If one or more of your joints are inflamed, in pain, and stiff, you're likely suffering from some form of arthritis. According to the Arthritis Foundation, over 54 million Americans have arthritis. The most common types of arthritis are osteoarthritis, caused by wear-and-tear of joint cartilage, and rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disease that gradually destroys the cartilage and bone in a joint. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 24 million adults are unable to freely go about their daily activities due to arthritis and 1 in 4 suffer from extreme joint pain. Conventional methods used to treat arthritis can cause side effects and dependency when used over the long term. Fortunately, there are natural arthritis treatments that can help alleviate arthritis symptoms and improve quality of life.
When it comes to choosing natural paths to arthritis relief, the best and only place to start is by understanding what little medical research does exist. Herbal supplements occasionally can cause harm, particularly when used in ways not directed. Less always is better to begin, and nobody should start a natural supplement plan without first talking to their doctor.
That being said, here are 15 natural remedies for arthritis that have already passed scientific muster to some degree or another.
1. Fish Oil/Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Fish oil and omega-3 fatty acids have become popular natural arthritis treatments for painful joints. They work by blocking chemicals called cytokines and prostaglandins that cause inflammation. Instead, the body converts them into inflammation fighters.
A 2010 meta-analysis—the granddaddy of medical research papers because it reviews all the previous papers on a topic—declared “when collateral benefits of fish oil are included within efficacy, the argument for its adjunctive use in (rheumatoid arthritis) is strong.”
The researchers lambast the pharmaceutical industry for attempting to silence the benefits of fish oil.
“Despite evidence for efficacy and plausible biological mechanisms, the limited clinical use of fish oil indicates there are barriers to its use,” they conclude. “These probably include the pharmaceutical dominance of RA (rheumatoid arthritis) therapies and the perception that fish oil has relatively modest effects.”
2. Cat’s Claw
It sounds like it could sting, but cat’s claw (Uncaria tomentosa) has been proven effective for treating osteoarthritis.
That’s the conclusion of a small, year-long clinical trial of 40 people with rheumatoid arthritis. Patients who received a highly purified extract of the plant experienced a more than 50% reduction in joint pain and swelling. The study was published in the esteemed journal Rheumatology.
3 & 4. Glucosamine and Chondroitin
These two supplements often are used in tandem to treat arthritic joints. They are compounds that may help reduce inflammation and therefore provide joint pain relief.
Scientific studies have yielded mixed results on the efficacy of these compounds. Some studies say the compounds are no more effective than placebo; others say they do help. Even the medical establishment cannot agree on whether glucosamine and chondroitin are effective at bringing about arthritis relief.
A January 2018 study looked at various ways of treating osteoarthritis of the knee and hip economically, specifically comparing the efficacies of oral glucosamine, chondroitin, the combination of glucosamine and chondroitin, acetaminophen (Tylenol) and celecoxib (a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug, NSAID). Results showed that celecoxib was the most effective at alleviating pain and improving physical function such as range of motion, followed by the combo of glucosamine and chondroitin. Acetaminophen was the least effective.
The study, a meta-analysis which analyzed 61 previous studies, appeared in Clinical Experience Rheumatology.
Clinical trials are very expensive, and traditionally there has not been a lot of support for government research dollars that examine non-pharmaceutical solutions. That’s changing, however, with the onset of the opioid crisis. Glucosamine and chondroitin may be particularly attractive home remedies due to the side effects of long-term NSAID use, such as kidney, gastrointestinal, heart, and liver problems.
5-11. Collagen Hydrolysate, Passion Fruit Peel Extract, Curcuma Long Extract, Boswellia Serrata Extract, Curcumin, Pycnogenol, and L-Carnitine
Why lump these all together? Because they all come from the same study, a meta-analysis and systematic review in the journal British Sports Medicine that analyzed the effectiveness of 20 supplements on hand, hip, or knee osteoarthritis. The authors of the paper determined, after sifting through 69 clinical trials, that 7 natural arthritis treatments result in significant “clinical pain reduction.”
- Collagen hydrolysate
- Passion fruit peel extract
- Curcuma long extract
- Boswellia serrata extract
12. Daily Sesame Oil
This one comes from research on rats, but often that’s the only research we have for new ideas in natural pain relief.
In a study published in the journal of Nutritional Biochemistry, scientists determined that a daily sesame oil supplement reduced joint pain by suppressing the oxidation of nuclear factor erythroid-2-related factor (Nrf2) expression. Nrf2 controls the expression of antioxidants that protect against the oxidative damage caused by injury and inflammation. By inhibiting the oxidation of Nrf2, sesame oil shows potential as a natural treatment for arthritis.
13, 14 and 15: Amino acids Cysteine, Methionine, and Arginine
Cysteine, methionine, and arginine are amino acids that have shown particular promise as natural arthritis treatments. Research on laboratory animals suggests these amino acids are effective at managing arthritis symptoms and joint pain.
Cysteine, an antioxidant with remarkable anti-inflammatory properties, works by attenuating inflammation and preserving bone cells. In a 2017 study published in the Korean Journal of Internal Medicine, cysteine proved effective in reducing inflammation and bone deterioration in rats induced with simulated rheumatoid arthritis symptoms.
Methionine is also believed to boost skeletal development and keep it healthy. In a 2016 study published in the journal Mediators of Inflammation, rodents induced with rheumatoid arthritis symptoms but given methionine gained muscle and experienced fewer severe arthritis symptoms than a control group.
The amino acid arginine is important to bone and joint health because it plays a role in collagen production. Collagen is a protein that provides structure to connective tissues and bone. And research has linked arginine deficiency to osteoporosis, a bone disease that causes bone loss and reduced bone density. One study demonstrated that when arginine was combined with the essential amino acid lysine, it stimulated the growth of osteoblasts that help form bone. Yet another study showed arginine relieves arthritis symptoms in rats.
Human studies also show that amino acids call help ease arthritis pain by reducing inflammation. Learn more about amino acids and arthritis relief from a world-renowned amino acid expert in this article.