Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic, autoimmune inflammatory disorder that results in persistent inflammation of joints in the body. It affects the synovium, the thin tissue that lines and covers synovial joints.
Of an unknown etiology, rheumatoid arthritis causes the immune system to attack the synovium. As a result of the immune system’s attack, white blood cells travel to the protective thin tissue and cause cell chemical signals, known as cytokines, to initiate the painful inflammatory response that is characteristic of rheumatoid arthritis.
While the onset of rheumatoid arthritis most often begins in individuals after the age of 40, and historically affects women more often than men, Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis (JIA) can also occur in teenagers and young adults.
Common symptoms of RA include pain, swelling, morning stiffness, and limited movement of the affected joints. The severity of pain and longevity of symptoms can vary, as RA is a chronic condition, which means there is no true “cure” and symptoms come and go frequently, however most individuals suffer a progression of disease over time. Symptoms of RA are most often experienced at joint extremities such as the fingers and toes, but can affect larger joints such as the wrists, elbows, knees, ankles and hips. 1
While conventional treatments for rheumatoid arthritis involve Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), COX-2 inhibitors, steroids, and Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs), patients often seek alternative options because of the potential side effect profile of these medications. 2
One natural way to help combat symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis is by using rosemary oil. The rosmarinic acid in rosemary is a phytochemical that exists in a variety of herbs. In fact, a 2003 study published in “Journal of Rheumatology” reported that rosmarinic acid subdued the progression of arthritis in laboratory mice. In addition, rosemary oil applied to the skin has already been approved as an arthritis treatment in Germany. 3
Rosemary oil’s health benefits come from the fact that it is antinociceptive 4 —pain inhibiting—and analgesic in nature. For arthritic pain in the joints caused by rheumatoid arthritis, add 6 – 8 drops of rosemary oil to a carrier oil that is powerful and anti-inflammatory, like olive oil (30 ml). 5 Carrier oils such as organic unrefined almond, sunflower, or sesame oil will also work well. Apply liberally to painful areas, cover with a cloth to prevent from rubbing off, and allow the oil to soak into the skin. Massage the affected area gently to promote blood flow.
In addition to topical applications of rosemary oil, the tree resin boswellia (Boswellia serrata), otherwise known as Indian Frankincense, can be helpful for treating chronic inflammatory illnesses like rheumatoid arthritis. Used for centuries in Asian and African folk medicine, boswellia may be an effective painkiller and can prevent the loss of cartilage. 6 It has been traditionally used to treat all forms of arthritis in Ayurvedic medicine and most recently was shown to be effective in reducing pain, stiffness and physical function in an Osteoarthritis (OA) trial of 358 patients 7 with similar benefits for RA patients in a previous trial. 8
According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, boswellia can be used as a supplement for rheumatoid arthritis treatment in doses of 400 mg-800 mg in capsule form three times daily. 9 While taking boswellia, be mindful that one potential side effect may include an upset stomach. 10
So, individuals suffering from rheumatoid arthritis who are seeking natural healing treatments may wish to try rosemary oil and boswellia extract. Used in combination, these two natural therapies can have immense benefits for treating symptoms of pain, swelling, morning stiffness, and limited movement of the affected joints.
As always, consult a physician before trying any herbal remedies and be mindful to take care and implement positive lifestyle changes such as eating healthy, getting plenty of rest, and exercising. 11
Written by Nicole Kagan