Saturday, July 19, 2008

Herbs To Ease Arthritis: Joint inflammation, from mild to severe, can be treated with the likes of capsicum, cat's claw, white willow bark, and alfal

Arthritis is a general medical term referring to signs and symptoms of inflammation of the joints, usually caused by wear and tear, injury, or infection. Arth comes from the Greek, meaning joint, and itis means inflammation or infection. There are more than 100 types of arthritis, ranging from mild to disabling.

Osteoarthritis-This type of arthritis is marked by chips and cracks in the smooth cartilage that lines the joints. The bone ends may rub together and develop growths called spurs. Osteo-arthritis affects about half of those over 65. It usually occurs in the hands or in large weight-bearing joints such as the knee and hip.

Rheumatoid arthritis-In this arthritic condition, the lining of the capsule surrounding a joint becomes inflamed and thickened, causing swelling, pain, and stiffness. The cause is believed to be autoimmune (the body's own immune system attacking itself). It usually affects those between 20 and 50 years old, the majority of whom are women.

Gout-This affliction typically strikes men over 40 and is caused by elevated blood levels of uric acid, one of the body's waste products, which form crystals in the earlobe, as well as the joints of the foot, big toe, and thumb. The immune system reacts to these crystals as if they were a foreign invader, causing the joint to become inflamed and painful.

Medical Treatment

Current medical treatment of arthritis depends on its type and severity. Most kinds of arthritis are treated effectively with pain killers and anti-inflammatory medications combined with a program of gentle exercise to keep muscles and bones strong. Gout is treated with diet and medications to reduce uric acid levels in the blood. In very severe cases of osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, surgery may be performed to replace a damaged joint or to smooth rough joint surfaces.

Practicing preventive medicine is always best, and may in fact reduce the chances of developing arthritis. Moderate regular exercise, which is vital to maintaining flexibility and bone and muscle strength, can help prevent osteoarthritis. Keeping a healthy weight, which lessens the pressure on weight-bearing joints, having good posture, and avoiding excessive repetitive activities, such as typing, are also critical. To reduce the chances of gout, the focus should be on weight control. Individuals are advised to avoid alcohol and high-protein foods such as meat-especially organ meats and shellfish-and drink plenty of water.

Help from Herbs

For centuries, man has sought effective medicinal plants for the treatment of various types of arthritis. Ancient and primitive cultures alike have experimented with numerous herbs. Tradition-ally, the indigenous people of Peru have used both the root and the inner bark of Cat's Claw (Uncaria tomentosa) to prepare a tea in the form of a decoction as a treatment for arthritis. Other traditional herbs such as Angelica, Black and White Willows, Bogbean, Cayenne, Dandelion, Devil's Claw, Ginger, Wintergreen, and many others have been used by various cultures as anti-rheumatics. While some of these herbs have proven anti-inflammatory properties, much more scientific research needs to be conducted to determine what plants in nature's pharmacy can aide the arthritis sufferer. Here are just a few of the many medicinal herbs that have been used successfully for arthritis relief:

(Capsicum frutescens and Capsicum annum)

Capsicum is also commonly known as red pepper, cayenne pepper, and chili pepper. The dried ripe fruit of Capsicum frutescens and Capsicum annum is rich in the phytochemical capsaicin, which is the active phytochemical constituent responsible for the pungent and irritating effects of cayenne pepper. It's what makes the red pepper hot!

Applied externally, over-the-counter creams and ointments containing capsaicin are often effective in relieving the pain of either osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis. Capsaicin depletes pain fibers of substance P (a neurotransmitter that mediates the transmission of pain impulses from peripheral nerves to the spinal cord). As a result, even though the condition causing the pain continues, no perception of that pain reaches the brain. Please note that the depletion of substance P does not occur immediately.

To use commercial creams containing capsaicin effectively, apply externally four or five times daily for a period of at least four weeks. Creams containing 0.025 or 0.075 percent capsaicin are effective in the treatment of pain when applied to affected areas. Capsaicin preparations have been approved by the FDA for over-the-counter sale. After each application, wash your hands thoroughly and carefully avoid contact with the eyes and mucous membranes to prevent severe burning irritation.

Devil's Claw
(Harpagophytum procumbens)

This valuable plant has been found effective in the treatment of some but not all cases of arthritis. The medicinal part is the rhizome, whose anti-inflammatory (anti-rheumatic) properties have been attributed to three glycosides: harpagoside, harpagide, and procumbine. This herb is well worth considering in cases of arthritis where inflammation and pain exist.

In very limited pharmacological and clinical studies conducted in Germany in the mid-70's, Devil's Claw exhibited anti-inflammatory activity comparable to phenylbutazone, a well-known anti-arthritic drug. While Devil's claw appears to be a very safe medicinal herb, much more clinical research is needed to scientifically support its use as an effective treatment for arthritis and other inflammatory conditions.

