Benefits of Cabbage Leaves on the Knee for Osteoarthritis

Benefits of Cabbage Leaves on the Knee for Osteoarthritis
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Unbelievably, a randomized controlled trial of cabbage leaf wraps for arthritis was published.

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Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

In a section of the British Medical Journal called Minerva, where they compile interesting little snippets, they published a picture of a woman who they found had taped a cabbage leaf to her knee. She said that this was the only measure that provided relief from the symptoms of her osteoarthritis. Some doctors responded with bemusement; others were “like, duh”—amazed to see the photograph, not because “a cabbage leaf was used, but that this was considered newsworthy.” The doctor disclosed she may be a little biased, though, as she admits to being a cabbage leaf user herself.

“There is nothing new about this ancient remedy,” wrote another reader, “used to help reduce all [kinds] of painful swelling.” “Freshly washed cabbage leaves are known in European folk medicine as the poor man’s poultice.” “So there is nothing freakish or stupid about” putting cabbage leaves on your knees! Okay. I didn’t realize it was such a touchy topic.

Of course, we’ll never really know if it actually works. There’s never been a randomized controlled trial of “topical cabbage leaves for osteoarthritis,” and, there never will be…until, now:

“Efficacy of Cabbage Leaf Wraps in the Treatment of Symptomatic Osteoarthritis of the Knee: A Randomized Controlled Trial.” Wait, how did this study even get funded? A family foundation just stepped forward and paid for it. I love that. In fact, it’s the former president and first lady of Germany’s foundation. After all, “[o]steoarthritis…of the knee is one of the most common chronic diseases among older adults.” So, let’s “test the effects of cabbage leaf wraps.” Why not?

Patients with confirmed osteoarthritis of the knees were randomly assigned to four weeks of treatment with a cabbage leaf on their knees every day, or a topical pain gel containing an anti-inflammatory drug, or neither. Even better would have been a fourth group applying like iceberg lettuce leaves, but I’ll take what I can get.

Here’s a graph of pain intensity over the 28-day experiment. Here’s how the drug worked: not much better than doing nothing. But, the cabbage worked better. Overall, the study “found that a 4-week application of [cabbage leaves] was more effective than [usual care] with respect to pain, functional disability, and quality of life. It was, however, not [in the final analysis] superior to a 4-week application of topical medication.” But, hey, cabbage leaves are safe, “can be used in the longer term.” So, why not give them a try?

It also wouldn’t hurt if you ate some as well, as cabbage may have internal anti-inflammatory potential as well. The anti-inflammatory effects may explain the health benefits of cabbage family vegetables. Not just potent anti-inflammatory effects in petri dishes, but in people. Ten days of broccoli consumption in smokers cut CRP levels 40%! Okay, but what about for arthritis?

In vitro, sulforaphane, the magic cabbage chemical, “protects cartilage from destruction,” suggesting that a high-cabbage or -broccoli family vegetable diet “may be a useful measure either to prevent or to slow the progression of [osteoarthritis].” But, even if sulforaphane can protect cartilage cells in a petri dish, how do we even know the compound makes it into the joint when we eat it? I mean, no one’s ever done a study where you like have people eat broccoli, and then stick a needle in their knee joint to check. No one, that is… until, now.

And, sulforaphane was indeed detected in the synovial fluid of 40 patients with osteoarthritis “following broccoli consumption,” followed by significant epigenetic changes of gene expression within the joint. The next step is to see if it can actually improve the disease.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Image credit: josealbafotos via Pixabay. Image has been modified.

Motion graphics by Avocado Video.

Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

In a section of the British Medical Journal called Minerva, where they compile interesting little snippets, they published a picture of a woman who they found had taped a cabbage leaf to her knee. She said that this was the only measure that provided relief from the symptoms of her osteoarthritis. Some doctors responded with bemusement; others were “like, duh”—amazed to see the photograph, not because “a cabbage leaf was used, but that this was considered newsworthy.” The doctor disclosed she may be a little biased, though, as she admits to being a cabbage leaf user herself.

