Green Tea, Turmeric, Flaxseed, and Gamma-Linolenic Acid (GLA)
Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: May 2023 | Last updated: July 2023
A wide range of natural remedies has been shown to provide benefits for people with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Some of the more well-documented natural herbal remedies include green tea, turmeric, flaxseed oil, and gamma-linolenic acid (GLA).1
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 been naturally oxidized by enzymes.1
One of the components in green tea is ECGC (epigallocatechin-3-gallate). ECGC has powerful anti-inflammatory effects. Researchers have found ECGC may be beneficial for people with RA because it targets TAK1, an important signaling protein involved in the inflammatory process. In people with autoimmune diseases like RA, the inflammatory process is overactive, and the chronic inflammation in the joints can cause damage to the tissues and may result in disability. While the research on ECGC is still in early stages, the results are promising.2
Turmeric (Curcuma longa), a rhizome in the same family as ginger, has anti-inflammatory properties and may be a 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.3
Curcumin, a compound found in turmeric, has been studied in several clinical trials, and data suggests it may be beneficial in reducing pain and inflammation in people with RA.4
Turmeric is the main component in curry. Try adding turmeric to tea, smoothies, warm milk to create a golden beverage. Turmeric is also tasty with sweet potatoes, soups, rice and nuts sides, roasted vegetables, or chicken dishes.
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 than you would fish oil.
Flaxseed has many health benefits, including anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Research indicates that flaxseed may provide a benefit to those with RA, easing symptoms like pain and inflammation.5
Flaxseed is available in capsule form, as oil, or as 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 flax meal (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, or homemade 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.
Gamma-linolenic acid (GLA)
One type of omega-6 fatty acid, gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), is actually anti-inflammatory and can help reduce joint pain and swelling in RA patients.6 GLA can be found in borage seed oil, evening primrose oil, and blackcurrant seed oil.
Studies on borage seed oil for RA found that patients given borage seed oil supplements had significant improvement in joint pain and swelling compared to patients who received a placebo.7
Evening primrose oil was studied in patients with RA in a small study and demonstrated mild improvement in RA symptoms.8
In a study on blackcurrant seed oil, treatment with blackcurrant seed oil reduced disease activity in patients with RA, compared to placebo, but overall clinical responses were the same for each group.9
Check with your doctor before starting any supplements or herbals because they may interact with other medications.