Rheumatoid Arthritis – traditional medicine

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Traditional therapies such as acupuncture and homeopathy do have some evidence based studies that show they may help reduce arthritis symptoms in patients.  Some traditional remedies for rheumatoid arthritis are  rather more unusual and even though they have been used for hundreds of years, studies on their efficacy remain scarce.  However, Patient QI did find some interesting studies on cobra venom and apitherapy.

apitherapy for rheumatoid arthritis

apitherapy for rheumatoid arthritis

Wax Bath Therapy

There have been several clinical studies into the effectiveness of wax bath therapy, which involves the use of molten paraffin wax. This substance is thought to be one of the best ways of applying heat  to improve the flexibility of joints – especially in the hands – by warming the connective tissues. It should not be used on hands that are cracked or have open sores or inflammatory skin conditions.

In a study, 52 patients with RA were split into four groups which had sessions of hand exercise and wax bath; exercise only; wax bath only; and control. Treatments were given three times a week for four weeks and the patients were tested for grip function, pain, strength and stiffness.  Wax bath followed by exercise gave the greatest improvement, followed by exercise alone. Wax bath alone demonstrated no significant improvement in symptoms.


One of the main treatments for RA is methotrexate but it produces major side effects on the liver which is damaged by the drug’s toxicity. For this reason arthritis patients frequently seek alternative medicines such as bee venom. A 2013 study looked at the interaction between methotrexate and bee venom and discovered that in rats treated with both substances at the same time the damage to the liver was significantly reduced  while there was improved arthritic parameters and pain relief compared to just methotrexate alone .


Results of several trials on homeopathic remedies have shown inconsistent results, however one study conducted in 2014 on an animal model (negating the 'placebo' effect), using the homeopathic preparation Guaiacum officinale (Gua), found that the Guaiacum extract did increase anti-rheumatic and anti-oxidant activity. Further research was proposed.


This is another area where trial results are mixed and trial reviews have a tendency to criticise researchers for lax controls. A 2008 review of eight studies with a total of 536 RA patients found that although there was some encouragement for acupuncture among the active-controlled trials they monitored, there was conflicting evidence in the placebo-controlled trials. This led to a call for more rigorously controlled random control trials. However, a more recent, 2011, study published in the Chinese Journal of Integrative Medicine detailed a trial where 63 RA patients were divided into two groups, one of which had electro-acupuncture while the other had traditional acupuncture. Results showed that both types of treatment lowered tumour necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha) but that electro-acupuncture was more effective at lowering vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) than traditional acupuncture.

Cobra venom

There is growing evidence that Cobra, or Naja Naja atra venom (NNAV), is effective at soothing the symptoms of RA. However, the cobra is a rare animal and as yet a chemical substitute for its venom has not been perfected. A study on its antinociceptive and anti-inflammatory effects on rats with RA found that NNAV taken orally produced both effects and definitely warranted further research.



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