Monday, June 2, 2008

Herbs for Arthritis

I'm feeling particularly lazy as of late, so I'm just going to (once again) copy and paste something I've already written on the subject of treating arthritis naturally. I believe poor nutrition is at the root of almost every health problem today, and never recommend any herb or natural treatment as a "cure all" or "quick fix". The foundation of good herbalism is treating people as a whole and providing good, current information (as current as possible .. sometimes it seems herbal info changes daily) and guidance to positively change your *lifestyle* in the name of overall good health. If your diet is awful and you aren't properly hydrated, then I would be suprised if you weren't having some problems. Many people treat their animals better than they do themselves. Think about it. Would you get a puppy and feed him sugary sweets and Big Macs, and never give him water? Why do we do this to ourselves? Doesn't make sense, does it?

Anyway, here is the pasted information. There's a lot of it, but don't let it scare you. There are a lot of herbs out there and many, many different natural therapies for just about whatever ails you. Unfortunately, the same things don't always work for everyone, so there may be some trial and error in store for you. It's worth it. It's also worth your trouble to find a good local, professional herbalist or natural health practitioner (your local chiropractor might have some suggestions) and have an evaluation. You didn't ruin your health overnight, and you aren't going to 'fix' it overnight, either.

The best nutrition is found in whole, properly cooked foods, but if you’re like most Americans and aren’t eating a balanced, healthy diet, then supplementation might be for you. Only buy fresh supplements with no added dyes, flavors, stimulants, etc., from reliable, reputable sources. It is also important to note that more does not mean better, and natural does not mean safe! Take recommended daily doses of vitamins and supplements only unless advised otherwise by your trusted healthcare professional. Become and remain vigilant about monitoring what you put into that body of yours. It’s the only one you have.

Poor nutrition isn’t just a third world problem. Most of us find it difficult in this hectic day and age to pay close attention to what we are consuming, especially when we can drive through for fast food or open a box and have dinner in minutes. Regardless, a proper diet including good fats, adequate protein and the vitamins, minerals, and complex carbohydrates found in vegetables and whole grains has proven to be successful in treating many diseases, including each type of arthritis. I also cannot say enough about the importance of an adequate, clean water intake. At least 64 oz every day will decrease fluid retention (oh yes it will) and help with inflammation and increase important (good) fluids surrounding joints, easing movement (among a host of other dramatic health improvements it provides).

According to The Complete Guide To Natural Healing, toxins absorbed from the intestines promote joint inflammation. In cases of food allergies or intolerances, intestinal irritations and malnutrition, foods are not fully digested, and the intestinal lining begins to "leak" toxins, allergens and partially digested proteins into the bloodstream. Here are some guidelines to prevent this from occurring:

**Avoid constipation.

**Support the growth of beneficial bacteria with acidophilus supplements.

**Eat a high-fiber diet low in commercial, non-organic animal products, chemical additives and pesticide-treated foods.

**Avoid any foods that cause adverse reactions.

**Consider taking herbs that support liver function, including licorice, burdock, milk thistle, and red clover, and herbs that aid the intestines, including peppermint, aloe vera, alfalfa, ginger and marsh mallow.

**For some, an enema can reduce pain by releasing toxins and buffering intestinal acids. Discuss this with your healthcare professional. Hyperacidity, in addition to intestinal toxins, has been linked to acute inflammations. Try an enema using 2 cups of clean water. Or, combine 1 qt. of clean water or fresh, warm chamomile tea with 1 tbsp. of sodium bicarbonate (never use an enema if you are pregnant or think you might be pregnant without consulting your physician!).

Try eliminating nightshade plants, including peppers, tomatoes, eggplant and potatoes from your diet to make sure you aren’t sensitive to them. Foods affect arthritis symptoms differently from person to person so it is worth the effort to discover if any of them are causing symptomatic flare-ups for you.

Also try systematically eliminating refined, processed sugars and flours. Eliminate each suspect food for about six weeks to determine if there are any symptom changes. Record your progress.

If you are not pepper-sensitive, regular use of cayenne pepper in the diet has been shown to ease arthritic pain.

Herbs and Herbal Teas for Arthritis (my next post will be "How To Make Your Own Herbal Preparations" with instructions on making herbal teas.)

~Stinging Nettle a.k.a. Nettle, or Common Nettle (Urtica dioica): Rich in vitamins and minerals including Vitamin A, Vitamin C, potassium, calcium, sulfur and magnesium, Stinging Nettle has many anti-inflammatory effects. It also helps the kidneys excrete uric acid, which builds up in cases of gout. Drink at least 3 cups daily. Nettle tea may be drunk long term.
~Alfalfa a.k.a Lucerne (Medicago saliva): Literally packed with nutrients; vitamins, minerals, proteins and good fats for increased overall health.
~Chickweed (Stellaria media): A very mild, gentle laxative which aids in overall cleansing of the body.
~Devil's Claw (Harpagophytum procumbens): An anti-inflammatory, analgesic, digestive stimulant.
~Horsetail (Equisetum arvense): Contains silica, vital in rebuilding bone and strengthening and regenerating connective tissue. Simmer 2 teaspoons of dried horsetail in 1 cup of water for about 15 minutes. Drink 2-3 cups a day.
~White Willow Bark (Salix alba): Contains salicin, a natural pain reliever which is used to make aspirin, but does not irritate the stomach.
~Wild Yam Root (Dioscorea villosa): Is an anti-inflammatory and can help reduce pain. It also has mild diuretic properties to gently cleanse the body of toxins and waste.
~Yucca: Contains saponins which help aid digestion. An impaired digestive system may result in excess histamine production, which may leads to increased inflammation and pain in some people.

