Naturopathic Treatment of Arthritis

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“Oooooh, my aching bones!” How often have you heard this refrain echoed? Chances are the lament referred to one or other form of arthritis.

Arthritis is classically defined as a degenerative disease of the joints characterized by some of the cardinal signs of inflammation: rubor et tumor cum calore et dolore [redness and swelling with heat and pain], as identified by Celsus some 2000 years ago: The Latin term inflammare literally means “to set on fire”. In the 19th century a fifth cardinal sign, loss of function [function laesa] was added. Modern molecular biology however identifies inflammation as a much more complex cascade of interactions than Celsus’ original postulation. It must be stated however that the classical inflammatory response is not present in all forms of arthritis, all the time, but can present at different stages and phases of the condition, even though arthritis generally refers to inflammation of a joint. For more information visit You may also consider scheduling appointments online through a Naturopath Virtual Appointment service.

Now as if those symptoms were not enough, arthritis sufferers invariably also experience joint stiffness and crepitus [cracking noise of arthritic joints], decreased range of motion or loss of flexibility, and at a more advanced stage, structural changes or deformity. The biomechanics are however just part of the problem, since for many folk the emotional toll exacted by the arthroses, is often overlooked. For example, depression and anxiety appear to increase the experience of the pain of osteoarthritis.

Where does it come from, why does it happen, and who gets it?

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According to the Greek physician, Hippocrates, arthritis is caused by “too much food.” Naturopathic physicians however attribute it to a buildup of toxins in the body, which opinion is echoed by Ayurvedic doctors, although the toxins are called “ama” in that discipline. Chinese medicine also refers to arthritis as Traditional Chinese medicine also refers to arthritis as a disease of excess.

Arthritis may result from another condition, be associated with another condition, or simply develop on its own. It is a glum fact ladies that arthritis is more common in women than in men, especially in those over 50. An anomaly though – among those younger than 45, it occurs more often in men. If statistics are to be believed, it seems that very few of us can totally dodge this one, since medical statistics currently indicate that approximately 90% of all people are affected by OA by the time they reach 80 years of age, even if asymptomatic.

The two most common forms of this disease are osteoarthritis [OA], a.k.a. “wear-and-tear” arthritis, and rheumatoid arthritis [RA], which is one of +- 80 different auto-immune conditions. Auto-immune diseases occur when the immune system, which is designed to protect us from disease, goes a bit wonky and attacks itself. In RA, antibodies develop against components of joint tissue i.e. the body’s immune cells attack connective tissue, as if it were an infection, particularly around certain joints. Unfortunately space does not permit us to explore other forms of arthritis, like psoriatic arthritis [arthropathic psoriasis], which can benefit from treatment that is similar to that of the RA treatments that follow.

The two basic types of arthritis will be briefly defined a little further, below, followed by a few naturopathic remedial and self-help options. So do not despair – a diagnosis of arthritis does not automatically relegate you to a life of immobility or non steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs [NSAIDs]. There is plenty you can do to remedy the situation, since there are as many different holistic treatment options, as there are different modalities, to choose from.


As mentioned above, this form of the condition is predominantly found in people over 50. OA is divided into two categories: primary and secondary, with multifactorial causes. Primary OA is the most common form of arthritis and joint disorders, and is regarded as a normal part of the ageing process. Secondary OA can result from inherited abnormalities in joint structure or function, trauma, abnormal cartilage, and previous inflammatory disease of the joints. Other potential causative factors include altered biochemistry and hormonal factors. There is evidence that there is a link between hormones, oestrogen in particular, and the initiation or acceleration of OA development.

OA generally presents as the gradual deterioration or breakdown of articular cartilage, usually in the larger, weight-bearing joints such as the hips, knees, elbows and spine, as well as the hands, with subsequent physiological consequences. Without this articular cartilage, bones start to grind against each other, resulting in pain and inflammation. Muscles can also start to atrophy due to lack of movement, which further aggravates the situation. The specific symptom picture varies with the joint/s involved. Unless the condition is severe, joint deformities and/or inflammation may be absent. An interesting clinical feature of OA however is the lack of correlation between severity of the condition, as evidenced on X-ray, and the degree of pain.

