Joint Pain Remedies from Around the World
Learn some of the different ways varying cultures treat rheumatoid arthritis.
The chronic pain and debilitation of arthritis and side effects from medications may prompt you to reach for uncommon cures. These remedies from around the world range from the “might help, can’t hurt” variety to those that warrant a skull and crossbones on the label. Click “next” to learn which might help osteoarthritis, caused by wear and tear on joints, and rheumatoid arthritis (RA), an autoimmune disease in which the body attacks the tissue that cushions the joints.
In Russia, people who are deeply suspicious of doctors and institutional medicine practice narodnaya meditisina, or “people’s medicine.” To ease arthritis aches and other pains, some Russians smooth on a homemade salve reportedly containing viper venom.
Israeli researcher Naftali Primor, of the Shulov Institute for Sciences, extracted venom from the Palestinian viper and isolated the pain-relieving peptide in the poison. He then created a synthetic version without the dangerous toxins found in the venom. This potential treatment is still under investigation, and would become available only if rigorous studies confirm its safety and effectiveness.
Bones, Claws, and What?
The Chinese often rely on animal body parts to create remedies for a host of illnesses, including arthritis. Ground into powder that is sprinkled on food or steeped as tea, the claws, bones, and even penises of tigers, rhinos, and bears are said to have curative effects. No hard science backs up the claim that the body parts of these creatures will ease arthritis symptoms, and the practice of purloining body parts has increased the risk of extinction of some animals, including the rhino.
Extracts and teas are made from the bark and roots of this woody vine, which is native to Peru. It is used throughout South America as a remedy for arthritis and to treat viral infections, including herpes and HIV. The tannins and sterols in cat’s claw may ease RA or osteoarthritis, but more studies are needed.
A small study of people with RA examined the effect of cat’s claw and traditional medications. The research showed that when taken along with sulfasalazine or hydroxychloroquine, cat’s claw resulted in fewer painful, swollen joints than in those who took placebo. While cat's claw may help reduce inflammation, it won’t prevent RA from worsening. Use it as a supplement to prescription medication—not as a replacement.
Not Just for Ruminants?
Cows munch contentedly on alfalfa for sustenance, taking in the L-canavanine contained in the seeds. Humans have looked to the L-canavanine in alfalfa to boost immune response by stimulating T-cells, which fight infection. No studies back up the idea that alfalfa counters the errant immune response in RA, when the body attacks itself and destroys joint-cushioning tissue.
The Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database reports that there is insufficient clinical evidence to support the use of alfalfa to fight arthritis.
An Ancient Plague Remedy
The origin of the gin-soaked raisin remedy may have its root in England’s middle ages, when clusters of juniper berries, a gin ingredient, were used to counter the stench of death from bubonic plague. It became a fad in the United States in the 1990s to soak golden raisins in gin, let the liquid evaporate, and eat a prescribed number of the gin-infused raisins daily to combat arthritis.
There are no rigorous double-blind studies examining the effects of this cure. However, some speculate that the small amount of the antioxidant resveratrol found in the raisins provides the benefit. Others credit the sulphides used to slow the browning of the raisins.
Rich in the antioxidant quercetin, a flavanoid, onions may have some properties that can help ease arthritis pain. Eastern Europeans peel and slice a large onion and boil it in 1½ cups of water for about 20 minutes, until a cup of liquid remains. Strain the liquid and drink it hot. You may want to add lemon, ginger, or honey to temper the strongly scented, eye-stinging brew.
No research draws a direct line between this potent beverage and an arthritis cure, but drinking it can’t harm anything. However, your social life may suffer from your constant onion breath.
Mediterranean Herbal Medicine
A staple in the Mediterranean diet, fragrant and flavorful thyme has anti-inflammatory properties. The herb may inhibit expression of a protein transcription factor called NF-kb, which regulates inflammation. Studies documenting this effect are limited. Some were performed in mice and one trial measured the effect of thyme extract along with other dietary compounds, making it difficult to sort out which had the beneficial effect. Rather than investing in thyme extract capsules, you may wish to enjoy this healthy herb, either fresh or dried, in fish, meat, and vegetable dishes.
Call in the Thunder Gods
Used as a remedy in China for centuries, thunder god vine showed some promise in easing joint pain, swelling, and inflammation from RA. The root of the vine is skinned to make an extract, which can be taken orally or applied to the skin. However, the risk of serious side effects outweighs the potential benefit, according to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine.
Thunder god vine may cause menstrual changes in women and infertility in men. Long-term use may lower bone mineral density in women, boosting osteoporosis risk. Rashes, hair loss, headaches, upset stomach, and diarrhea are among the other possible unwelcome effects.
Skoal to Scuttle Arthritis
An occasional nip of alcohol may help prevent RA, according to a 2010 study published in the British Medical Journal. The population-based study showed that Swedish women who drank at least three alcoholic drinks per week reduced their risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis by 52 percent, compared with women who did not drink.
Moderate alcohol consumption may protect against rheumatoid arthritis by regulating the overactive immune response implicated in the disease. However, the study uncovered only the relationship between moderate drinking and rheumatoid prevention, not the cause.