“There is nothing new about this ancient remedy,” wrote another reader, “used to help reduce all [kinds] of painful swelling.” “Freshly washed cabbage leaves are known in European folk medicine as the poor man’s poultice.” “So there is nothing freakish or stupid about” putting cabbage leaves on your knees! Okay. I didn’t realize it was such a touchy topic.

Of course, we’ll never really know if it actually works. There’s never been a randomized controlled trial of “topical cabbage leaves for osteoarthritis,” and, there never will be…until, now:

“Efficacy of Cabbage Leaf Wraps in the Treatment of Symptomatic Osteoarthritis of the Knee: A Randomized Controlled Trial.” Wait, how did this study even get funded? A family foundation just stepped forward and paid for it. I love that. In fact, it’s the former president and first lady of Germany’s foundation. After all, “[o]steoarthritis…of the knee is one of the most common chronic diseases among older adults.” So, let’s “test the effects of cabbage leaf wraps.” Why not?

Patients with confirmed osteoarthritis of the knees were randomly assigned to four weeks of treatment with a cabbage leaf on their knees every day, or a topical pain gel containing an anti-inflammatory drug, or neither. Even better would have been a fourth group applying like iceberg lettuce leaves, but I’ll take what I can get.

Here’s a graph of pain intensity over the 28-day experiment. Here’s how the drug worked: not much better than doing nothing. But, the cabbage worked better. Overall, the study “found that a 4-week application of [cabbage leaves] was more effective than [usual care] with respect to pain, functional disability, and quality of life. It was, however, not [in the final analysis] superior to a 4-week application of topical medication.” But, hey, cabbage leaves are safe, “can be used in the longer term.” So, why not give them a try?

It also wouldn’t hurt if you ate some as well, as cabbage may have internal anti-inflammatory potential as well. The anti-inflammatory effects may explain the health benefits of cabbage family vegetables. Not just potent anti-inflammatory effects in petri dishes, but in people. Ten days of broccoli consumption in smokers cut CRP levels 40%! Okay, but what about for arthritis?

In vitro, sulforaphane, the magic cabbage chemical, “protects cartilage from destruction,” suggesting that a high-cabbage or -broccoli family vegetable diet “may be a useful measure either to prevent or to slow the progression of [osteoarthritis].” But, even if sulforaphane can protect cartilage cells in a petri dish, how do we even know the compound makes it into the joint when we eat it? I mean, no one’s ever done a study where you like have people eat broccoli, and then stick a needle in their knee joint to check. No one, that is… until, now.

And, sulforaphane was indeed detected in the synovial fluid of 40 patients with osteoarthritis “following broccoli consumption,” followed by significant epigenetic changes of gene expression within the joint. The next step is to see if it can actually improve the disease.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Image credit: josealbafotos via Pixabay. Image has been modified.

Motion graphics by Avocado Video.

Doctor's Note

Knees aren’t the only cabbage-leaf-shaped body parts for which cabbage has been tested. I’m also doing a video about the use of cabbage leaves for mastitis—stay tuned!

More on natural treatments for arthritis:

What’s that sulforaphane stuff I mentioned? Hold onto your hats:

If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here.

67 responses to “Benefits of Cabbage Leaves on the Knee for Osteoarthritis

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  1. Hmmm, maybe I’ll try that on my left ankle. For the past week or two my sleep has been disturbed by an annoying throbbing due to what I suspect might be a bone bruise. Can’t remember how I got it. :-( Wondering if the red cabbage leaf would be more potent than the green.

    1. I’d like to believe that my ankle problem is merely an “Ascension Symptom.” (Guess I should add a “ha-ha” to that statement.)

