Rheumatoid Arthritis Alternative Treatments

Written by the Healthline Editorial Team | Published on September 3, 2014
Medically Reviewed by Brenda B. Spriggs, MD, MPH, MBA on September 3, 2014

Alternative Treatments for Rheumatoid Arthritis

A number of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) treatments have been tested for rheumatoid arthritis (RA). These treatments focus on:

  • reducing pain
  • lowering stress levels
  • reducing inflammation

There is limited evidence to support the use of many CAM treatments for RA. These treatments are not a replacement for traditional medicine. They should only be used as a supplement. Delaying or avoiding the use of conventional medicine could have serious consequences for your long-term health.

It’s important to let your doctor know about any CAM treatments you are using. These treatments may interact with other therapies.

Herbs and Supplements

Fish Oil

Fish oil is rich in omega-3 fatty acids. There is evidence that regular consumption of omega-3 acids may lower levels of inflammation regularly in some individuals. According to the Johns Hopkins Arthritis Center, clinical trials suggest that fish oil may reduce morning stiffness and the need for pain-relieving drugs in some RA patients.

Gamma Linoleic Acid (GLA)

This omega-6 fatty acid is found in the oil from seeds of several plants, including:

  • evening primrose
  • borage
  • black currant

According to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), research suggests that GLA may reduce joint pain and stiffness in RA patients. It may also reduce patients’ need for pain medication.

Thunder God Vine

This plant is often used in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). The NCCAM explains that small clinical trials have suggested that it may reduce inflammation and suppress the immune system. However, this supplement can cause serious side effects, including:

  • stomach problems
  • hair loss
  • bone loss
  • headache
  • skin problems
  • reproductive problems

The dangers of this supplement may outweigh its benefits. It’s also difficult to find thunder god vine products in the United States.

Other Herbs and Supplements

The following herbs and supplements have shown promise in lab tests and animal studies. However, they have not yet been the subject of clinical trials:

  • Green tea may reduce the symptoms of both RA and osteoarthritis.
  • Ginger has anti-inflammatory properties.
  • Turmeric extract has been found to protect the joints from inflammation and damage in animal studies.
  • Frankincense resin has shown anti-inflammatory and immune-suppression effects in the lab.

Mind-Body Techniques

A number of mind body techniques have the potential to reduce pain and improve physical function and mood in RA patients. These include:

  • meditation
  • guided imagery
  • relaxation
  • biofeedback

Some RA patients have also improved their quality of life by practicing tai chi. This is a Chinese martial art combining slow, gentle movements with deep-breathing exercises. Tai chi does not reduce pain or inflammation. However, it can improve mood and overall physical function.


The NCCAM explains that some small clinical trials have suggested that dietary changes may help some patients with RA. This may be because foods that the body perceives as allergens increase overall inflammation.

Diets that have shown tentative benefits for treating RA include:

  • elimination diets that get rid of potential food triggers
  • vegetarian diets
  • vegan diets
  • Mediterranean diets rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, fish, and olive oil and low in red meat and dairy

However, more research is needed.

It’s important to eat a well-balanced, healthy diet. Talk to your doctor before making any significant dietary changes. 


This TCM technique uses very thin needles to stimulate the nerves. It has been shown to treat various types of chronic pain. However, there is limited research on its use for patients with RA. There is not enough data to declare it effective. 

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