Essential Oils for RA

The joint pain, swelling, and stiffness that come with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) can be so tough that you might be willing to do anything to stop it. Thankfully, there’s a long list of conventional and non-conventional treatments that can ease that pain.

Plant-based “essential oils” can play a part in your treatment. They’ve been used for centuries to lessen joint pain. But the safety and effectiveness of EOs, as they’re sometimes known, have been a topic of debate for years.

Still, some people with RA swear by EOs as part of their treatment regimen, and many doctors give the go-ahead to try them. It’s a good idea to make an appointment with your doctor or rheumatologist to talk it over.

What Are Essential Oils?

They’re derived from herbs, flowers, fruits, and other plants. These oils generally have a pleasing fragrance and are used in a complementary treatment known as aromatherapy (also called essential oil therapy). You usually inhale them or rub them on your skin. Sometimes, you add them to foods like peppermint tea.

EOs can come from many different plants, including:

Do They Really Work?

Aromatherapy is a complementary treatment, meaning it’s meant to be used along with, not instead of, your prescribed treatment. Tell your doctor if you’re using EOs or if you’d like to use them. There are risks: Some oils, in different forms and doses, can cause things like:

It may also interfere with medicine you’re taking.

Don’t stop your conventional therapy in favor of essential oils. That could lead to permanent joint damage.

Still, EOs seem to work for many people. Holy basil (tulsi) is said to work as an anti-arthritic. Studies have been done on many oils -- including, notably, turmeric, lavender, and ginger -- to gauge how well they ease inflammation and the pain of arthritis. But many believe more research is needed.

So What’s the Bottom Line?

How well many of these treatments work is still up for debate. The fact that so many people are using them or looking for another treatment for their RA is pushing researchers to keep studying.

So far, the research is promising. It’s also continuing. But it’s not widely accepted science yet. Before you start using essential oils, talk with your doctor.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on January 17, 2019

Sources

SOURCES:

American College of Rheumatology: “Rheumatoid Arthritis.”

Rheumatoid Arthritis Support Network: “RA Essential Oils: What Essential Oils are Anti-inflammatory?”

National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health” “Rheumatoid Arthritis: In Depth.”

National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy: “What is Aromatherapy?”

National Cancer Institute: “Aromatherapy With Essential Oils (PDQ®)–Patient Version.”

Funk, J. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, Jan. 27, 2010.

Arthritis Foundation: “11 Drug-free Ways to Feel Better,” “Evening Primrose,” “9 Supplements for Arthritis,” “Flaxseed,” “Borage Oil,” “Essential Oils: What You Should Know.”

Cohen, M. Journal of Ayurveda and Integrative Medicine, Oct.-Dec. 2014.

National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health: “Complementary, Alternative, or Integrative Health: What’s In a Name?”

Mayo Clinic: “Rheumatoid arthritis.”

Lakhan, S. Pain Research and Treatment, Dec. 14, 2016.

Nasiri, A. Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice, November, 2016.

Funk, J. PharmaNutrition, July 2016.

Efthimiou, P. HSS Journal, the Musculoskeletal Journal of Hospital for Special Surgery, February 2010.

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