanthridine alkaloids from Chelidonium majus. PLANTA MED (1981 Oct) 43(2):161-5
8 Naik Analgesic and anti-inflammatory activity in alcoholic extracts of Cucumis trigonus Roxburghii. A preliminary communication. PHARMACOLOGY 1980; 20(1):52-6
9 Sharma JN Sharma JN Comparison of the anti-inflammatory activity of Commiphora mukul (an indigenous drug) with hose of phenylbutazone and ibuprofen in experimental arthritis induced by mycobacterial adjuvant. ARZNEIM FORSCH 1977 Jul; 27(7):1455-7
10 Shimizu Combination effects of Shosaikoto (Chinese traditional medicine) and prednisolone on the anti-inflammatory action. J PHARMACOBIODYN 1984 Dec; 7(12):891-9
11 Sackeyfio AC Lugeleka OM: The anti-inflammatory effect of a crude aqueous extract of the root bark of Ficus elastica in the rat. ARCH INT PHARMACODYN THER 1986 May; 281(1):169-76
12 Iwu MM Anyanwu BN: Phytotherapeutic profile of Nigerian herbs. I: Anti-inflammatory and anti-arthritic agents. J ETHNOPHARMACOL 1982 Nov; 6(3):263-74
13 Panthong: Ethnobotanical review of medicinal plants from Thai traditional books, Part I: Plants with anti-inflammatory, anti-asthmatic and antihypertensive properties. J ETHNOPHARMACOL (1986 Dec) 18(3):213-28
14 Kosuge: Studies on bioactive substances in the Chinese material medicines used for arthritic diseases in traditional Chinese medicine. I. Anti-inflammatory and analgesic effect of Chinese material medicines used for arthritic diseases. YAKUGAKU ZASSHI (1985 Sep) 105(9):845-7
15 Cyong: A pharmacological study of the anti-inflammatory activity of Chinese herbs. A review. ACU ELECTROTHER RES (1982) 7(2-3):173-202

16 Kubo: Studies on Scutellariae radix. VII. Anti-arthritic and anti-inflammatory actions of methanolic extract and flavonoid components from Scutellariae radix. CHEM PHARM BULL (TOKYO) (1984 Jul) 32(7):2724-9

17 Yamasaki H: Pharmacology of sinomenine, an anti-rheumatic alkaloid from Sinomenium acutum. ACTA MED OKAYAMA 1976 Feb; 30(1):1-20

18 Singh GB Atal CK: Pharmacology of an extract of Salai guggal ex-Boswellia serrata, a new non-steroidal anti-inflammatory agent. AGENTS ACTIONS (1986 Jun) 18(3-4):407-12

19 Perdue GP Blomster RN Blake DA Farnsworth NR: South American plants II: taspine isolation and anti-inflammatory activity. J PHARM SCI 1979 Jan; 68(1):124-6

20 Cappelletti External antirheumatic and antineuralgic herbal remedies in the traditional medicine of north-eastern Italy.J ETHNOPHARMACOL 1982 Sep; 6(2):161-90

On this website there are pages devoted to alternative, herbal, and natural therapies that have promise. Check them out.

So... as you go through this website looking for answers to your aches and pains, be aware that there are as many “answers” as there are people with arthritis.

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