Rheumatoid arthritis

Although the primary cause of RA is unknown [idiopathic], this auto-immune condition can affect people of any age, but is more common between the ages of 40-60. About 70% of persons with RA have a specific genetic marker [HLA-DRw4], which strongly implies that susceptibility to RA is influenced by genetic factors, even though environmental factors are necessary for the development of the condition. The serum and joint fluid of nearly all individuals with RA contain the rheumatoid factor [RF] – a number of antibodies that attack a specific fragment of IgG antibodies – i.e. in RA antibodies are being formed against antibodies. It is the presence of circulating immune complexes that is one of the major factors thought to contribute to the joint destruction that accompanies RA. There are also other hypotheses that have been suggested as causative factors in RA, such as the Microbial, and DHEA levels, hypotheses. Anyone who has RA should investigate their diet for food sensitivities or allergies that may disrupt the immune system. There is an interesting association between RA and abnormal bowel function, since individuals with RA often have increased gut permeability or “leaky gut syndrome”, and/or small intestine bacterial overgrowth [SIBO]. Many individuals with RA are also deficient in digestive factors such as hydrochloric acid and pancreatic enzymes, which indicates that incomplete digestion may be a major factor contributing to RA. But that’s all another story.

RA presents as a chronic, multifactorial inflammatory joint disease that affects one or more joints, often bilaterally. It may occur as a single mild attack, or as several episodes, which can leave the person increasingly disabled. The joints most commonly affected joints are those of the hands and feet, particularly knuckle and toe joints, although the wrists, knees, ankles, and neck are also frequently affected. The synovium or other parts of the joints gradually becomes inflamed, swollen, and painful. In this form of the disease there is also tissue destruction with subsequent joint deformity. In severe cases, damage to the lungs, heart, nerves and eyes can also occur, making it difficult to lead a normal, active life.


There are several primary objectives in the treatment of both types of arthritis:

  • identification of the cause,
  • reduction of pain,
  • reduction of inflammation,
  • preservation of mobility i.e. the joint functioning, and
  • prevention of deformity.

The major therapeutic goal for treating OA is enhancing repair of the collagen matrix and regeneration by the connective-tissue cells. In Naturopathic medicine, treatment aims to target the cause of the inflammation; strengthen the organs of elimination and digestion; and balance the nutrition. This means that nutrition and revitalization is dominant during the remission stage of the disease, whilst elimination is more important during exacerbation.

Cause identification

Since the exact cause is not always well-defined, a wise motto to which one could ascribe in health, and life in general, is: ”prevention is better than cure”. So, for those for whom arthritis “runs in the family” i.e. those genetically predisposed to developing it, intervention needs to start early. By adopting a healthy lifestyle and adding some basic practical aides, even severe symptoms can be ameliorated. Regulating body weight, changing dietary behaviours, and applying adjunctive therapies are usually within the ambit of anyone motivated enough to relinquish the pain.

Pain control

Irrespective of the type of arthritis, pain control is often the primary concern. At a practical level, removing weight from the joints reduces pain. This can be achieved by reducing body weight, using walking sticks, implementing appropriate exercise – either active or passive, sleeping on a suitable mattress, and applying treatments like hot and cold compresses with a Cold Laser Device, plus the use of analgesic ointments.

Controlling inflammation is also important, as is avoiding known triggers, such as foods that may cause allergic synovitis.

Although there are several over-the-counter and prescription drugs that suppress or relieve arthritic symptoms, they do not treat the underlying cause, and often the price paid is far higher than the currency handed over the counter at the pharmacy. The side-effects of many of these drugs can be grave [pun intended]. Experimental and clinical studies have shown that aspirin and other NSAIDs not only inhibit cartilage synthesis and accelerate cartilage destruction, but actually accelerate OA and increase joint destruction (visit the website to find out about the procedure of clinical trials like this one). Aspirin and Ibuprofen are mild prostaglandin inhibitors, but they do have side-effects. Cox-2 selective inhibitor drugs can also cause severe gastro-intestinal side-effects, besides their cardiovascular risk profile.

