Some remedies that have been used for decades, or longer, are often shunned in favor of established medicine and the use of prescription medications. However, many “old fashioned” remedies are still very effective and can used today to treat a variety of conditions. One such remedy involves using gold for medicinal purposes, such as for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis.
Traditional Rheumatoid Arthritis Treatments
A patient who has been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis may be prescribed medications to help with both pain relief and to reduce inflammation in their joints. These medications can also help slow or prevent further damage to the affected joints.
Other ways to help reduce damage is for patients to undergo occupational and/or physical therapy. Therapists can show rheumatoid arthritis, RA, patients different ways of performing work tasks to keep further joint damage to a minimum. They can also show patients exercises to keep their joints flexible and to make movements less painful.
If the damage to their joints is severe, patients may have to undergo surgery to fuse or replace their damaged joints. Tendon repair surgery is sometimes a necessity as the tendons in RA patients can be weakened or rupture. However, there are other treatments that are used less often. Among these treatments is using gold to help treat rheumatoid arthritis.
Gold Treatments for Rheumatoid Arthritis
Gold injections were among one of the first treatments specifically formulated to treat rheumatoid arthritis. This treatment isn’t new, in fact, it is over 75 years old.
Gold injections are a type of disease-modifying antirheumatic drug (DMARD) that is used to treat RA. These injections not only act to treat pain and inflammation issues associated with the disease, but DMARDs also act to help prevent further joint damage by slowing the progression of the disease.
Scientists don’t fully understand how gold works on rheumatoid arthritis, but as gold salts accumulate in the body, they help to reduce inflammation and slow its progression. When it is used in treatment of RA, gold injections are given to the patient once a week for the 22 weeks. If it helps the patient, the frequency of the injections are reduced.
What are Gold Salts?
The gold used for RA injections is gold salts. Gold salts is the term used for chemical compounds containing gold. There are two injectable forms of gold salts: gold sodium thiomalate, which is sold under the brand name Myochrysine, and aurothioglucose, sold as Solganal. While there is an oral gold compound available for RA patients, auranofin or Ridaura, it has been proven less effective than the injections for treating rheumatoid arthritis.
Why are Gold Therapies Less Common?
Although they may still be used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, the use of gold salts has declined steadily since about the 1990s. There are many reasons for this, but the primary reason is that other medications have been since developed that are more effective and have less side effects than gold injections. Methotrexate is one of the primary drugs that have been developed to treat RA.
Another reason that gold therapies have declined is that it takes some time for gold salts to accumulate in the body and have any effect on the disease. Most patients that are given gold salts report improvements about three to six months after beginning the injections. Patients who are given methotrexate, or other similar drugs, have reported improvement in their symptoms in just three to six weeks.
As with any medication, gold injections have side effects, some of them serious. Although methotrexate also has side effects, most patients tolerate it better than the gold injections.
Gold Therapy Side Effects
While it takes an accumulation of gold salts for them to be effective in treating rheumatoid arthritis, this accumulation can also have serious side effects. Some of the more common side effects caused by gold injections are mouth sores that are similar to canker sores, an altered sense of taste and skin rashes. The rashes range from mild to itchy to a more serious rash requiring medical treatment.
The accumulation of gold salts can sometimes result in kidney damage that results in the loss of protein in urine and the suppression of red blood cell production. Lowered blood cell production can cause anemia, but this problem has only been seen in about 1% of RA patients being treated with gold salt injections. However, patients taking the shots are carefully monitored with regular urine and blood tests.
Another side effect called chrysiasis may occur in some RA patients receiving gold injections. This side effect causes the skin to become discolored and it can appear to have a purplish gray, slate gray or grayish blue tint to it. In some extreme cases, the accumulation of gold salts in the body can also affect the tissues in the teeth and eyes. There is no treatment for chyrsiasis and any changes in skin pigmentation are considered permanent.
People who are using gold salts to treat RA should be careful and use birth control while on gold therapy. Although there is no proof that gold salts can cause birth defects in humans, they have caused birth defects during animal testing. To err on the side of caution, gold salts should not be used if patients are trying to conceive.
In general, most of these side effects have been shown to affect only about one-third of RA patients using gold injections. However, the injections are not effective for everyone who takes them. Some patients complain they don’t work and the injections are very painful.
Before settling on a therapy, patients should discuss the pros and cons of them with their doctor. While they are not as common as it used to be, gold injections can still be effective for some patients.
Additional Care for Rheumatoid Arthritis
Patients using gold therapy should also take care of themselves by exercising and eating a healthy diet. Taking supplements like Vitamin D, borage seed oil, evening primrose oil and omega 3 fatty acids can also improve RA symptoms.