  2. How appropriate that the Krauts would fund a study of the effectiveness of kraut (cabbage) on knee pain.

    And before anyone gets upset at politically incorrect terms, I am British born and bred and therefore a Limey. We Europeans are allowed to cal each other vegetables (and yes, limes, other fruits, nuts seeds and grains are all vegetables). Just look at what we call people from Sweden …………

    1. Tom,

      My mother’s line was half English, half Irish full Yankee American with an infamous traitor who brought them to America. My father’s line is full blooded Swede.

      So, I guess I can call myself lots of names.

      1. Well. you’ve got lime, spud and swede right there. And since a swede is a cross between a cabbage and a turnip, I guess you can call yourself all sorts of vegetables!

        For my part, I am from Liverpool and therefore called Scouse or a Scouser. Scouse is a type of stew and when made without meat as it often was, it was called blind scouse. And weren’t the Italians called Macaronis at one time?.Food does seem to define our identity in many ways
        .

  3. Interesting topic — being one diagnosed with Hip OA, I wonder:
    – if putting a cabbage leaf on the hip will lead to similar results? (I guess I should just try it and see next time my hip is bothering me)
    – what is the efficacy of placing the cabbage leaf on the skin vs just eating it?

    1. WJB, for what it’s worth, whenever my hip (always the left one, first, then the right) starts to bother me, I always check my shoes. If they are wearing in such a way so that one side of the heel of the shoe (flat shoes) is worn down, then my hip starts to hurt. It goes away immediately if I have the heels re-soled so they are perfectly flat, or just get new shoes (for example, sneakers that have started to break down in the foot bed).

      If you don’t have any known reason for having hip pain, and if it comes and goes, see if there’s a connection to how your shoes are affecting your posture, especially if you tend to roll your foot ‘out’ so that your shoes wear on the outside of the heel first.

  4. I have very painful osteoarthritis in both thumbs. I eat a lot of cruciferous vegetables, but will up the amount even more. Plus, I’m going to sleep with cabbage leaves on my hands. Why not? Right? I’ll let y’all know how I do.

      1. I also have painful osteoarthritis in several of my knuckles. I take turmeric every day (make up my own capsules using turmeric and freshly ground black pepper), but haven’t found it to be helpful for the OA. I will try upping my broccoli and cabbage intake in hopes of preserving the unaffected joints and possibly improving those that are already swollen and painful.

        As a tosser and turner, sleeping with cabbage on my fingers is a no-go, but I will try making a poultice..

        TG, please enlighten those of us across the pond. What do the Brits call Swedes? (Part of my family came to the US from Sweden & Norway – they referred to themselves as Squareheads.)

        1. They call them “Swedes” which was the joke. In America we call swedes rutabagas (the vegetable not the Swedish people ;) )
          Rutabaga is the purple round root veggie. I know this because my mom was Irish and always called rutabagas swedes.

    1. Wendy, I broke a finger in an accident a few months ago & now have arthritis in both hands. I can’t even wear rings anymore. So I’ll be wrapping cabbage leaves around my hands when I go to bed tonight.

      The only other thing that worked for me when I had a hand injury in 2006 was wasp venom. I couldn’t even make fist with my left hand. But one inadvertent sting on the hand from a wasp as I was coming out of my garage, & the arthritis in both hands disappeared completely. It was like magic.

      I’ve been trying weekly bee venom shots from my doctor, but it’s not pure venom, & so far it hasn’t done anything. I’ve thought about sticking my hand in a flowering bush, but would prefer a more controlled environment. I’ll try the cabbage leaves for now & see how that works.

      1. Nancy, you can try onion & salt. Take half of onion and shred it, add some salt and put the mixture in a plastic and apply to your finger. Cover it with another plastic bag or whatever and keep it overnight. Try that as long as you feel better. My mother did that long time ago.

  5. Wow, I guess I now know why my knees have stopped hurting since I switched to a WFPB diet with broccoli and cabbage strong members of that diet. Who knew?

    1. Jon, according to Dr. G., “Wait, how did this study even get funded? A family foundation just stepped forward and paid for it.” I doubt if Big Cabbage was behind it. I also think they’re not worried about getting enuf business; most people seem to like cabbage in some form or another.