Surgical joint replacement obviously fits in at the extreme end of the spectrum when it comes to treatment, but that is not the focus for this article. It can however be the only option open in extreme cases when pain and inflammation becomes unbearable or arthritic joints refuse to function. Joint replacement is relatively common these days with hips, knees and sometimes the shoulders being the prime candidates for surgery. This type of surgery can dramatically improve function and mobility, but is typically reserved for after the age of 50 since the artificial replacements tend to wear down after 15-20 years.

Inflammation control

Despite their differences, both OA and RA share some common characteristics – an immune system that is hyper-reactive to inflammatory triggers such as injuries and infections. The immune system basically goes into pro-inflammatory overdrive, instead of allowing inflammation to perform its normal healing role. This can occur when there are too many pro-inflammatory compounds in the diet versus insufficient anti-inflammatory compounds [eicosanoids].

Unfortunately, due to extensive food processing, we no longer ingest the correct balance of many nutrients, particularly the essential fatty acids [EFA] – Omega-6 and Omega-3. EFAs, amongst their many virtues, help regulate the immune system and inflammatory responses. It is estimated that the standard Western diet now contains 20-30 times more Omega-6 fats than Omega-3 fats, and that’s before we add the damaging effects of trans-fats on Omega-3s to the equation! Whether Omega-6s per se are therefore good or bad, relative to current levels of intake, is another whole debate on its own. Some Omega-6s do however appear to be preferable to others, likewise the Omega-3 fish vs flax contretemps. Ultimately, it’s all about balance isn’t it?

Omega-6 is converted to arachidonic acid [AA], one of the most potent pro-inflammatory eicosanoids, which in turn converts to prostaglandin E2 via cyclo-oxygenase [COX] enzymes and terminal prostaglandin E synthases [PGES]. Since Prostaglandin E2 is a principal mediator of inflammation in disorders such as OA and RA, it would therefore be reasonable to minimise intake of substances that could fuel this fire.

Prostaglandins are extremely potent hormone-like compounds that belong to a larger family of compounds known as eicosanoids. They are produced from the enzyme-controlled oxidation of fatty acids. Depending on the fatty acids from which they derive, prostaglandins can be loosely classified in three groups – series 1, 2 and 3.

The body can produce Series 1 prostaglandins from gamma linoleic acid [GLA] found in vegetable oils, like borage seed, evening primrose or blackcurrant seed etc.; while Series 3 prostaglandins are formed from ecosapentaenoic acid [EPA], the fatty acid found in fish oil. [Vegetarians may prefer to take flax oil as a source of Omega-3.] Linolenic acid is the parent fatty acid for Series 3 prostaglandins. The body breaks down arachidonic acid, found in meats and eggs, into Series 2 prostaglandins.

When it comes to inflammation, Series 1 and 3 are considered the “good” guys, since they prevent the release of AA from cells; whereas Series 2 prostaglandins are the “baddies” because they are made from AA. It is generally accepted that modern diets have more than enough Series 1 building blocks, but that we need to increase consumption of fish and fish oil or flax oil to boost production of the anti-inflammatory Series 3 prostaglandins.

Although the tropical fruit, mangosteen [Garcinia mangostana] has been used as a Thai indigenous medicine for many years, it is not freely available in SA – more’s the pity. It is however the fruit hull and seeds of this delicious fruit that is the quintessential source of the powerful, antioxidant xanthones, which exhibit potent inhibitory activities of both histamine release and prostaglandin E2 synthesis. The anti-inflammatory properties of mangosteen have been compared in strength to the powerful anti-inflammatory, glucocorticoid prescription drug, dexamethasone – but without the side-effects. We’ve got the climate for it – so maybe someone will soon start cultivate this yummy little phytonutrient-dense marvel, locally, in the near future.

