Herbal anti-rheumatics Supplements
Several herbs available as oral supplements have anti-rheumatic properties and may be useful as adjunctive treatments (this means secondary treatments used in conjunction with a primary treatment) for RA. It is important to note that herbal supplements are not a replacement for proven disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs), including both conventional DMARDs and newer biologics, which have been shown to slow or prevent the progression of joint damage in RA.
As with all supplements, whether vitamins, minerals, herbal or chemical products, consult with your doctor before you start taking an herbal supplement. There may be health risks associated with use of any supplement, including interactions with medications that you are taking and negative effects associated with health conditions you may have. Your doctor is also in the best position to determine the proper and safe dosage for any supplement.
Thundergod vine (Tripteryglum wiifordii) has been used in Chinese medicine for over 2,000 years, principally as a cancer treatment and as a male contraceptive. It has immunosuppressive and anti-inflammatory properties that are thought to stem from inhibition of the production of prostaglandin E2, which plays a role in regulating the immune response and inflammatory cell functions. It also is thought to have a protective effect on cartilage.1
Thundergod vine has been evaluated as a treatment for RA in a number of studies. In the majority of these studies, extracts of thundergod vine resulted in improvements in the signs and symptoms of RA. However, the treatment was associated with a number of side effects, including rashes, diarrhea, hypertension, and menstrual irregularities. A recent systematic review of study results found that despite the therapeutic benefits associated with thundergod vine, because of its potential for serious side effects, it could not be recommended as a treatment for RA.1
Thundergod vine should be used with caution in persons with cardiovascular conditions, including hypertension and arrhythmias. It should also be used with caution in patients with decreased liver or kidney function. Because thundergod vine has immunomodulatory properties, it should be used with caution in immunocompromised patients as well as those with autoimmune diseases. Thundergod vine should not be used by women who are pregnant.1
Meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria) is a plant native to Europe, although it has been introduced successfully to North America. Traditional medicinal uses include treatment of common cold, inflammation, and gastrointestinal complaints. The two components of meadowsweet that account for its medicinal activity are salicylates (a metabolite of acetylsalicylic acid or aspirin) and a botanical form of heparin.2
According to some sources, meadowsweet and not willow bark was the original source from which synthetic acetylsalicylic acid (aspirin) was derived in the late 1800s. Meadowsweet has been shown to inhibit the enzyme elastase, which breaks down elastin, that, together with collagen, contributes to the mechanical properties of connective tissues in the body. There have been no studies evaluating the effects of meadowsweet in patients with arthritis, osteoarthritis or RA. Its use in rheumatic disorders is based on tradition.2
Meadowsweet should be avoided by patients who are allergic to aspirin. It should also be avoided in patients with bleeding disorders, diabetes, or decreased kidney or liver function. Meadowsweet should be used with caution in patients with asthma, because an underlying aspirin allergy may exacerbate asthma. It should not be used by women who are pregnant or nursing.2
The wild celery plant is found in Europe, the Mediterranean, and Asia. It was cultivated by the ancient Greeks and Egyptians, probably for medicinal purposes. The leaves, stalks, roots, and seeds are edible and used to make an extract that has anti-fungal, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant properties. Although traditional uses include the treatment of inflammatory joint disease (RA and osteoarthritis), there is little scientific evidence to support its effectiveness in patients with these conditions.3
Celery extract may cause low blood pressure and should be used with caution with other treatments or supplements that lower blood pressure. It may also increase the risk of bleeding and should be used with caution in patients with bleeding disorders or those who are taking drugs that can increase the risk of bleeding (including non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen and naproxen, as well as anti-platelet drugs such as clopidogrel [Plavix], aspirin, and anticoagulants [warfarin]). Medicinal amounts of celery should not be used by women who are pregnant or nursing. Celery can interfere with how the body processes certain drugs that are metabolized by the liver. Make sure you talk to your doctor about possible drug interactions with celery extract before you start taking the supplement.3