      Also, “In a section of the British Medical Journal called Minerva, where they compile interesting little snippets, they published a picture of a woman who they found had taped a cabbage leaf to her knee.” Minerva was just sleuthing around for something unusual to publish, and happened to find this. Who knew the cabbage leaf method is considered an “ancient remedy?” Not moi!

  6. In my first few weeks of breastfeeding my new baby, my breasts hurt so much it felt like they were on fire. I’d be crying from the pain for much of the day. Then I read about an unusual treatment: cabbage leaves. It turned out that the only thing that helped was putting cold cabbage leaves on my breasts, one big cabbage leaf for each breast. You cannot imagine the relief those cooling cabbage leaves gave me! The cabbage leaves not only took all the painful raw heat out of my breasts they also seemed to heal my cracked raw nipples. After about half an hour the leaves would be warm and limp, as if they’d spent all their energy taking care of my breasts. I must have gone through two dozen cabbages in those early weeks, wearing cabbage leaves like a beautiful green bra. Cabbage leaves saved me. I went on to breastfeed for two and a half years and to this day it remains one of my proudest accomplishments. My son, now 15, has never been on antibiotics, and never had anything more serious than a cold. He’s also an athlete and vegan, so that of course helps!

    1. Awesome, Laurie! I did the same—got the advice from La Leche League. Lifesaver. I don’t know what breastfeeding is like for most women, but for me, the first month or so was pure torture. Those leaves helped so much!

      In response to others comments: I would think that cabbage would work well on joints of the hand, but I do not know how they’d work for the hip—that’s a deeper joint. Worth a shot, worst thing that could happen is you’ll smell like a salad—but I am interested to know how it would work!

  7. Well, I am 71 now. Last year, I suffered from pain in both feet, a knee, left hip, and one under my rib cage. Meanwhile, my son, hoping to get me healthier, INSISTED I take up running–yes, at age 70, although I have been in the habit of walking two miles daily for more than a decade. He directed me to a British National Health service site, https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/exercise/couch-to-5k-week-by-week/, and had me download the free podcasts. I commenced doing them at his insistence and have worked my way up to running a half hour every other day. (If you have children, you know how they can be sometimes…. :D ) Long story short: all of my pains went away. I don’t know what caused them, and I’m still running. I find the stress relief wonderful. I recommend this program for everyone! (I am an American and have no affiliation with the NHS of Great Britain.)

    1. I love that story Liisa.

      Glad the pain went away.

      Wonder what the mechanism is for it with running? Something biochemical?

      I was pondering pain, because in the Cesium Chloride study with Cancer, pain went away in the high alkaline program in 72 hours.

      I am not giving that to my dog, but I know that WFPB can already get rid of pain.

      I am looking at the sodium to potassium ratio and potassium is linked with a decrease in pain is what Dr. Greger said in his rheumatoid arthritis video.

      I looked to see if it might help also with osteoarthritis and my computer is glitching, but here is a link, which might load eventually.

      https://www.pagepress.org/journals/index.php/rr/article/view/rr.2010.e5

      1. Deb, I encourage you to take a look at the program. It is amazing. There is a lady, “Laura,” who coaches one while walking/running, and she is exceptionally good. I felt like she was right there with me. It starts out very easy–walk for five minutes, run for one minute…. Deb, you would love it.

    2. Another advocate of (moderate distance) running along with a WFPB diet here. Interestingly, several years ago a 70 year old finished (in under 30 hours IIRC) the Western States 100 mile trail run. A rare accomplishment at any age.
      “You don’t stop running because you get old, you get old because you stop running.” – Jack Kirk

      1. I have a coworker who is 85 and he ran his whole life, but had to stop running, because of his knees, so sometimes it doesn’t work quite that way.

        He is still in fairly good shape.

        Most of the 85 to 90 year old who I can think of are in good shape.

