Chinese herbal tea for my RA (rheumatoid arthritis)

tea packets

Since I got an overwhelming number of people asking me about the Chinese tea I referenced in my Grub Street diet, I decided to write this post. I drink the tea for my rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disease that causes inflammation in the the lining of my joints.

Let me start by saying that I am not  a doctor. Everything I’m about to tell you is from personal experience; this is what worked for me over numerous years of trial and error, pain and suffering, and now — finally — a healthy mostly-pain-free life. I was diagnosed with RA almost ten years ago now — wow, getting old — right after college in 2003. I spent the better part of the next 5 years in indescribable pain, almost entirely in my hands and wrists. Like, you could not come near them with a ten foot pole or I would freak out because they were so tender, so sensitive — not that you’d want to anyway — they were grossly inflamed, red, puffy joints. As ugly as they looked, they were exponentially more painful. I went to various doctors and have been on all the medicines — steroids, chemotherapeutic drugs, injectibles, cortisone, infusions — and while many of them initially helped, it was a never ending cycle of my body getting used to them, upping dosages, but never actually feeling better — or how I thought a young 20-something should feel. Not to mention the long term effects of some of these drugs — of which no one really knows.

On the advice of a friend I went to see a Chinese acupuncturist who told me if I wanted to feel better I needed to cut out the meat and dairy in my diet. I scoffed at the thought: me — vegan? No way. And wait, what I’m eating is making my joints hurt? Not a chance. Then that following New Year’s Eve (my birthday, to boot) I was keeled over in pain, in tears. I woke up the next morning and decided it was time to go vegan. What did I have to lose? I went all in, right away — no meat, no dairy — AND decided to stop drinking alcohol too, and within days my pain went from a 10 to a 0. I was making solid fists and opening jars and doors for the first time in years. Three months later, I ran the NYC Half Marathon. I was a real life Shuperwoman, just like Brian calls me now sometimes.

Five years later and I now eat all kinds of fish, seafood and eggs. I also eat organic, pasture-raised, grass-fed meat, but I still don’t have much dairy (only some yogurt and grass-fed butter). When I do eat cheese — hey, we all get drunk and make bad decisions sometimes — I wake up in pain the next day. My joints are inflamed and creaky, and while I regret it — it is just further proof that certain dairy really doesn’t like my body.

So about that Chinese herbal tea — that’s why you’re reading this, right? Mr. Lee is a life-long student/teacher of Chinese medicine and acupuncture. He is a miracle worker; I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that he saved me. If you’re in a serious amount of pain, one session with him will ease that tension, relieve your joints a bit, and make you feel better. But you need to go quite regularly if you’re going to use acupuncture as your primary form of treatment. Again, this is what has been the case for me. Anyway he will analyze your tongue, pulse, and overall health to determine what kind of tea you need. Then his wife, Mrs. Lee — that’s what they go by, and how they refer to each other — boils down various Chinese herbs from bark form into this disgusting concoction based on what your body needs. I have a ton of extra heat — a friend of mine affectionately says “I run real hot” — but that’s what causes my inflammation. So my tea is geared towards cooling my body. And it is, like I said, MAGIC. I will warn you, it is absolutely nasty. It smells, looks, and tastes like shit and you will gag — but it works. Cost depends on what she puts in it, but mine is $170 for about 36 packets. You will drink one packet a day.

more herb shelves

front of mr lee store

Mr. and Mrs. Lee are two of the most knowledgeable people I know about overall health. They have never taken an advil, tylenol or prescription medicine in their life — because they treat their bodies as a whole, not individual parts as they do in Western medicine. If you’re on the fence about acupuncture or Chinese healing, it’s worth a call and a visit — their place is very bare bones, nothing fancy at all — and they are the most kind and easy going couple. I could go on and on about how gentle and warm Mr. Lee is in dealing with sensitive pain, but you should go check it out for yourself. Like I said that New Year’s Day — what do you have to lose?

If/when you do go, please tell them I sent you — they don’t speak very good English, but if you say Jamie with the arthritis in her hands they’ll know exactly who you mean.

Mr. + Mrs. Lee @ Nanjing Acupuncture
124 West 30th St (between 6th + 7th Aves)

If you have questions about which medicines I’ve been on, treatments I’ve tried, or just want to tell me about your arthritis or how diet healed you — please leave me a comment below, or email me. I know how difficult arthritis can be, and not just physically — but mentally, too. I know how it can affect your personal and professional life — remember I’ve taken time off of work for two fusion surgeries (on my neck, then my foot) related to my RA. But I also know what can help ease the pain, and by proxy, what can make your life better. So be in touch; I’m happy to share any and all of my experiences with you.

10 thoughts on “Chinese herbal tea for my RA (rheumatoid arthritis)

    • That’s fascinating, Klee — I obviously don’t read/speak Korean or Chinese, but Mr. Lee always refers to his practice as Chinese medicine and the tea as Chinese herbal tea. I’ll have to ask him about this now.

      • The labeled bags are probably simply what they use in their herbal decoction machine. The herbs for the individualized formula are boiled and made into tea in a high-tech machine, and divided into daily-dose bags.

  1. They’re probably Korean but it doesn’t mean they can’t practice Chinese medicine. Klee’s right though-the tea packet is all in Korean.

  2. Im very much interested about that tea,yah your right its very much painful to have rheumatoid arthritis..cause i’ve been suffering this 5 years already,i cant do all my works,specially that im teaching pre school pupils..can you please help me where cani buy that tea,please help me thank you.

  3. Dear Jamie,
    Thanks for your post about the Chinese Herbal Teas that you take, I cannot I am afraid
    make contact with the Lee’s as the email address you supplied in the article doesn’t work.
    However I live in the UK, Mid Wales actually and I wondered could you possibly be kind enough to send me a couple of very clear photographs of the teas as an attachment then I can see if they are actually supplied in the UK once we know what the writing on the packets actually says. It may also indicate what the ingredients are which would be very
    helpful as there is a vast list of Chinese herbs which are used in the treatment of rheumatism.
    With all good wishes, Kate

    • I don’t have any other photographs, unfortunately, and I can’t take new ones cause I no longer drink it. Try calling them. I’m sure they’ll give you the info you’re looking for over the phone. Best of luck.

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