Best herbal pain relievers for arthritis, joints, and stiffness
Since the beginning of time stiff joints, sore knees and “bad backs” have gone hand in hand with the increasing birthday celebrations of the aging population.
Arthritis patients hurt in or around joints as the cartilage deteriorates. Usually this is seen in the hands, knees and back. Arthritis occurs in multiple forms, Osteoarthritis (OA), rheumatoid arthritis (RA), gout, lupus, psoriatic, for example.
Osteoarthritis (OA), wearing out of the cartilage, resulting in pain, is more common. This is not to be confused with osteoporosis, which is a different problem. Osteoarthritis is typically a disease of older people, it strikes later in life. Rheumatoid arthritis (RA), on the other hand, can occur at any age, even in children. The average onset of RA is between 30 and 50 years old. Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease where the body itself produces cellular material which adversely attacks the patient. This form is present in a small population and is often treated with corticosteroids. The inflammation caused by RA can lead to heart, lung, and eye damage. No matter what type of arthritis you may have, they all have pain, fatigue and inflammation in common.
Before the evolution of traditional medicine, the herbalists knew that the bark of the Willow tree, when brewed into a tea, had magical powers. This bark contains salicylic acid, the foundation of today’s aspirin, and probably the most popular anti-inflammatory agent ever discovered. The mechanism of action of aspirin (inhibition of prostaglandin) has been the foundation for other drugs designed to treat the pain and discomfort of ailing joints, i.e. NSAIDS (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) like naproxen or ibuprofen. Inevitably, traditional medicine, whether overprescribed or overused, may result in patient sensitivity and undesirable side effects. This has driven the population to again seek answers in naturopathic medicine for relief of arthritic pain.
While experts agree that there’s no magic cure for arthritis, an increasing amount of research suggests that natural remedies from fish oil to cayenne pepper may help lessen arthritis pain, particularly when used in combination with traditional treatment. Scientists are discovering the effects of other supplements on arthritis pain, too, including turmeric and nettle. Nevertheless, the best dosages and possible long-term side effects of these supplements are largely unknown. It’s also challenging to determine the true effects of herbs and extracts due to a phenomenon called the “placebo effect.”
Researchers evaluated 31 complementary remedies for arthritis taken either by mouth or applied to the skin that had quality studies available. Each was scored for effectiveness based on users’ improvements in pain, disability or quality of life, with “1” suggesting the supplement is not effective and “5” suggesting consistent evidence of efficacy. Few supplements were given a “5” rating. For OA, capsaicin, a topical treatment extracted from cayenne pepper, scored 5. Indian frankincense, a plant extract that blocks the production of hormone-like substances thought to trigger joint inflammation, scored 4.
For RA, nearly three-quarters of the supplements evaluated scored poorly, but fish oil scored 5.
Devil’s claw, ginger, French maritime pine bark extracts and rosehip all rated 3 for OA. For RA, borage seed oil and evening primrose oil also received 3.
Here is a list of herbs and foods that might help alleviate arthritic pain and fight inflammation:
- Borage (Borage seed oil)
- Cayenne pepper
- Devil’s claw
- Evening primrose
- French Maritime Pine tree
- Indian Frankincense (Boswellia)
- Lemon (or any antioxidant with vitamin C)
- Olive (olive oil)
- Willow tree bark
Herbs can be used in herbal tea as well, alone or mixed. For example, try turmeric and ginger tea with honey, stinging nettle tea with lemon and honey, rosehip and ginger tea with honey. Willow tree bark can be taken in capsule form or as a tea also with honey and lemon.
Peppermint, catnip, St.John’s wort, and valerian don’t change the course of the arthritis itself, but they do have analgesic, or pain-relieving, properties, and can be used as pain remedies. Broccoli, Brussel sprouts, cabbage, kale, cauliflower also should be a part of arthritis diet.
Among the foods to avoid are soft drinks and processed food. Remember: the best remedy for arthritic pain is to maintain a healthy weight, to be physically active, and to eat healthy food. Obesity increases the stress on joints, and is a major factor in arthritis. Fat produces immune mediators directly linked to deterioration of cartilage. Maintaining a healthy body weight, exercising (weight bearing) and eating a diet rich in antioxidants found in fruits, vegetable and nuts, along with omega 3-fatty acids present in some fish and healthy oils such as olive oil will hopefully help delay or abate the malady of old age known as arthritis. Just remember, when you try any arthritis supplements or herbs for pain relief that many of them interact with traditional drugs. For information about potential interactions when mixing herbs and drugs you can go to this website: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginformation.html. Before you start taking any of this, though, you need to talk to a doctor.
And here is a recipe to make your own capsaicin cream at home from Cayenne pepper. Mix together 3 tbsp. of cayenne with 1 cup of grapeseed oil (or olive oil) and heat in a double boiler for 5-10 minutes over medium heat. Stir in a 1/2 cup of grated beeswax and continue to stir until it has melted completely and everything is blended together. Chill the mixture in the refrigerator for 10 minutes, and then whisk together. Chill for another 10-15 and then whip again. Put the mixture in a tightly closed container and refrigerate.
You can modify this recipe adding two more anti-inflammatory and pain reducing spices – turmeric (3 tbsp.) and ginger (2 tbsp.).
- Arthritis: The Nation's Most Common Cause of Disability. National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/chronicdisease/resources/publications/aag/arthritis.htm
- Reid, M.C., Shengelia, R., Parker, S.J. (March 2012). Pharmacologic management of osteoarthritis-related pain in older adults. The American journal of nursing. Retrieved from http://journals.lww.com/ajnonline/pages/articleviewer.aspx?year=2012&issue=03001&article=00007&type=abstract
- Arthritis. (January 2014) U.S. National Library of Medicine. Medline Plus. Retrieved from http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/arthritis.html
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