Reverting to a more “stone-age” diet may well be the best thing we could do for optimum health, since we are genetically still virtually identical to our hunter-gatherer ancestors, although the food we presently eat bears little resemblance to their natural diet. Ecological findings reveal that we currently eat at least ten times more saturated fats and hundreds of times more trans-fats than our prehistoric ancestors. Such high consumption of unhealthy fats impairs linolenic acid metabolism and consequent Series 1 prostaglandin benefits. We’re also eating more meat and eggs, and less fish than our ancestors, which impacts on prostaglandins. In addition, we have to bear in mind that it takes the human metabolism a very long time to adapt to changes in diet, yet modern lifestyle has developed at such exponential speed that natural evolution cannot keep pace. Consequently our bodies now react abnormally, even to natural plant foods, hence the increase in inflammatory conditions.


Keeping mobile and flexible

Various physical therapy treatments, appropriate to comfort levels and ability, is key. Exercise like walking, swimming, and yoga, amongst others, can be very beneficial. Other non-pharmacological treatments that include heat or cold are also helpful. Acupuncture, osteopathy and chiropractic, homeopathy, bioresonance, physiotherapy, hydrotherapy, laser, ultrasound, diathermy, balneotherapy, paraffin wax baths, massage, and reflexology are some of the many other considerations for natural pain relief. Just remember, although exercise is important, rest is equally important. You may schedule a treatment service for your arthritis like a mobile massage to avoid going out.

Beneficial natural substances – internally and externally.

Diet has been strongly implicated in RA, both as a cause and a cure, and to a greater or lesser degree this can extrapolated to OA as well. Fundamentally, the more natural and alkalizing the food, the better, which equates to a selective wholefood, vegetarian-dominant diet.

Fruit and vegetables are rich sources of diverse antioxidant nutrients such as carotenoids, flavonoids, vitamins and minerals, which help to block the activity of “adhesion molecules” that maintain inflammatory reactions.

The bottom line therefore would be to

  • increase consumption of antioxidant-rich foods like vegetables and fruit – especially flavonoid-rich berries;
  • eat more coldwater, deep-sea fish such as salmon for the EPA and DHA [docosahexanoic acid] benefits;
  • use olive oil, high in anti-inflammatory Omega-9 fats as a culinary oil;
  • and replace regular salt with herbs such as garlic, basil and oregano, which are all high in anti-inflammatory antioxidants.

A diet rich in complex carbohydrates and dietary fibre will also help to maintain normal body weight, which will lessen joint load.

Foods rich in manganese, selenium, zinc, vitamin E, vitamin C, niacinamide, betacarotene, bioflavonoids, pycnogenol, and sulphur are of great benefit for combating many of the problems experienced by those with arthritis.

Chlorella, wheatgrass, and numerous other “green” foods tend to be very beneficial too. And let’s not forget the importance and value of lots of good, uncontaminated water.

Supplements and other Muti

There are a great many medicinal herbal plants that have been used to treat disorders of the musculoskeletal system. For example, there are plants that inhibit prostaglandin formation; plants with hyperaemic and anti-inflammatory essential oils; plants with cortico-mimetic properties; plants that are immune stimulants; as well as plants that are sources of enzymes.

