Copaiba oil (an oleoresin) is tapped from several species of trees in the Amazon rainforest. It has been used as folk medicine for centuries and is now being heavily promoted as a safer arthritis treatment than the drugs most commonly used in this country. Reportedly, sales of the oil have been increasing, and you can read online testimonials from people who claim to have been helped. Unfortunately, we don’t have much scientific evidence to support the use of copaiba for the treatment of arthritis (or for hemorrhoids, diarrhea, urinary tract infections, constipation or bronchitis – conditions for which it is also used).
Researchers at Florida Atlantic University who published a June 2017 review of the use of copaiba oil for arthritis found scant peer-reviewed medical data. The one reported human trial was small and investigated copaiba oil’s effect on acne, not arthritis. All told, the investigators concluded that currently available evidence is “wholly insufficient” to judge either the benefits or risks of this remedy for the relief of the pain and inflammation of arthritis.
Lead researcher, Charles H. Hennekens, MD, DrPH, says it needs to be tested in a randomized trial against a placebo in patients with inflammatory arthritis. If results show benefit, the next step would be randomized trials, including side-by-side comparisons against the medications now recommended for treatment: nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), for example, which can cause serious gastrointestinal bleeding when taken long-term.
For many patients, simple dietary changes may help relieve or reduce the pain and inflammation associated with arthritis. Research has shown that foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids and the spices turmeric and ginger reduce inflammation. You can get omega-3s in oily fish such as salmon or from other sources, including walnuts and freshly ground flaxseed. The antioxidants in most vegetables and fruits may help reduce tissue damage from inflammation.
You can find more of my suggestions for dealing with arthritis here. At this point, I just don’t know enough about copaiba oil to recommend it.
Andrew Weil, M.D.
Charles H. Hennekens, MD, DrPH et al, “Treatments for Inflammatory Arthritis Potential But Unproven Role of Topical Copaiba.” Integrative Medicine, June 2017.