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Rheumatoid arthritis can cause chronic inflammation and pain in the joints. Many people use essential oils to relieve these symptoms, but do the oils really work?
Essential oils cannot cure this condition, but evidence suggests that they can relieve major symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and osteoarthritis, especially inflammation, swelling, stiffness, and pain.
Read on, to learn which oils most effectively reduce symptoms of RA, how to use them, and which carrier oils to choose. We also discuss the risks associated with using essential oils.
Essential oils are made from the liquid essence of plants. This essence is made up of the compounds that give a plant its taste and smell.
Using pressure or steam, the oils are usually extracted from the plant’s bark, leaves, or roots.
Few large-scale studies involving humans have determined the effects of aromatherapy on RA exclusively. However, essential oils and aromatherapy are considered safe to use for RA, alongside conventional treatments.
Below are seven of the best essential oils for RA symptoms, with scientific evidence that shows their effectiveness:
Several compounds in eucalyptus have been shown to reduce inflammation, swelling, and pain.
A 2013 study involved people who underwent total knee replacement surgery. Those who inhaled preparations of eucalyptus essential oil at 30-minute intervals for 3 days in a row noticed a reduction in pain, and they also had lower levels of blood pressure.
Most research recommends either inhaling eucalyptus oil directly or adding a few drops to a warm bath.
A person can purchase eucalyptus essential oil in health stores or online.
Practitioners of traditional medicine have used resin and essential oils of frankincense (Boswellia serrata Linn) for thousands of years to treat a wide variety of ailments, including chronic pain and inflammation.
According to the Arthritis Foundation, the acids in frankincense have anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties. Boswellic acids may also help to reduce autoimmune responses and prevent cartilage damage.
People with RA may wish to use frankincense capsules that contain at least 60 percent boswellic acid and take 300–400 milligrams (mg) daily.
A 2016 study tested the effects of a 5-percent mixture of lavender essential oil diluted in sweet almond oil on osteoarthritis of the knee.
Participants who massaged 5 milliliters (mL) of the mixture onto their swollen joints nine times over the course of 3 weeks reported reduced pain after the first week. However, more research is needed.
Lavender essential oil can be purchased in health stores and online.
4. Evening primrose oil
Evening primrose, black currant, and borage oils are all known to be rich in gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), a type of omega-6 fatty acid.
When GLA is consumed, the body converts it into a powerful anti-inflammatory. It can help to reduce RA symptoms, such as tenderness, joint pain, and stiffness.
Evening primrose oil also contains gamma-linolenic acid and beta-amyrin, which are also anti-inflammatory compounds.
The Arthritis Foundation recommends that people with RA take between 540 mg and 2.8 grams of evening primrose oil in divided doses daily for at least 6 months.
Borage oils should be taken with caution and in moderation to prevent liver damage. The plant contains potentially dangerous compounds called pyrrolizidine alkaloids.
Ginger has long been recommended for people with chronic inflammation and pain. It can be added to meals or taken in supplements.
Chemicals in ginger transform into a powerful group of anti-inflammatory compounds called gingerols once digested.
The essential oil of ginger may contain other compounds that ease symptoms of RA. A 2016 study found that female rats who were administered the essential oil had reduced rates of chronic joint inflammation.
6. Turmeric essential oil
The active ingredients in turmeric or curcumin may have anti-inflammatory properties. It has been shown to help improve circulation.
A 2010 study funded in part by the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, an American government agency, found that turmeric essential oils reduced joint inflammation in rats. Research is underway to determine the effects on people.
Basil contains a wide variety of potentially therapeutic compounds.
The essential oil contains 1.8-cineole, which has anti-inflammatory effects. It also contains linalool, a compound that has been shown to reduce swelling in mice and rats.
A 2013 study found that rats with induced arthritis had reduced joint swelling after being administered 150–300 mg/kilogram of basil essential oil extract daily.
They also had less edema and a lower risk of cartilage damage. Edema refers to a buildup of fluid and is associated with inflammation.
Different essential oils can be mixed to produce enhanced or more varied effects.
A 2016 study found that people with RA who received 30 minutes of aromatherapy massage to their arthritic knees on a regular basis experienced diminished short-term pain after 2 weeks. They also reported a reduction in fatigue after the fourth week.
The mixture used in the massage included lavender, juniper, ylang-ylang, and rosemary essential oils in a ratio of 3:3:2:2. The essential oils were diluted evenly into 100 mL of coconut oil.
Essential oils are usually inhaled or massaged into the skin.
A person can:
- Place a few drops into hot water and inhale the steam.
- Use a diffuser, which dilutes essential oils in hot water and releases a scented mist.
- Mix the oils into bath salts or add them directly to a warm bath.
- Dilute them in carrier oils and massage the mixture into sore, stiff, or painful joints.
- Add a few drops to bandages or wound coverings.
Essential oils must be mixed with carrier oils before being applied to the skin. Some carrier oils include:
- coconut oil
- olive oil
- amla oil
- jojoba oil
- grape-seed oil
- almond oil
- argan oil
Speak with a doctor before using essential oils to reduce symptoms of RA. While these oils have been used medicinally for thousands of years, some can be dangerous when misused. They can also have dangerous interactions with RA medications.
A person should never replace prescribed medication for RA with complementary therapies. The disease-modifying antirheumatic medications used to treat RA have been shown to reduce inflammation in the fluid that lines the joints.
Without proper treatment, RA can lead to serious, permanent complications, such as bone and cartilage damage.
A majority of the essentials oils used to treat chronic inflammation and pain are not known to cause adverse reactions. However, potential risks include:
- headaches, rashes, or gastrointestinal problems
- sun sensitivity when essential oils, particularly those derived from citrus fruits, are used on the skin
- enhanced activity of the female sex hormone and decreased activity of the male, with lavender and tea tree oils
Essential oils have not been shown to slow the progression of RA. But early research suggests that compounds in certain oils may reduce major symptoms, such as pain, stiffness, inflammation, and anxiety.
Though most essential oils are safe, speak with a doctor before trying them and do not stop using regular RA medications.
If you want to buy any of the essential oils listed in this article, then they are available in stores and online.