Three to four grams of the dried rhizome taken orally three times daily are often recommended by medical herbalists for use as an anti-inflammatory. It can also be taken as a tincture, up to 15 ml a day. The herb may be used in combination with other anti-inflammatory herbs such as meadowsweet or white willow bark.

(Filipendula ulmaria)

Meadowsweet is a common wild plant that grows throughout Europe, parts of Asia, and in North America. Its fully-opened flowers and leaves are picked during its flowering period, between June and August. Meadowsweet has been used effectively as an anti-rheumatic and anti-inflammatory. The herb contains an essential oil rich in salicylic acid compounds called spiraeine and gaultherin, aspirin-like phytochemicals that relieve the pain of rheumatism in joints.

Used as a traditional arthritis remedy, meadowsweet is made into a tea by pouring a cup of boiling water over one teaspoon of the carefully dried leaves and letting it stand for 10-15 minutes to infuse. The tea is taken three times a day or as needed.

White Willow Bark
(Salix alba)

White willow is an ancient remedy used for treating rheumatism and aches and pains of all kinds. Hippocrates recommended the chewing of willow bark as a means of reliving pain and inflammation. The tree's bark and leaves are a rich source of salicin, an effective phytochemical used for its painkilling, anti-inflammatory, and fever-reducing properties. The compound is closely related to acetylsalicylic acid, the active ingredient in aspirin. Although white willow is recognized as the natural form and origin of the modern aspirin, aspirin today contains no derivatives of willow and is entirely synthetic.

Obtaining enough salicin from white willow bark to effectively treat arthritis symptoms can be quite difficult. It could take a large quantity to provide a sufficient concentration. In his book, Herbs of Choice (Pharmaceutical Products Press, 1994), Varro Tyler, Ph.D., professor of pharmacognosy at Purdue University, states, "...the active principle, salicin, occurs in the herb in such small amounts as to render its use as a painkiller impractical." Adds Tyler: "Somewhere between three and 21 cups of willow bark tea would have to be consumed to obtain a single average dose."

(Gaultheria procumbens)

Wintergreen is largely used for its oil, which is naturally rich in methyl salicylate. This phytochemical, obtained by distilling the leaves of wintergreen, is recognized as an effective external analgesic related to the aspirin group of compounds. Methyl salicylate is used as an active ingredient in many over-the-counter liniments, lotions, or ointments which contain concentrations of the pain-relieving analgesic ranging from 10 to 60 percent. However, most over-the-counter preparations containing methyl salicylate are made synthetically unless specified.

Applied externally, an over-the-counter cream containing methyl salicylate derived from natural wintergreen oil can be very helpful in reducing the pain and inflammation of acute rheumatism.

There is still much to learn about the role that diet and medicinal plants play in the prevention and treatment of arthritis. While we cannot promise cures, we do know that a healthy, low-fat, plant-based diet along with the use of some medicinal herbs may have a significant impact in a program for arthritis relief.

Alfalfa (Medicago sativa)

Although there is not a wealth of scientific information to support the efficacy of alfalfa as an arthritis treatment, in my many years of professional experience as a nutritionist and herbalist, I have met hundreds of individuals who have received tremendous relief from supplementing their daily diet with this herb. Alfalfa tablets consist of a specially-prepared alfalfa powder obtained from carefully grown and harvested mature alfalfa leaves that have been sun- and air-dried and then milled into a fine, bright-green powder.

Traditionally, alfalfa has been used as a source of good nutrition, a tonic, mild diuretic, and anti-arthritic. Herbalists often recommend alfalfa tablets as a nutritional food supplement to complement a healthy diet. Alfalfa's nutrient-rich leaves contain beta carotene, vitamin K, and several trace minerals such as chromium, molybdenum, manganese, nickel, selenium, tin and several others. The leaves contain large amounts of chlorophyll and are a source of dietary fiber.

Alfalfa tea has been traditionally used as a healthful tonic beverage and a natural remedy for arthritis. Alfalfa leaf powder is also consumed as a dietary supplement in tablet form. Arthritis sufferers often attest to its effectiveness in relieving conditions including rheumatoid arthritis. Currently, no solid scientific evidence exists to substantiate alfalfa's effectiveness. Pharmacologically, the plant does not contain any active compounds that might suggest to scientists the herb's benefit to the arthritic.

A significant amount of anecdotal evidence suggests that alfalfa may be an effective herbal aid for arthritis-not just a placebo effect. Such findings can often be valuable. Anecdotal evidence has led to the discovery of most of the important herbal medicines that are used and accepted by orthodox medicine today. However, further scientific research needs to be conducted to evaluate alfalfa's potential efficacy as an aid to arthritis sufferers.

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