Urtica: Nettles and arthritis -- A mechanism of action

by Paul Bergner

Medical Herbalism 07-31-97 9(2): 20

In traditional European herbalism, stinging nettle (Urtica dioica, U. urens) has traditionally been used in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis, both internally and externally (Kneipp, 1949; Weiss, 1988). A recent German clinical trial suggest a possible biochemical mechanism of action (Teucher et al, 1996). Twenty healthy volunteers took an extract of nettle leaf, equivalent to about 5 grams a day of dried nettle leaf, for twenty-one days. Samples of the volunteersí blood were then stimulated with lipopolysaccharide. Such stimulation normally causes an increase in tumor-necrosis-factor-alpha and interleukin-1-beta in proportion to the levels of macrophages and monocytes in the blood. In this trial, the secretion of TNF-alpha and IL-1-beta by the phagocytes was significantly reduced after the period of nettle ingestion. Both are pro-inflammatory substances (IL-1-beta promotes secretion of the inflammatory E-2 prostaglandin.)


It may be difficult to extrapolate the form of nettles used in this trial to more familiar tea or tincture doses, because the constituents are not identified. Their relative solubility in water or alcohol is not known. It is possible that nettle juice, a traditional German form of administration, may be the most palatable way to get large doses of the anti-rheumatic constituents into a patient.

Kneipp, S. My Water Cure. New York: Nature Cure Publishing, 1949

Teucher, T et al. Arzneim-Forsch 46:906-910 [German language] In: Bone, K. Nettles for Arthritis? Medi Herb Monitor number 22, June 1997)

Weiss, R. Herbal Medicine. Beaconsfield, England: Beaconsfield publishers, 1988

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