Case Studies: Natural Rheumatoid Arthritis Remedies

| January/February 2002

  • Christopher Hobbs is a fourth-generation botanist, author, herbalist and licensed acupuncturist.

Henry told me up front that he was highly skeptical about alternative treatments for his arthritis symptoms. His doctor had sent him in for acupuncture because she’d heard positive reports from several of her patients, but she doubted that herbs had any benefit. At his first visit to the clinic, Henry asked me, “Which herbs actually work? Which ones have clinical studies proving their effectiveness?”

As any clinician who counsels arthritis patients knows, this is not an easy disease to treat. Symptoms are at times long-lasting, or they can come and go, sometimes completely clearing, at other times becoming very painful. One treatment doesn’t work for all patients, and many treatments require extended periods of faithful use to have a significant effect. It’s good to consult with a physician to gain more insight into the disease process to determine whether osteoarthritis (non-inflammatory type of joint disease involving the bones), rheumatoid arthritis (inflammatory type), or other associated diseases such as lupus are present. This knowledge can help guide the treatment program.

Henry’s case

Henry was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, which meant he had significant “pathogenic heat” or inflammation, especially in his hands. This was a major problem for him because he was both a writer and a musician. The arthritis was limiting his income, which was one reason he was willing to take a chance on complementary treatments.

In my experience, the chances of reducing painful symptoms are increased ten-fold by paying attention to an ancient understanding about the nature of arthritis from Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), which says that arthritis is actually several different diseases in one, often with completely different origins, courses, and treatments.

Upon examination, I noted that Henry’s tongue was bright red with a yellow coating. This meant he had significant “true” heat in his body that was not associated with adrenal fatigue or long-term depletion of his hormonal or nervous system. In fact, Henry did seem quite robust—even brawny. I remember thinking that I wanted to insert the acupuncture needles very carefully.

The go-to Western treatments for arthritis include nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin and acetaminophen, and especially for osteoarthritis, the newer cox-2 inhibitors such as Vioxx. Most of these medications are stressful to the liver, and Vioxx costs about $225 for fifty tablets (compared with less than $15 for most herbal extracts).

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