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Arthritis literally means “joint inflammation,” but medically it also refers tomore than 100 rheumatic diseases that cause pain, stiffness, and swelling in joints or connective tissue. One form or another of the disease afflicts 50 million Americans. Arthritis is the most prevalent cause of disability in people 65 and older.
Osteoarthritis (OA) develops because of excessive wear to the cartilage between the joints, and commonly afflicts athletes and older people who have simply “worn out” their joints. Rheumatoid arthritis (RA), on the other hand, is an autoimmune disease, meaning it is caused by a person’s own immune system attacking his or her otherwise healthy body and causing inflammation. RA can strike any joint, regardless of how much or how little the joint has been used, and at any age.
Here are some of the best herbs to use for relieving arthritis symptoms.
Green Tea and Turmeric
Both green tea and turmeric inhibit what’s known as cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2). This enzyme helps the body produce inflammatory compounds. But when the body over-produces COX-2, the result is chronic inflammation and pain.
Turmeric is a staple in Ayurvedic arthritis treatment. A recent study published in Inflammopharmacology tested turmeric extract for knee arthritis. The turmeric extract showed significant improvement in symptoms compared to a placebo. Use up to 10 grams of powdered turmeric, in capsules, per day. Use it liberally in cooking, too. And you can make a turmeric tea by making a paste of turmeric (about a tsp.) with honey and adding hot water.
In a study published in Arthritis & Rheumatology, ginger (Zingiber officinale) was tested in people who suffered with osteoarthritis (OA) of the knee. In the study, 261 patients with moderate-to-severe knee pain received ginger extract or a placebo twice daily for six weeks. The ginger group experienced less pain overall, and reported reduced knee pain when standing and after walking. In capsules, take 250 mg per day.
Boswellia gum (Boswellia serrata) contains constituents called boswellic acids that inhibit inflammation-producing substances, and prevent inflammation through several mechanisms in the body. A 2013 study compared several herbal remedies, including boswellia, to the popular supplement glucosamine, and the arthritis drug celecoxib. The results were impressive—herbs reduced knee pain and improved knee function as well as the drug and glucosamine. Take 500 mg per day of boswellia extract standardized to 30% boswellic acid.
Combining boswellia with other herbal anti-inflammatories may be even more beneficial. One study gave patients with OA either a combination of 100 mg of boswellia, 450 mg of ashwagandha, 50 mg of turmeric, and 50 mg of a zinc complex per day,
or a placebo, for three months. The herbal combination signifcantly reduced the severity of pain and disability associated with OA.
A traditional pain reliever, willow bark (Salix alba) contains salicin and other constituents (salicylates) which are the herbal forerunners of aspirin. A review of several studies published in Phyto-therapy Research concluded that willow bark performed as well as commonly used drugs for musculoskeletal pain.
Take 400 mg of willow bark per day in capsules as needed. Willow bark also makes a soothing tea. Simmer 1 oz. of chopped bark for an hour, strain, and drink over the course of the day.
For rheumatoid arthritis pain and swelling, try rubbing a little aloe vera gel directly on joints. You can purchase the gel (most commonly used for sunburn pain), or grow your own. Snip a leaf directly from the plant and rub the gel on afflicted joints as you would lotion.
Karta Purkh Singh Khalsa, DN-C, RH, is president of the American Herbalists Guild and author of The Way of Ayurvedic Herbs.