Bromelaine is an anti-inflammatory food enzyme from the pineapple plant. Also available in pill form, bromelaine is good for pain reduction and has been shown to help with connective tissue disorders over time.

Boswellin (Boswellia serrata) is a natural and safe herb for optimum joint health. Also available in pill form, it contains the active constituent Boswellic Acid, a pyrazoline derivative shown to be very effective in supporting healthy joints.

According to the University of Maryland Medical Center website (, Omega 3Fatty Acids from natural sources like fish (such as tuna or salmon, twice a week), broccoli, spinach, kale, roasted walnuts and pumpkin seeds, and seaweed eaten regularly can reduce inflammation and increase blood flow. Omega 3s may also be found in fresh, high-quality, certified mercury-free supplements. Rancid fish oil has been scientifically linked to serious health problems.

Vitamin C helps repair and maintain cartilage and bones, but PLEASE NOTE: Study results appearing in the June 2004 issue of Arthritis & Rheumatism showed that the long-term use of supplemental Vitamin C may worsen the severity of osteoarthritis (a different disease process than rheumatoid arthritis) of the knee. Osteoarthritis sufferers should never take more than the daily recommended dose of Vitamin C. Good sources of Vitamin C are broccoli, cantaloupe, grapefruit, green bell peppers, fresh orange juice, oranges, red peppers, strawberries, tomatoes, tropical fruit juices, and tropical fruits such as papaya and mango. Keep in mind that the Vitamin C in your fresh squeezed orange juice is susceptible to oxidation, so only squeeze as much as you’re going to drink immediately.

Vitamin A is an antioxidant and helps with bone formation. Foods containing Vitamin A include eggs, milk, butter, sweet potatoes, canned pumpkin, raw carrots, cantaloupe, mango, spinach, broccoli, kale, collards, and butternut squash.

Vitamin E is an antioxidant reportedly as effective in long term pain relief as NSAIDS (Advil, Ibuprofen). Food sources include dry roasted nuts, olive oil, avocado, peanut butter and fortified cereals. PLEASE NOTE: If you have high blood pressure or are taking blood thinners/anticoagulants, be sure to consult your physician before starting supplemental doses of Vitamin E.

According to Dr. John M. Ellis, the master vitamin in processing amino acids, B6, helps to support the structure and function of the muscles. Vitamin B6 has also been shown to be effective in relieving the pain, stiffness and locking of finger joints. Foods rich in Vitamin B6 include fish, meats, poultry, avocados, and bananas.

Make sure you get folic acid, also known as folate, or Vitamin B9, every day. Good sources of folic acid are: dried peas and beans, oranges, orange juice, green vegetables, and whole grains.
Vitamin B12 helps to maintain a healthy blood supply and stimulates osteoblasts, a type of bone cell that generates not red blood cells but bone. You can meet the Recommended Daily Allowance mainly by consuming foods with added B12 (such as low sugar fortified cereals) or by taking a supplement containing B12. B12 in crystalline form (look for the word “cyanocobalamin” on the supplement label), is better absorbed.

Glucosamine Sulfate (GS) is a naturally exisisting amino sugar important in the biochemical synthesis of glycosylated proteins and lipids (glycosaminoglycans, which are a major component of joint cartilage). GS improves flexibility of joints, rebuilds lost cartilage, prevents further deterioration of joints, alleviates stiffness & is scientifically tested. It generally takes about 3 months to notice progress and up to 6 months for real benefit, so be persistent. Liquid form (if you can find it) is best. Look for “Glucosamine HCL” or “Glucosamine Sulfate” on the package. Since glucosamine is usually derived from shellfish, those allergic to shellfish may wish to avoid it.

MSM (methylsulfonylmethane) is an organic sulfur compound which occurs naturally in some primitive plants and is present in small amounts in many foods and beverages. MSM supplies sulfur and in a double blind study showed that patients with osteoarthritis found pain relief within 6 weeks.

Chondrointin Sulfate rebuilds cartilage and eases joint discomfort.

Manganese Ascorbate is a mineral essential to forming connective tissue/cartilage, and helps keep bones strong.

Spending time in water relieves strain on joints! Swimming, water aerobics and aqua jogging (running in water) are very effective for any type of arthritis. They can restore joint mobility and help you lose weight (and reduce any unnecessary load on your joints) if you are overweight.

One of the secrets to any natural therapy is patience and persistence, which is why they don't work for those who expect immediate results and give up too soon. It often takes weeks or even months to see results, but in the long run you will be making positive changes in your health and saving money.

***This information is for educational purposes only and not meant to prescribe, diagnose, treat or prevent any disease. It should not substitute the advice or recommendations of your physician or health professional, nor should it replace prescription medications without proper supervision. You are encouraged to seek professional medical advice from a qualified medical practitioner, naturopath or local professional herbalist before making dietary changes or beginning a new supplement program.

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