Evidence of effectiveness of herbal medicinal products in the treatment of arthritis. Part I: Osteoarthritis

Phytother Res. 2009 Nov;23(11):1497-515. doi: 10.1002/ptr.3007.


Herbal medicinal products (HMPs) are used in a variety of oral and topical forms for the treatment of osteoarthritis. The aim of this study was to update a previous systematic review published in 2000. We searched electronic databases (MEDLINE, EMBASE, CISCOM, AMED, CINAHL, Cochrane registers) to June 2007, unrestricted by date or language, and included randomized controlled trials that compared HMPs with inert (placebo) or active controls in patients with osteoarthritis. Five reviewers contributed to data extraction. Disagreements were discussed and resolved by consensus with reference to Cochrane guidelines and advice from the Cochrane Collaboration.Thirty-five studies (30 studies identified for this review update, and 5 studies included in the original review) evaluating the effectiveness of 22 HMPs were included. However, due to differing HMPs, interventions, comparators, and outcome measures, meta-analysis was restricted to data from studies of three HMPs: topical capsaicin, avocado-soybean unsaponifiables, and the Chinese herbal mixture SKI306X showed benefit in the alleviation of osteoarthritic pain.Several studies investigating products from devil's claw, and a powder from rose hip and seed, reported favorable effects on osteoarthritic pain, whereas two studies of a willow bark extract returned disparate results. Three studies of Phytodolor N(R) were of limited use because doses and measures were inconsistent among trials. The remaining single studies for each HMP provided moderate evidence of effectiveness. No serious side effects were reported with any herbal intervention.Despite some evidence, the effectiveness of none of the HMPs is proven beyond doubt. The obvious potential benefits of HMPs in the treatment of osteoarthritis are reduced reliance on synthetic medications with the associated risks of harmful adverse events, but further clinical trials are necessary before HMPs can be adopted in osteoarthritis treatment guidelines.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Osteoarthritis / drug therapy*
  • Phytotherapy*
  • Plants, Medicinal*
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic