For some arthritis sufferers, alternative therapies like herbal medicine provide a convenient, relatively inexpensive and low-risk alternative for relief of the common arthritis symptoms: inflammation, pain, joint stiffness and swelling.
The Arthritis Foundation estimates that nearly $1.3 billion are spent annually on prescription and over-the-counter pain medications such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. While these drugs bring symptomatic relief to many sufferers, several recent studies raise concerns about the long-term use and possible side-effects of pharmaceutical medications.
Botanical medicines represent one of the most accessible types of alternatives available. In fact, a study published late last year discovered that two out of three people with arthritis turn to complementary medicine to manage their symptoms.
Herbs can be taken in several ways including capsules, teas, powders, infused oils and liquid extracts. Although many herbs have not been clinically studied, this should not deter you from trying them. Most herbs have been around for thousands of years, and there is plenty of anecdotal evidence and informal studies that support herbal use.
Remember when using herbs that they work differently from drugs. You may need to experiment to find the one that works most effectively for you, and improvements may not be felt for at least a month, depending on the severity of the condition.
Herbal Inflammation Relief
Some commonly used herbal inflammation fighters are:
*Feverfew * St John’s Wort
*Turmeric * Devil’s Claw
*Rosemary * Boswellian
Feverfew – (Tanacetum parthernium)
Feverfew was known to the ancient Egyptians and Greeks and is commonly used in Europe for its anti-inflammatory properties, although it is better known in the USA for its ability to provide migraine relief. Double-blind studies support its effectiveness for arthritis. Feverfew is a member of the daisy family, similar to the chrysanthemum. It contains the compounds parthenolide, michefuscalide and chrysanthenyl which inhibit the production of prostaglandins. Prostaglandins are the hormone-like substance known to be significant in the inflammatory process and when inhibited, inflammation is reduced.
How to take it: Feverfew needs to be taken for at least a month before results will be noticed. Although liquid extracts are available, due to its very bitter taste, it is best taken in capsule form, 1-3 capsules daily.
St. John’s Wort – (Hyperium perforatum)
Often touted as a wonder-herb for its antidepressant effects, St. John’s Wort is widely underrated for its other beneficial properties. This common weed contains a compound called hypericin,which researchers in Germany found to inhibit NF-kB, a substance that acts as a trigger for pro-inflammatory genes. St. John’s Wort is cheap and grows abundantly all over the USA and Europe.
How to take it: If you prefer capsules you will have the choice between those that contain a standardized extract of the compound hypericin, and those that contain the whole plant. Herbalists are divided as to which are the most effective, so the best approach is to try both kinds for at least a month each and see what works well for you.
The tea is also pleasant. Use 1 to 2 teaspoons of dried herb per cup of boiling water. Cover and steep for 15 minutes. Drink up to 3 cups daily.
Tumeric – (Curcuma longa)
This familiar yellow herb often sits unnoticed on the spice rack, but is highly regarded in India’s traditional Ayurvedic medicine. Several studies show that curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric, has anti-inflammatory capabilities and may reduce swelling in arthritis, although it does not necessarily relieve pain. Studies conducted between 1971 and 1991 found curcumin to exert an even stronger anti-inflammatory action than hydrocortisone. Curcumin works by inhibiting platelet aggregation and cyclooxgenase and lipoxygenase enzymes, which trigger the formation of inflammatory prostaglandins.
How to take it: Do not take more than 3 cups of tea per day. If capsules are preferred, dosage is 100mg per day. Of course, adding more turmeric to your food is another convenient way to increase the amount you consume.
Devil’s Claw – (Harpagophytum procumbens) Not to be confused with Cat’s Claw
Native to South Africa, devil’s claw has become well known in the West as an anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving treatment for arthritis and rheumatic diseases. As early as 1958, researchers noted its effectiveness in relieving common arthritic symptoms. Some studies rated its anti-inflammatory effects equal to the commonly prescribed arthritic drug phenylbutazone. In a French study, devil’s claw therapy increased range of motion in patients by 80% and generally reduced pain in 90% of people tested. Researchers believe the plant’s compounds, called harpagosides, reduce inflammation without interfering with the production of prostaglandins, which help the body heal naturally and without side-effects.
How to take it: A tea can be made from simmering 1 tsp of root in 1 cup of water for 15 minutes. Sip the cup in small doses over 1-2 days. For tablets, follow the manufacturer’s recommendations. For arthritis associated with poor digestion, take 30 drops of liquid extract (tincture) with water, twice daily.
Rosemary – (Rosmarinus officinalis)
This well-known Mediterranean herb is not as humble as it looks. Used for centuries in the kitchen, rosemary’s components, rosmarinic acid and flavonoids, inhibit COX-2 activity. Rosemary essential oil (highly concentrated volatile oils) also relieves aching muscles.
How to take it: The tea is aromatic and bitter. Capsules are easier to handle, and herbalists recommend about 100mg per day total.
Boswellia – (Boswellia serrata)
The gum resin derived from the Boswellia tree native to India is famous for its anti-arthritis and anti-inflammatory properties. Several clinical studies show its effectiveness without producing any of the common side-effects of pharmaceutical medications. Although Boswellia does not affect the synthesis of prostaglandins, experts found that the herb does block the enzyme lipoxygenase, which decreases inflammatory causing agents, leukotrienes.
How to take it: Boswellia is available in capsules and powders, as well as a cream that is applied topically. Use 2-3 capsules of 250 mg. daily.
Of course, there are many other herbs known to be effective inflammation fighters, but those described above should get you started on a natural path to inflammation relief.
Cooper is a certified herbalist with a practice in Ventura, California. She advises as with any medication, to please consult a health care professional before taking any herbs. The information given above is for informational purposes only, and is not intended to treat or prescribe for any condition.