Botanicals that have historically been used in the treatment of arthritis for their anti-inflammatory properties are: pineapple [Ananas comosus] – high in bromelains; turmeric [Curcuma longa]; and ginger [Zingiber officinale]. Yucca [Yucca filamentosa] and Devils Claw [Harpagophytum procumbens] have also been studied for their anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving effects. In fact, one is almost spoiled for choice when it comes to Nature’s bounty! Saikosaponins, compounds found in the plant Chinese thoroughwax [Bupleuri falcatum], have also demonstrated significant anti-inflammatory action, besides being adreno-protective. Arnica [Arnica montana] is another well-known anti-inflammatory and counter-irritant herb, but it is best applied externally, as ingestion of the herb is no longer recommended. Ingestion of a homeopathic preparation of arnica is however safe. Aspen [Populus tremuloides] – bark and buds, is similar to willow bark, which also contains salicin. Salicin is converted in the liver to salicylic acid, the active compound known for its anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties. Winter cherry [Winthania somnifera], one of the best known Ayurvedic herbs, also has anti-inflammatory activity, which when combined with frankincense [Boswellia serrata] and Curcuma longa also demonstrate significant analgesic properties. One of the benefits of stinging nettle [Urtica dioica], another excellent antirheumatic and anti-inflammatory herb, is that the dose of NSAIDs can be reduced if urtica is taken concomitantly, due to the action of the phenolic compounds. Clinical studies using herbal extracts of Boswellia serrata and B.sacra have yielded good results, relative to inhibition of inflammatory mediators, prevention of decreased cartilage synthesis, and improved blood supply to joint tissues. No side-effects due to taking boswellic acids have been reported. The list could go on and on…………

Taking hormonal considerations into regard, there may be a therapeutic role for oestrogen blockade. There are several botanicals commonly used in OA treatment that contain compounds with phyto-oestrogen activity capable of binding to oestrogen receptors and acting as oestrogen antagonists. So although herbs like Licorice [Glycyrrhiza glabra] and Alfalfa [Medicago sativa] could be used, adding good food sources of phyto-oestrogens like soy, apples, fennel, celery, parsley, nuts and whole grains may be preferable for self-help. Let food be your medicine, as the maxim goes.

On of the best-known supplements for arthritis treatment is probably glucosamine sulphate, which appears to be at least as effective as the best calcium supplement. There have been numerous double-blind trials and open studies that have shown the therapeutic benefits of glucosamine sulphate in the treatment of OA. Glucosamine not only relieves the symptoms of OA, including pain, but actually helps to repair damaged joints by treating the cause of the problem via promotion of cartilage synthesis.

Chondroiton sulphate, and cartilage preparations, tend to be poorly absorbed, and seem to be much less effective than glucosamine sulphate, which may be due to differences in molecular size. This factor not only impacts on the passage through normal intact intestinal barrier, but also on delivery to cartilage cells [chondrocytes] and subsequent GAG [glycosaminoglycan] synthesis.

If NSAIDs cannot be avoided, the concomitant use of de-glycrrhizinated licorice [DGL] does help protect the gastro-intestinal tract from some of the damaging effects of these drugs.

Certain vitamins certainly appear to retard the erosion of cartilage. A very large study, the Framingham Osteoarthritis Cohort Study [FOS], conducted by Dr DT Felson from the Boston University School of Medicine, evidenced that a high intake of antioxidant nutrients, especially vitamin C, may reduce the risk of cartilage loss and inhibit progression of the disease in people who have OA. There are also several studies that demonstrate the synergistic benefits of vitamins C and E and their ability to inhibit the breakdown of cartilage and to stimulate the formation of new cartilage components.

To B – or not to B? Niacinamide, a derivative of vitamin B3, has been evaluated in a well-designed double-blind, placebo-controlled trial by Jonas et al. The conclusion of the study indicated that niacinamide may have a role in the treatment of osteoarthritis and that it improved the global impact of osteoarthritis, improved joint flexibility, reduced inflammation, and allowed for reduction in standard anti-inflammatory medications when compared to placebo. Since high-dose niacinamide can produce side effects like glucose intolerance and liver impairment, it is better taken under professional supervision so that liver enzymes can be regularly monitored. Clinical relief from OA symptoms has also been reported with the administration of low-dose Vitamin B5, pantothenic acid. Vitamin B6, along with other nutrients like vitamin A, boron, copper, zinc and others already mentioned, is required for the manufacture and maintenance of normal cartilage structures. Boron is of particular interest, since supplementation of this mineral has been shown, in double-blind and open studies, to provide relief in 90% of arthritic subjects – including those with juvenile arthritis, RA, and OA.