        It is the 55 year old people who were raised on the SAD diet, who are trying to find health.

      2. Liisa and Blair,

        I will ponder it for next year.

        I am a little bit paranoid of injury.

        I spent years trying to get over foot and ankle pain from injury.

        Two things worked.

        Serrapeptase decreased inflammation and it briefly took the pain away and I thought it was healed, but it was a temporary thing.

        I bought a MicroPulse ICES and I used that one time and it healed it permanently.

        I can walk steps now without problems and have been able to since the day it arrived in the mail.

        I had wanted to be wealthy enough to try a Curatron, because they had images of it growing cartilage back in the knees of an elderly person.

        But it was out of my range and the ICES did all I needed it to do.

      1. So true TG. My physical therapist says motion is lotion. So much better than pain killers. I’d rather have the pain than take that stuff.

    3. WFPBLiisa: woo! Exercise is (often better than) medicine!!!!!! What an exciting story, and good for you! Exercise helps reduce the pain of osteoarthritis in the long run, even if it causes some pain during exercise. So many of today’s ills could be cured with exercise. (Okay, fine, Dr. Greger, exercise *and* diet :)).

      1. Sorry, we use it for osteoarthritis. But, let me explain; this method is old old old, log before the term “osteoarthritis”. When people had knee pain, they use cabbage leaf all night for many nights. You can use it day time also.

            1. Lolita, because I called the cabbage leaf a bandage? Not at all…to me it does seem like a bandage! I truly wanted to know how long we can wear the leaf before it supposedly loses its potency. A day or two? Only a few hours? Am hoping this is more than just a placebo solution…….

              It’s now 2 a.m. I put a red cabbage leaf on my ankle a few hours before I went to bed, but unfortunately around 1:15 I started to feel the throbbing again. Methinks maybe in my case the ankle doesn’t like to be inactive; it wants me to sleep standing up! So I did some gentle bouncing on my rebounder for a little while, and this seemed to help. And now back to bed to face whatever. Life is such a challenging adventure, isn’t it!

  8. Oldie but goldie. My granny used to put cabbage leaves on my knees when I was little. I had severe joint pain due to my throat infections.

    1. Yes, I am laughing at how many things my elderly relatives got right.

      And many of them weren’t highly educated.

      They just understood how to live.

    1. I had it but it went away when I switched to a WFPB diet. It took a few years to stop bothering me after long runs. Are you eating a WFPB diet?

  9. Thanks NutritionFacts.org… love this one! As a physical therapist, I’ll now be applying cabbage leafs to my patients at the end of treatment!! And of course I’ll be serving up cabbage smoothies!!

  10. Hello !
    I’ve been dealing with hyperhidrosis (excessive underarm sweating) since I became vegan, mostly plant based, taht was about a year and half ago; but these last 6 months have been the worst and most notable.
    At that time I also stop using conventional deodorants because I read about alluminiums and parabhens so instead I was using natural deodorants like alum.
    I already went with two dermatologists but none of them worked.
    My last doctor was a great homeopath, but he told me that I’m having a body detox process after all these radical changes (eating habits). That I must just let my body detox itself.
    But I’m still worried, how long it’s gonna take ? it is really embarrasing, and stressing. I continue sweating at the least effort, even now when I’m stressed I start sweating and sweating…. Has anyone has been through something similar ? Do you found any kind of cure?
    Thanks !!

