When medications don't relieve arthritis symptoms, or drug side effects become overwhelming, many people turn to complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). According to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine and the National Center for Health Statistics over 38 per cent of Americans use some form of CAM, which includes herbal supplements.

Herbal supplements can help control arthritis pain and inflammation. While more research is needed, early studies of these herbs are promising and they've been used for centuries in cultures around the world. Here are a few that may relieve your arthritis symptoms:


Also known as Indian frankincense, this herb comes from the bark of the Boswellia tree in India. It's used in Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine and is effective in treating osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. It helps reduce inflammation and pain, and improves motor function. It's particularly effective when combined with other herbs such as turmeric.

Recommended dose: 300 mg to 400 mg three times per day. Select capsules or pills with 60 per cent boswellic acids.


Bromelain is a mixture of enzymes found in pineapples. In a study of 103 patients with knee arthritis, one group took bromelain for six weeks and the other group took diclofenac, a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) used to treat arthritis. The study showed that bromelain is as effective as diclofenac in treating osteoarthritis pain. It can also help relieve rheumatoid arthritis pain.

With no known side effects, bromelain is a safer option than many NSAID medications that can cause nausea, indigestion and stomach problems.

Recommeded dose: 250 mg to 750 mg, two or three times daily between meals.


The common pepper cayenne contains the active ingredient capsaicin, which the University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC) confirms has powerful pain-relieving properties. Capsaicin reduces the chemical P, which carries pain messages to the brain. It's increasingly used to relieve pain from osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia.

Available in cream form, capsaicin is applied topically. It has heat so watch out for any redness or irritation, and never apply heat pads or packs to areas where you use capsaicin cream. Initially, give it three to four days to take effect.

Recommended dose: UMMC suggests using creams that contain 0.025% to 0.075% capsaicin and apply three to four times per day.


Curcumin comes from the root of the turmeric plant, and is commonly used in Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine. It fights inflammation and relieves pain and stiffness, which makes it a popular natural treatment for osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. It also increases the effectiveness of anti-inflammatory medications.

For greater inflammation relief, buy curcumin combined with bromelain in supplements. If you're pregnant or suffer from gallstones don't take curcumin.

Recommended dose: 400 mg to 600 mg three times daily.


Derived from an African desert plant, devil's claw has been used for centuries to treat pain. A few scientific studies show that it can relieve inflammation, stiffness and pain caused by osteoarthritis.

Devil's claw is more effective when taken with NSAIDs such as ibuprofen, so it helps reduce the amount of NSAIDs you take. However, it has recognized side effects such as diarrhea, headache, and ringing in the ears. It also lowers blood sugar.

Recommended dose:  400 mg to 500 mg three times a day.


A study cited in the British Journal of Pharmacology states that the active compounds in ginger called gingerols are effective in fighting inflammation and arthritis.  In one study arthritis patients who used ginger experienced less swelling, less pain and required fewer pain relievers than patients who didn't take ginger.

You can brew ginger tea at home from the fresh root or from ginger powder. To get standardized amounts of the gingerols, however, opt for supplements. Some people experience heartburn when taking ginger so try taking it with food.

Recommended dose: 200 mg to 300 mg twice a day.

Herbal Supplements Safety

  • Speak to your physician or a naturopath to learn about possible drug interactions and side effects.
  • Choose well-known brands and look for the U.S.P. (United States Pharmacopoeia) seal.
  • Start with one supplement at a time to find out if it's effective for you.
  • Never exceed the recommended dose.