The jury is still out regarding the benefits of oral use of the antioxidant enzyme superoxide dismutase [SOD]. However, there are clinical studies that have shown that injecting SOD into joints has demonstrated significant therapeutic effects in the treatment of OA. Not quite something one wants to tackle at home though.

SAMe, S-adenosylmethionine, has been shown in some studies to be as effective against OA pain as the NSAIDs, ibuprofen and aspirin, with the added benefit of fewer side effects.


There are many homeopathic remedy options, such as:

Arnica: Useful for chronic arthritis with a feeling of bruising and soreness, especially if the painful parts feel worse from being moved or touched.

Aurum metallicum: For wandering pains in the muscles and joints that are better from motion and warmth, and worse at night.

Bryonia: For stiffness and inflammation with tearing or throbbing pain, made worse by motion, especially if discomfort is aggravated by being touched or bumped or from any movement. The condition may have developed gradually, and is worse in cold dry weather

Calcarea carbonica: Helpful for deeply aching arthritis involving node formation around the joints, especially if inflammation and pain is aggravated by cold and dampness, or if problems are focused on the knees and hands.

Calcarea fluorica: Helpful when arthritic pains improve with heat and motion. Joints become enlarged and hard, and nodes or deformities develop. Arthritis after chronic injury to joints also responds to Calc fluor.

Causticum: Useful when deformities develop in the joints, in a person with a tendency toward tendon problems, muscle weakness, and contractures, especially if stiffness and pain is aggravated by cold, and relieved by warmth. The hands and fingers may be most affected, although other joints can also be involved.

Dulcamara: Indicated if arthritis flares up during cold damp weather or if the person gets chilled and wet, or has a tendency toward back pain, chronic stiffness in the muscles, and allergies.

Kali bichromicum: For arthritic pains that alternate with asthma or stomach symptoms. Pains may suddenly come and go, or shift around. Discomfort and inflammation are aggravated by heat, and worse when the weather is warm.

Kali carbonicum: Arthritis with great stiffness and stitching pains, worse in the early morning hours and worse from cold and dampness. The joints may be becoming thickened or deformed.

Kalmia latiflora: Useful for intense arthritic pain that flares up suddenly. The problems start in higher joints and extend to lower ones. Pain and inflammation may begin in the elbows, spreading downward to the wrists and hands. Discomfort is worse from motion and often worse at night.

Ledum palustre: For arthritis that starts in lower joints and extends to higher ones. Pain and inflammation often begin in the toes and spreads upward to the ankles and knees. The joints may also make cracking sounds. Ledum is strongly indicated when swelling is significant and relieved by cold applications.

Pulsatilla: Applicable when rheumatoid arthritis pain is changeable in quality, or when the flare-ups move from place to place. The symptoms are worse from warmth, and better from fresh air and cold applications.

Rhododendron: Strongly indicated if swelling and soreness flare up before a storm, continuing until the weather clears. Cold and dampness aggravate the symptoms. Discomfort is often worse toward early morning, or after staying still too long.

Rhus toxicodendron: Useful for rheumatoid arthritis, with pain and stiffness that is worse in the morning and worse on first motion, but better from continued movement. The condition is worse in cold, wet weather. Hot baths or showers, and warm applications improve the stiffness and relieve the pain. The person may feel extremely restless, unable to find a comfortable position, and need to keep moving constantly. Continued motion also helps to relieve anxiety.

Ruta graveolens: For arthritis with a feeling of great stiffness and lameness, worse from cold and damp and worse from exertion. Tendons and capsules of the joints can be deeply affected or damaged. The arthritis may have developed after overuse, from repeated wear and tear.

