Green Tea, Ginger, Flaxseed, Vitamin E and Gammalinolenic Acid (GLA)

A wide range of natural remedies has been shown to provide benefits for people with RA. Some of the more important and well-documented natural herbal remedies include green tea, ginger, flaxseed oil, vitamin E and gammalinolenic acid (GLA)1

Green tea

While the three main varieties of tea – green, black, and oolong – are derived from the same evergreen plant, Camellia sinensis, they are processed differently. Green tea is made by steaming fresh-cut, unfermented leaves of the plant, before they have naturally oxidized by enzymes. This produces high levels of potent antioxidants called polyphenols (including catechins, anthocyanins, and phenolic acids). Drinking green tea with citrus juice, such as a squeeze of lemon, can boost the antioxidant effect of green tea even higher.

The catechins in green tea have been shown to counteract enzymes that cause the destruction of cartilage in arthritis, and help dampen the inflammatory response by decreasing production of key immune system chemicals, including tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-α) in animal studies. Green tea may also help strengthen bone.2

Although green tea has several potential benefits for individuals with RA based on its chemical properties, there have been no systematic clinical trials in RA to date. Therefore, no firm conclusions can be drawn regarding potential benefits.2 Try brewing up a pot of green tea in the morning –let it cool and add some fresh lemon, place it in the refrigerator and then enjoy it as ice tea throughout the day. Adding tea before and during a meal may also help with fullness and decreases over eating.

Ginger and Turmeric

Ginger (Zingiber officinale) preparations made from the roots and stems of the plant have played an important role in Eastern (e.g. Chinese, Indian, and Japanese) medicine for many centuries. Ginger has potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. It blocks different biochemical pathways involved in chronic inflammation by inhibiting the genes involved in producing inflammatory response chemicals, including cytokines and chemokines.3

While human studies on ginger are sparse, lab and animal studies suggest that ginger may be beneficial in reducing RA symptoms. In cell cultures, ginger was just as effective in reducing inflammation as the topical steroid betamethasone. It has also been shown to decrease the inflammation marker IL-1β in human blood samples. Ginger is easy to add to your diet, try grating fresh ginger into salads, tofu, stir-fry dishes or adding ground or fresh ginger to green smoothies.

Turmeric (Curcuma longa), a rhizome in the same family as ginger, may be an even more powerful anti-arthritic! A study comparing the effects of turmeric, ginger, and an NSAID on rats with induced arthritis found that turmeric was the most effective at reducing symptoms. Turmeric is the main component in curry. Try adding turmeric to tea, smoothies, warm milk to create a golden beverage or in applesauce. Turmeric is also tasty with sweet potatoes, soups, rice and nuts sides, roasted vegetables, or chicken dishes.

Flaxseed oil

Flaxseed contains alpha linolenic acid (ALA), which the body can use to manufacture the omega-3 fatty acids docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). The conversion of ALA to EPA and DHA is not very efficient though, so you need to consume more flaxseed oil (linseed oil) than you would fish oil.

Studies on the health effects of flaxseed oil have been inconclusive. One study showed that flaxseed can help reduce inflammatory markers, but not as effectively as fish oil supplements.

Flaxseed is available in capsule form, as oil, or as a flour, meal, or seed. The oil should not be heated to frying temperature because it will breakdown, and the seeds should always be ground before consumption to ensure proper digestion. If you buy flax seed oil, keep it in the refrigerator and date it with a permanent marker. For maximum freshness, use within 3 months or sooner if the expiration date dictates. For flaxseeds, either grind at home or buy flaxmeal (ground flax seeds), and store them in the freezer or refrigerator. Eat a few tablespoons several times a week. Flaxmeal is tasty mixed in with fruit and yogurt, home made granola bars, added to smoothies, cereal, oatmeal or breaded chicken dishes. Flax meal is also delicious when mixed in with nut butters and added to crunchy rice cakes with jam.

Vitamin E

Sunflower seeds, almonds, hazelnuts and peanut butter are good sources of the antioxidant vitamin E, which may help decrease RA joint pain. Spinach, broccoli and kiwifruit can also boost vitamin E content in the diet.

Gammalinolenic Acid

One type of omega-6 fatty acid, gammalinolenic acid (GLA), is actually anti-inflammatory and can help reduce joint pain and swelling in RA patients. In one study, 1.4g of borage seed oil per day was shown to be effective. However, given that most American’s diet are high in omega-6 fatty acids, if you are going to boost GLA in your diet, make sure you first boost omega 3 diet sources.

Written by: Jonathan Simmons | Last reviewed: September 2013.
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