Aurotherapy describes the process of applying gold compounds to medicine. First reported in 1935, apparently used to reduce the inflammation of and slow the growth of rheumatoid arthritis in patients, aurotherapy uses gold salts, which are an ionic chemical compound found in gold. However, the chemical compounds used in aurotherapeutic drugs are not actually salts. They have been known to, however, accumulate in the body over time and reduce the symptoms of a range of different ailments, including: rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, psoriatic arthritis, membranous nephritis, lupus erythematosus and, infrequently, juvenile rheumatoid arthritis (JRA).
Aurotherapy has been used throughout history to treat arthritis and rheumatic-related illness, however its efficacy is a subject of much debate. It is believed that gold attaches itself to certain proteins (albumin). Once absorbed into the cell, it is then purported to kill particular cells in order to affect the inflammation and erosion of joints. It does not necessarily act as a cure, but is rather believed to merely relieve symptoms of joint disease. Gold salts are occasionally used to treat children with juvenile idiopathic arthritis, however there are now conventional ministrations that are more popular and scientifically approved. Treatment involving gold salts requires frequent visits to the doctor, and can prove to be quite expensive. In the United States of America, sodium aurothiomalate and Aurothioglucose (sold under the names Myochrysine and Solgonal respectively) are the only drugs left in circulation that are based on aurotherapeutic methodology and include the gold salt ingredient.
The accumulation of gold salts in the body over time is believed to treat the symptoms of arthritis. They reduce inflammation of the joints and slow the general development of rheumatism. Often, the patient receives injections of gold for the first 22 weeks, and then less and less if the treatment is working. Gold salts can also be taken orally, however this has been found to be less effective, and it can be up to six months before the patient may notice any change in their condition. In recent times, aurotherapy have become a less popular treatment as other medication has become available.
Aurotherapy treatment can be administered orally or by intramuscular injection. The injections are prepared by treating gold bromide (a chemical compound found in sea salt) with thioglucose solution (a sugar-based product) and sulphur dioxide. It is liquefied and then recrystallised with water and methanol (a simple alcohol). They are administered to the patient weekly for around three to five months, until significant changes occur, and then treatment becomes less frequent. Auranofin is the oral capsule form of gold salts and is marketed under the name Ridaura. Myochrysine (sodium aurothiomalate) and Solganal (aurothioglucose) are administered by injection. Proteins in the blood need to be checked regularly through urine tests (which indicate kidney damage) and blood samples throughout this treatment.
Quite serious side effects can develop from aurotherapy. Gold compounds take up to two months to reach a steady state and have a long life in the body: only 70% is excreted in ten days. Patients with a history of bowel disease, skin rashes or bone marrow depression should seek medical advice before treatment, as they are at increased risk of developing adverse side effects through the use of gold salts. Common side effects of orally administered gold salts include decreased appetite, nausea, hair loss and diarrhoea, along with skin, blood, kidney or lung complications. Common side effects of gold salt injections include skin rash or mouth sores, and in some cases kidney problems. It has also been known to induce obesity.