Topically, preparations that include capsaicin, the pungent and irritating compound from cayenne pepper [Capsicum frutescens], and menthol-based preparations, are reputed to be of analgesic value for OA, since they function as counter irritants. Capsaicin, applied to the skin, stimulates and then blocks small-diameter nerve fibres that transmit the chemical messengers of pain by depleting them of the neurotransmitter, known as substance P, which is thought to be the principal chemical responsible for the transmission of pain impulses. Capsaicin stimulates the skin’s heat receptors, producing a sensation of temperature change, as opposed to an actual change in skin temperature. Menthol on the other hand combats pain via stimulation of the skin’s cold receptors i.e. producing a refrigerant effect or sensation of cooling. We all know how soothing a hot pack can be to chronic pain, and a cold pack on acute pain.

DMSO [dimethylsulfoxide] can also be applied to relieve pain, reduce swelling, and generally promote healing, but it may cause a garlicky body odour, which is not always appreciated by others!

Aromatherapy is a natural, safe and economical self-help option to deal with the pain and many other symptoms of arthritis. The right blend of essential oils can significantly help to alleviate pain and reduce inflammation, while simultaneously improving mood and reducing stress and anxiety. These magical molecules can be applied in the form of linaments, compresses, lotions or aromatic perfusions – to name but a few application options. Many oils with anti-inflammatory or rubefacient properties also have analgesic effects – so you get more “bang for your buck”, so to speak.

A wide range of essential oils have aromatherapeutic benefit for arthritis treatment, depending on their chemistry. For example, aldehydes and phenols of Thymus satureoïdes [Moroccan or sweet thyme] and the monoterpenals, citronellal, neral and geranial of Litsea citrata [exotic verbena], as well as the cuminal found in Cuminum cyminum [cumin] induce a local increase of skin temperature, which is responsible for their analgesic property – unlike the alcohol, menthol, which confers analgesic benefit via its refrigerant property. Monoterpenals [aldehydes] generally exhibit good local and general anti-inflammatory activity e.g. cuminal not only controls the inflammation and pain but also acts specifically on underlying inflammatory pathways mediated by prostaglandins. Monoterpenals also have a strong sedative action with soothing, calming, relaxing and anti-depressant properties. The sesquiterpene, chamazulene, of Achillea millefolium [yarrow] and Matricaria recutita [German chamomile], as well as the sesquiterpenol, alpha-bisabolol, of G.chamomile are potent anti-inflammatories and pain-relieving components. The monoterpene, para-cymene, found in Satureja montana [winter savory], Trachyspermum ammi [ajowan], Boswellia carterii [frankincense], Eucalyptus CT polybractea, and several thyme species such as Thymus vulgaris CT paracymene [Red Spanish Thyme/thyme zygis] is a powerful percutaneous analgesic that is particularly useful for osteo-articular and tendino-muscular pains. Thyme zygis also contains the phenol, thymol, which can be dermocaustic, so special care must be exercised when using this chemotype. Eucalypti that are high in the oxide, 1,8 cineole, such as E.globulus, radiata, smithii and polybractea, are also excellent anti-inflammatories and pain relievers.


Some of the most effective essential oils for the arthroses include:

Ajowan [Trachyspermum ammi], Balsam [Abies balsamea], Basil [exotic] [Ocimum basilicum], Bay laurel [Laurus nobilis], Bergamot mint [Mentha x piperita citrata], Chamomile, Roman [Anthemis nobilis], Chamomile, German [Matricaria recutita], Citronella [Cymbopogon winteranius], Cumin [Cuminum cyminum], Eucalyptus, all [Eucalyptus – various chemotypes], Fennel, sweet [Foeniculum vulgare ssp dulce], Fir, silver [Abies alba], Geranium, rose [Pelargonium asperum CV Egypt], Ginger [Zingiber officinale], Immortelle [Helichrysum italicum], Inula [Inula graveolens], Katrafay [Cedrelopsis grevei], Labdanum [Cistus ladaniferus], Labrador tea [Ledum groenlandicum], Lavandin super [Lavandula burnatii CT super], Lavender [Lavandula angustifolia], Lavender, spike [Lavandula latifolia cineolifera], Lemon verbena [Lippia citriodora], Marjoram, sweet [Origanum majorana], May chang/exotic verbena [Litsea citrata], Oregano [Origanum compactum], Peppermint [Mentha x piperita], Petitgrain [Citrus aurantium ssp aurantium], Pine, Scots [Pinus sylvestris], Rosemary, all [Rosmarinus officinalis], Spruce, black [Picea mariana], Tarragon [Artemisia dracunculus], Winter savory [Satureja montana, Thyme, all [Thymus vulgaris], Wintergreen [Gaultheria procumbens], Yarrow [Achillea millefolium]

