Arthritis symptoms can keep you from going about your everyday activities. The pain and swelling (inflammation) may still persist despite medical intervention. In an effort to gain relief and take a “natural” approach, more arthritis patients are seeking herbal remedies than ever before. Certain herbs may have anti-inflammatory properties that can help with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), as well as the ability to reduce pain in all forms of the disease. Still, there is a lack ofscientific evidence supporting such claims. Before you treat arthritis the “natural” way, make sure you talk to a doctor first to avoid potentially life-threatening side effects.
Inflammation is the body’s natural response to injury or infection, often causing localized redness, swelling, or heat. It possibly causes loss of function of the involved tissues. Acute inflammation is typically a protective and localized response to infection or injury. It’s designed to heal the body and restore normal tissue function.
If inflammation persists for a prolonged period of time, it becomes chronic inflammation. Chronic inflammation can be the result of an infection, autoimmune reaction, or allergy.
Diet and Inflammation
Certain foods have been identified as “anti-inflammatory” and may help to reduce chronic inflammation and pain. Omega-3 fatty acids found in fish, certain nuts, and even chocolate have all been acknowledged for their anti-inflammatory properties.
Research into exactly how well these foods can reduce inflammation in the body is mixed, but promising.
Turmeric is a brilliant yellow spice common in Indian cuisine that you can find in any grocery store. Turmeric has been used as a medicine for centuries to treat wounds, infections, colds, and liver disease. Studies have shown that curcumin, a compound in turmeric, may reduce inflammation in the body. Used in cooking to make curry, turmeric is a yellow powder made from the related flowering plant. Unlike other types of herbs, NCCAM has found that turmeric may work best in fighting joint pain when it is taken orally. Lab studies on rats have also found that this herb may slow the progression of rheumatoid arthritis. While relief may have been seen in animals, few human studies have been conducted with turmeric.
Ginger is a zesty spice used in many Asian cuisines. You can buy it powdered or as a fresh root in most supermarkets. Ginger has been used as a traditional medicine to treat stomach upset, headaches, and infections. The anti-inflammatory properties of ginger have been praised for centuries, and scientific studies have confirmed its benefits. You may have ginger in your spice cabinet for cooking, but this herb is also a staple in many alternative medicine cabinets. The same compounds that give ginger its strong flavor are also the same ones that have anti-inflammatory properties. The NCCAM says that early studies in reducing joint swelling with ginger in RA are promising. However, limited human trials have yet to prove the effectiveness of this treatment.
Cinnamon is a popular spice often used to flavor baked treats. But cinnamon is more than just a delicious additive in our cakes. Studies have proven that the spice has anti-inflammatory properties, which could help to ease swelling. Keep a good supply of cinnamon on hand and sprinkle it in your coffee or tea, and on top of your breakfast cereal.
The anti-inflammatory properties of garlic have been proven to ease arthritis symptoms. And a little bit goes a long way in many dishes. Use fresh garlic in almost any savory dish for added flavor and health benefits. If the taste is just too much for you, roast a head of garlic for a sweeter, milder flavor.
Cayenne and other hot chili peppers have been praised for their health benefits since ancient times. All chili peppers contain natural compounds called capsaicinoids. This is what gives the spicy fruits their anti-inflammatory properties. It has long been used as a digestive aid. However, cayenne has more recently been shown to ease pain associated with arthritis and headaches. Chili peppers are widely considered to be a powerful anti-inflammatory spice, so be sure to include a dash of cayenne in your next dish.
If cayenne is just too hot for your liking, you’ll be happy to know that the milder black pepper has been identified for its anti-inflammatory properties as well. Known as the “King of Spices,” black pepper has been valued for its flavor and anti-bacterial, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory benefits. Studies have shown that the chemical compounds of black pepper, particularly piperine, may be effective in the early acute inflammatory process.
Cloves have been used as an expectorant, and to treat upset stomach, nausea, and inflammation of the mouth and throat. Research is still mixed, but evidence shows that clove may have anti-inflammatory properties. Powdered clove works well in baked goods and in some savory dishes, like hearty soups and stews. You can also use whole cloves to infuse both flavor and nutrition into hot drinks like tea or cider.
Aloe vera is one of the most commonly used herbs in alternative medicine. Known for its healing properties, it is popular for treating small skin abrasions. You may already have a bottle of aloe vera gel in the medicine cabinet from a past experience with sunburn for pain relief. This same type of product may be applied topically to soothe achy joints.
This herb is also available in whole form from the leaves of the plant. The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) says that oral aloe vera can cause decreased blood sugar and gastrointestinal side effects, such as diarrhea. Topical aloe vera, on the other hand, does not cause any side effects.
Boswellia is praised by alternative medicine practitioners for its anti-inflammatory capabilities. It is derived from the gum of boswellia trees, which are indigenous to India. Also called frankincense, this herb is thought to work by blocking leukotrienes. Leukotrienes are substances that can attack healthy joints in autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis. The NCCAM acknowledges promising evidence of boswellia in animal studies, but notes a lack of human trials. Boswellia is available in tablet form, as well as topical creams.
Cat’s claw is another anti-inflammatory herb that may reduce swelling in arthritis. This herb is from a tropical vine, and its usage dates back to Inca civilizations. Traditionally, cat’s claw is used to boost your immune system. In recent years, the immunity powers of the herb have been tried in arthritis. The downside is that cat’s claw may overstimulate the immune system, potentially making arthritis pain worse. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC), studies have shown that cat’s claw can help with osteoarthritis pain and RA swelling. However, there’s no proof that this herb can prevent further joint damage.
Like aloe vera, eucalyptus is widely available in western markets. It is used in oral medications, and topical oil extracts are used for a variety of conditions. Topical forms of eucalyptus leaves are used to treat arthritis pain. These plant leaves contain tannins, which may be helpful in reducing swelling and the resulting pain that arthritis causes. Some users follow up with heat pads to maximize the effects of eucalyptus on swollen joints.
Green tea is one of the most popular beverages in the world, and has even been used to reduce inflammation in the body. It is possible that green tea can be used to treat arthritis inflammation in the form of beverages, tablets, or tinctures. The NCCAM found in a 2010 study that green tea might help both osteoarthritis and RA patients. Many more studies are needed to prove the potential benefits of green tea.
Thunder God Vine
Thunder god vine is one of the oldest herbs used in Chinese medicine. Extracts from skinned roots are known for suppressing an overactive immune system, making thunder god vine a possible alternative candidate for treatment of autoimmune diseases such as RA. It is best used in topical form applied directly to the skin. Thunder god vine may work best when used with conventional RA medications. Use extreme caution with this herb, as it can be poisonous if extracts are derived from other areas of the vine.
Willow bark is one of the longest-used herbs in treating inflammation. In fact, patients during Hippocrates’ time chewed on willow bark to help treat inflammatory conditions. UMMC reports that the herb shows promise in relieving osteoarthritis-related joint pain, particularly in the knees, back, hips, and neck. This treatment is taken orally, either by tea or tablet. Getting the right dose is crucial, as an overdose can cause rashes and other forms of inflammation.