FAU Researchers Study Arthritis Remedy Copaiba; Is It a Help or Hoax?

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Copaiba: Snake Oil or Silver Bullet?

Arthritis sufferers who are looking for an alternative to traditional medications for relieving their joint pain might come across an increasingly popular remedy—an essential oil, copaiba.

But does it help?

Florida Atlantic University (FAU) researchers in Boca put Copaifera reticulate, or copaiba, to the test. They looked at available scientific studies on the essential oil and concluded that, aside from some basic research (not on humans) and individual case reports, there isn’t enough credible evidence to say copaiba is effective for treating the pain or inflammation of inflammatory arthritis.

Copaiba, found in the trunks of Amazonian trees and used medicinally since the 16th century, needs more research. Studies to truly test its benefit should include trials comparing copaiba to a sham treatment (similar to a placebo study), as well as to arthritis drug options like nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications, before it is touted as an arthritis remedy, according to Dr. Charles H. Hennekens, a professor in FAU’s college of medicine and an author on the paper.

Dr. Charles Hennekens
Dr. Charles H. Hennekens

The good news is, if you want to try it anyway, it probably isn’t going to hurt you.

“At present, copaiba is widely used without sufficient evidence of benefit, and sales continue to increase. If this product is effective it should be more widely used, but, if not, it should not be as widely used,” Hennekens writes in an email to Bocamag.com. “We need to utilize agents with a favorable benefit to risk, as well as benefit to cost and, at present, we do not have reliable evidence of benefit.”

The problem is that people suffering with inflammatory arthritis are in pain and are looking for alternatives to traditional pain medications. Arthritis’ impact on people’s lives is startling. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates about 23.7 million people, of the 54.4 million adults diagnosed with arthritis in the U.S., are limited in what they can do because of the disease.

“The existing therapies, which include nonspecific nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as Aleve, Motrin, Advil and Voltaren, as well as the newer cyclooxygenase-2 inhibitors (COXIBs), such as Celebrex, pose many side effects, including gastrointestinal upset, bleeding and an increased risk of heart attacks with long term use; whereas, copaiba is administered topically and side effects seem minimal,” Hennekens writes.

Without credible scientific studies to support its use, copaiba may be nothing more than snake oil. Or, it could be a silver bullet. Right now, researchers say, the jury is out.

The FAU researchers published their findings in the scientific journal Integrative Medicine.