A synergistic remedy for swollen, aching joints that is calming, soothing, analgesic and anti-inflammatory [5% in dilution]

  • 8 drops Blue mallee eucalyptus [Eucalyptus CT polybractea]
  • 10 drops Lavender, spike [Lavandula latifolia cineolifera]
  • 5 drops Lemon eucalyptus [Eucalyptus citriodora]
  • 3 drops Moroccan sweet thyme [Thymus satureoïdes]
  • 5 drops Rosemary [Rosmarinus officinalis CT cineole]
  • 6 drops Spruce, black [Picea mariana]
  • 2 drops Winter savory [Satureja montana]
  • 7 drops Wintergreen [Gaultheria procumbens]
  • 4 drops Yarrow [Achillea millefolium]

Add the essential oils to 50 ml neutral water-based gel, or 50 ml vegetable-based cream, or 50 ml oil [40ml Rosehip (Rosa rubiginosa) and 10 ml St John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum)]. Apply to affected areas several times daily.

Essential oils are however not restricted to topical use. These days there are some wonderful essential oil capsules and other such-like remedies on the market, for taking internally, which can offer great natural arthritis relief.

Compresses and/or poultices are also a useful method of treatment, as they help the body to absorb herbal compounds through the skin. If you don’t have any specific herbs or essential oils on hand, applying warm cabbage leaves [the poor man’s poultice] can reduce acute inflammation when wrapped around a joint and left overnight. Alternatively, a paste of raw cabbage can be placed in a cabbage leaf or piece of gauze and wrapped around the affected area to reduce discomfort. Comfrey leaf poultices are also an option.

Eliminate, minimise or avoid

Eliminate or reduce daily intake of as many “convenience” foods as possible, since they are usually high in sugars and/or calorie-dense carbohydrates, hydrogenated vegetable oils, and trans fats. And, where possible, avoid or minimise foods prepared with corn, soybean, safflower, and other vegetable oils that are high in pro-inflammatory Omega-6 fats.

Minimise potential food allergens like wheat, rye, barley and dairy products, as they can aggravate symptoms.

Excluding vegetables from the nightshade [Solanaceae] family was popularized by the horticulturist Norman Childers, who cured his own OA by eliminating these foods from his diet. His theory is that genetically susceptible individuals may develop arthritis, and other complaints, from long-term, low-level consumption of the alkaloids found in these plants. About 20% of people with RA react to food from the nightshade family, so if you suspect these may be a problem for you, experiment with excluding the following from your diet – tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants/brinjals, peppers and tobacco.

Alcohol and any substance that forms an acid ash in the body is also best eliminated or seriously minimised for optimal results.

Arthritis need not be a life sentence. Using some of the few self-help strategies mentioned above, or consulting a complementary healthcare practitioner for professional advice, should put a pain-free spring back in your step again. Above all, be gentle with yourself, get in a daily dose of laughter, and stay loose – even if it means shimmying around until you make the pets blush.


Baudoux D. L’Aromathérapie Amyris Bruxelles 1998

Brooks, PM et al. NSAID and Osteoarthritis – Help or Hindrance. Journal of Rheumatology 9 [1982]:3-5

Chaitow, Leon Stone Age Diet Macdonald Optima 1987, London

Childers, NF, Russo, GM. The Nightshades and Health. Horticultural Publications 1973.

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