    1. I’m sorry you are having a challenging time dealing with hyperhidrosis. I suspect this condition has much more to do with your cutting out convention deodorants (and antiperspirants?) than your new healthier diet, although certain foods can increase sweating (such as spicy foods, especially those containing cepacian . Actually as you’ve probably read, often sweating is decreased when one eats more plants. Some have said that the increased carbohydrates cause faster digestion which elevates temp and thus could be contributing, but I could find no research supporting that idea. You’ve probably already done your research, but here are two articles that speak about cause and treatment. They are fairly comprehensive and alas, do not mention a nutritional approach other than to avoid any foods you find to be triggers.
      https://www.sweathelp.org/hyperhidrosis-treatments/treatment-overview.html
      http://sydneynorthneurology.com.au/living-with-hyperhidrosis/
      I’m glad you are working with a doctor to better understand and control your condition. Again as you’re aware of there are several interventional approaches to cut the sweating from drugs to surgery. You may not want to consider those. A lifestyle approach, obtaining good hyydration and managing your stress is important and as you indicated, it can become cyclical-worry aggravates the sweat and then you sweat more because you are worrying. Working with a counselor to break that cycle might help if it becomes unbearable.Again wish I could give you a list of foods that would cure your condition, but that hasn’t been found as the answer. Still cutting back on trigger foods will help.

  11. I want to include more grains in my diet since I understand their importance in a healthy whole foods diet. However, I had some questions I hope you guys could answer about cooking them. Boiling is an inefficient way to cook vegetables since water soluble vitamins are lost to the water. If this is the case, is it better to steam grains, as well as beans? Also, does anybody know the best cooking times for each grain? Is it better to soak grains overnight before cooking to remove physic acid or is rinsing good enough? Do some grains need soaking and others only rinsing?
    Thanks

    1. Hi I’m a health support volunteer.
      You are correct that boiling is a poor way to cook vegetables, unless it is in a soup where you will be eating the liquid that the vitamins drain into. But it is not a problem with grains or beans. Especially grains like rice or quinoa where it absorbs all the waters and you don’t drain it off. If you boil whole wheat pasta and then rinse it, you do loose some vitamins by rinsing it so I try to avoid that. The key parts to the grain is the fiber which is not going to go anywhere. Interestingly, Dr. Greger says boiling is the best way to cook sweet potatoes. You want to adequately boil your beans or the lectins can make you sick. Here is some information Dr. Greger has on cooking methods:
      https://nutritionfacts.org/video/best-cooking-method/
      https://nutritionfacts.org/topics/cooking-methods/
      https://nutritionfacts.org/video/how-to-avoid-lectin-poisoning/

      Glad to hear you want to eat more grains.
      NurseKelly

    1. I am interested in knowing also. I had a friend who used to chop the cabbage leaf first, apply it to her knee, then wrap it tightly to her knee with plastic wrap. It seems this indicates using the cabbage leaf whole, and not chopping it. She believed that chopping the leaf helped to release the ingredients within the leaf. I have lost touch with her and wondered how others prepared their poultice.

  12. I used cabbage leaves on my breasts for engorgement when I breast fed my daughter. I tried ice packs, frequent nursing and warm showers, nothing worked to relieve the pain except cabbage leaves. Cabbage leaves will actually dry up milk production if used too much.

  13. I have had four knee surgeries on one knee. The last one was a scope to clean things up. The surgeon said I have osteoarthritis and the next step will be a partial knee replacement. I would love to avoid that or at least postpone it as long as possible. I’ll try the cabbage. But I have QUESTION – does anyone know about Glucosamine and MSM? My doctor said some studies have suggested that it might help grow cartilage. But the ingredients show it contains shellfish. I’d love to know what Dr Greger’s thoughts on it are.

    1. Hi Alena, thanks for your comments.

      Glucosamine us a major component of joint cartilage.
      Glucosamine supplements are derived from the shells of shellfish (such as shrimp, lobster and crab) or from vegetable sources. Although glucosamine sulfate supplements are often manufactured from the shells of shellfish, there aren’t any natural food sources of glucosamine.

      There’s some evidence that glucosamine might also help with osteoarthritis of the knee, research have found that it migh slow deterioration of cartilage, relieves pain and improves joint mobility.

      https://www.arthritis.org/living-with-arthritis/treatments/natural/supplements-herbs/guide/glucosamine.php

      This study from 2012 might be helpful to you too (it’s open to read):

      Role of glucosamine in the treatment for osteoarthritis
      https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3456914/

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