Sickle Cell Disease

Sickle cell disease (SCD) is an inherited problem that causes the shape of some red blood cells (RBCs) to change to a sickle shape. The sickle RBCs can block blood flow. This can slow or stop the flow of blood and oxygen to tissues and organs. The body will destroy the sickle RBCs because they are not normal. This means a person has fewer overall RBCs. This causes anemia, which makes it harder for the body to get oxygen.

There is no cure. SCD is managed with lifestyle changes and medicine. Blood transfusions or stem cell transplantation may also be needed. Some people turn to natural therapies to help manage related problems.

Natural Therapies

May Be Effective

These therapies may provide benefit:

  • Cajanus cajan (pigeon pea) is a legume.K1
  • Fish oil is a fat that is extracted from fish tissue.B1-B3
  • Lime juice D1
  • NIPRISAN is an herbal mixture from Nigeria C1, C2
  • Yoga uses body poses and breathing to improve health.G1
  • Zinc is a nutrient that helps the immune system.A1

Unlikely to Be Effective

Magnesium is a nutrient that is needed for many processes in the body. It is unlikely to provide benefit to people with SCD.E1

Editorial process and description of evidence categories can be found at EBSCO NAT Editorial Process.

Herbs and Supplements to Be Used With Caution

Talk to your doctor about all herbs or supplements you are taking. Some may interact with your treatment plan or health conditions. Some supplements discussed here have certain concerns such as:

  • Zinc can be toxic in high doses. This can lead to copper deficiency and problems with the immune system, heart, and anemia.



A1. Swe KM, Abas AB, et al. Zinc supplements for treating thalassaemia and sickle cell disease. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2013;(6):CD009415.

Fish Oil

B1. Muskiet FA, Muskiet FD, et al. Supplementation of patients with homozygous sickle cell disease with zinc, alpha-tocopherol, vitamin C, soybean oil, and fish oil. Am J Clin Nutr. 1991;54(4):736-744.

B2. Tomer A, Kasey S, et al. Reduction of pain episodes and prothrombotic activity in sickle cell disease by dietary n-3 fatty acids. Thromb Haemost. 2001;85(6):966-974.

B3. Daak AA, Ghebremeskel K, et al. Effect of omega-3 (n-3) fatty acid supplementation in patients with sickle cell anemia: randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Am J Clin Nutr. 2013;97(1):37-44.


C1. Wambebe C, Khamofu H, et al. Double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomised cross-over clinical trial of NIPRISAN in patients with Sickle Cell Disorder. Phytomedicine. 2001;8(4):252-261.

C2. Oniyangi O, Cohall DH. Phytomedicines (medicines derived from plants) for sickle cell disease. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2018 Feb 15;2:CD004448.

Lime Juice

D1. Adegoke SA, Shehu UA, et al. Influence of lime juice on the severity of sickle cell anemia. J Altern Complement Med. 2013;19(6):588-592.


E1. Than NN, Soe HHK, et al. Magnesium for treating sickle cell disease. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2017;4:CD011358.


F1. Dixit R, Nettem S, et al. Folate supplementation in people with sickle cell disease. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2018 Mar 16;3:CD011130.


G1. Moody K, Abrahams B, et al. A Randomized Trial of Yoga for Children Hospitalized With Sickle Cell Vaso-Occlusive Crisis. J Pain Symptom Manage. 2017 Jun;53(6):1026-1034.

Vitamin D

H1. Soe HH, Abas AB, et al. Vitamin D supplementation for sickle cell disease. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2017 Jan 20;1:CD010858.

H2. Dougherty KA, Bertolaso C, et al. Safety and Efficacy of High-dose Daily Vitamin D3 Supplementation in Children and Young Adults With Sickle Cell Disease. J Pediatr Hematol Oncol. 2015 Jul;37(5):e308-15.

H3. Osunkwo I, Ziegler TR, et al. High dose vitamin D therapy for chronic pain in children and adolescents with sickle cell disease: results of a randomized double blind pilot study. Br J Haematol. 2012 Oct;159(2):211-215.


I1. Morris CR, Kuypers FA, et al. A randomized, placebo-controlled trial of arginine therapy for the treatment of children with sickle cell disease hospitalized with vaso-occlusive pain episodes. Haematologica. 2013 Sep;98(9):1375-1382.

Massage Therapy

J1. Lemanek KL, Ranalli M, et al. A randomized controlled trial of massage therapy in children with sickle cell disease. J Pediatr Psychol. 2009 Nov-Dec;34(10):1091-1096.

Cajanus Cajan (Ciklavit)

K1. Akinsulie AO, Temiye EO, et al. Clinical evaluation of extract of Cajanus cajan (Ciklavit) in sickle cell anaemia. J Trop Pediatr. 2005 Aug;51(4):200-205.

Last reviewed December 2019 by EBSCO NAT Review Board Eric Hurwitz, DC
Last Updated: 6/18/2020

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