Winston Lee L. Ac, Ph.D., KMD
“Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) is a chronic inflammatory disease of unknown etiology. It is the most common form of chronic inflammatory arthritis and often results in joint damage and physical disability. Because it is a systemic disease, RA may result in various extra-articular manifestations, including fatigue, subcutaneous nodules, lung involvement, pericarditis, peripheral neuropathy, vasculitis, and hematologic abnormalities.” -Harrison’s Internal Medicine 19th edition
I treated this RA patient in Korea. As I was appointed RA specialist in the hospital, I had a few opportunities to see these patients, and I got to have the confidence that acupuncture and herbs are very effective methods to treat RA.
First and foremost, I’d like to emphasize that even western medicine has not figured out the exact pathology of RA yet. There is no medicine to eliminate the RA, but they can decrease the symptom or slow down the progress. They are assuming that the reason for it would be auto-immunity, but not clear. Therefore RA doctors usually prescribe NSAIDs or DMARDs (disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs). The most common side effects of these medicines are gastric ulcer, gastric bleeding, and general indigestion. So MDs cannot prescribe these medicines for a long time due to the side effects is not ignorable but serious. Also, they consider giving corticosteroid medicine and injection if NSAIDs and DMARDs are not working enough. As you know, corticosteroid medicine and injection have plenty of serious side effects such as hypertension, diabetes, and weight gaining.
As an eastern medicine doctor, the goal of my treatment for RA is to minimize the administration of Western immunosuppressants and steroid drugs with strong liver and kidney toxicity and do not worsen symptoms. Compared to other spinal disc diseases, the expectation looks quite limited, but due to the nature of RA, the limitations must be fully understood, and full consent must be obtained from the patient.
From this point of view, acupuncture is the perfect treatment method for RA patients, which can replace NSAIDs anti-inflammatory medicine. Acupuncture is working to the pain and swelling without gastrointestinal disease at a low cost. Also, there is no aftermath even when the acupuncture is done for a long period.
Also, the western prescription should be combined with herbal medicine unless symptoms are mild and Western medicine has not been taken from the beginning. RA is fundamentally a loss of the basic immune system, so if the symptoms improve with herbal medicine to suppress inflammation, it must be prescribed sufficient herbal medicine for at least one month to reduce the recurrence as much as possible. There is evidence that herbal medicine containing gamma-linoleic acid (GLA) helps reduce joint pain, swelling, and stiffness in RA patients. GLA is known to be contained a lot in White evening primroses. This is a type of omega 3 fatty acid. It is also contained in a sufficient amount in Dang Gui, Chuan Xiong, and Shu Di Huang, which have a blood-tonifying effect among herbal medicines. The formula consisting of these herbs is commonly used to treat various types of arthritis in a clinic. The mechanism of reducing the symptoms of RA patients can be estimated from this fact.
Only physicians must be aware of the below. If the RA has been aggravated over the years and the patient has been taking steroid medicine for a long time and a steroid shot multiple times. It’s better to explain that it is not likely to be improved by herbal medicine, and the patient should continue to receive western medicine treatment.