Evidence for the efficacy of complementary and alternative medicines in the management of rheumatoid arthritis: a systematic review

Rheumatology (Oxford). 2011 Sep;50(9):1672-83. doi: 10.1093/rheumatology/ker119. Epub 2011 Jun 6.


Objective: To critically evaluate the evidence regarding complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) taken orally or applied topically (excluding fish oil) in the treatment of RA.

Methods: Randomized controlled trials (RCTs) of RA using CAMs, in comparison with other treatments or placebo, published in English up to August 2010, were eligible for inclusion. They were identified using systematic searches of bibliographic databases and manual searching of reference lists. Information was extracted on outcomes and statistical significance, in comparison with alternative treatments, and reported side effects. The methodological quality of the primary studies was determined using the Jadad scoring system.

Results: Reported RCTs were available for 18 CAMs in the management of RA. There was no consistent evidence available for any of the reviewed substances to suggest that they were efficacious as complementary medicines to standard treatment. Nevertheless, the studies conducted on borage seed oil (n = 2) and thunder god vine (n = 3) have been positive and may warrant further investigation. Not all CAM compounds studied were free of major adverse effects.

Conclusion: The major limitation in reviewing the evidence for CAMs is the paucity of RCTs in the area. The available evidence does not support their current use in the management of RA.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Oral
  • Administration, Topical
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / therapy*
  • Complementary Therapies / methods*
  • Humans
  • Plant Oils / therapeutic use
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Tripterygium
  • gamma-Linolenic Acid / therapeutic use


  • Plant Oils
  • gamma-Linolenic Acid
  • borage oil