Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a currently incurable disease which is found worldwide. Traditional Chinese medicines (TCM) have been used in the past for treatment of the symptoms of RA with some success. Many of these medicines have been used for thousands of years and are traditionally developed from extracts of herbs and natural products. With RA being so prevalent in society, therapeutic medications that are effective in treating this ailment are worth studying further.
Traditional Chinese medicines for RA have been broken down into their components and identifies and purified but there has been minimal review work done surrounding these medications. This review seeks to organize the current information on the pharmacology, ethnopharmacology and phytochemistry of the TCM used to treat RA. The aim is to provide possible avenues for further research and study in the future.
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Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease which is currently incurable, which is a chronic, systemic inflammatory disorder which mostly affects the flexible joints of the body. This is a very painful and disabling disease which can lead to a loss of mobility and function of various joints and reduced quality of life for sufferers.
RA can occur at any age and is in the top 5 most common diseases in developed countries such as America. While the mortality rate may not be as high as some of the others listed in the top 5, there is some mortality associated with inflammatory conditions such as this, including interstitial lung disease and vasculitis. The causes of RA are as yet undefined although risk factors seem to include genetics, environmental factors and links to other diseases in the body.
Alternative medicines have always been, and likely always will be popular. People are attracted to the idea of treatment based on nature rather than laboratory produced medicines that are often associated with side-effects. Chinese medicines used to treat symptoms of Arthritis center around blood circulation, inflammation, immunosuppression and other factors.
A breakdown of the components used in the TCM formulas may bring more insight in to how these medicines may be useful in treating RA. TCM inhibits osteoclast proliferation, suppresses the growth of fibroblast-like synoviocytes, blocks signal pathways and decreases the expression of inflammatory cytokines. There also appears to be less side effects from using these more natural medications.
Some of the herbs used in these medications include various plant extracts, for example;
These remedies were tested on 36 patients suffering from RA and showed some improvement on pain, stiffness, mobility and gripping strength. Platelet count, rheumatoid factor and C-reactive proteins were improved over those using prescription medication.
Naturally produced Chinese traditional medicines may potentially be absorbed faster and metabolized better by the body as well as producing effective symptom relief with less side effects. Unfortunately, study in this area is still lacking and a lot more research is required to prove the effects of TCM on RA in humans. Should TCM be shown to be effective in clinical studies, this may provide a cheaper and more sustainable alternative to treating people suffering from Rheumatoid arthritis.