A friend of my called me the other to ask what she can do for her aching knees. “It’s this weather, “she said, “and I don’t want to use ASA, it upsets my stomach.”
Natural pain relief for arthritis offers short-term symptomatic relief and long-term relief through reducing continued damage and promoting repair.
This includes osteoarthritis (the wear and tear of joints) and rheumatoid arthritis (an auto-immune disease which causes joint inflammation).
Short-term relief can be as simple as applying hot and cold to aching joints. A warm bath with 10 drops of rosemary essential oil eases tension from joints reducing pain. Massaging aching joints with a cayenne pepper (Capsicum spp.) salve will bring heat into joint and provide pain relief. If the joint is hot, as in RA (Rheumatoid arthritis) be careful applying heat. Try cold instead. Icing a joint for 10 minutes numbs the nerves and provides temporary relief.
A peppermint essential oil salve will also numb the pain.
Like my friend, many people use over the counter NSAID (non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs) to temporarily reduce joint pain. Every year approximately 20,000 people are hospitalized for complications due NSAID use. In Canada and the U.S., about 2,600 of these people die. Herbal medicine offers safe and effective alternatives.
In 1829, a French pharmacist, Henri Leroux, isolated salicylic acid from willow bark (Salix spp.) and made the first precursor to aspirin. Salicylic acid is the pain relieving chemical in aspirin. Unfortunately, the new drug burned holes in stomachs. Back to the laboratory went the pharmacist. Further research resulted in two different findings. One: salicylic acid when bond to another chemical called an acetyl resulted in fewer gastric ulcers. Hence ASA was born. Acetylsalicylic acid is today’s aspirin.
Another group of researchers were curious that willow bark, which has been used for centuries to ease arthritic pain, has never caused stomach ulcers. They asked the question: Why when isolated from the willow bark does salicylic acid cause painful, bleeding ulcers? These researchers discovered that in the plant, salicylic acid is found in another form called salicin. Salicin is an alcohol. It does not become an acid until it is absorbed through the small intestine and enters the blood. There the chemistry of the blood causes the salicin to become salicylic acid, the pain relieving remedy. For this reason, willow bark has never caused ulcers.
Most herbal formulas which offer pain relief for arthritis will contain willow bark. The bark of poplar (Poplaris spp.) and birch (Betula spp.) also contains the same pain relieving chemicals.
In my practice, I use poplar most frequently, harvesting each spring from my tree in the back yard. It is very cost effective medicine.
Other herbs used to reduce the inflammation and ease painful joints are devil’s claw (Harpagophytum procumbens) and Sarsparilla (Smilax spp.) Devil’s claw, used by the Bantu women of South Africa to dampen the pain of child birth, was picked up by the white to relieve the pain of arthritis. Sarsparilla (Smilax spp.), one of the original roots in root beer, is particularly useful in reducing the inflammation of rheumatoid arthritis.
Glucosamine sulfate is a supplement that reduces the long term effects of arthritis. Glucosamine is a form of sugar. The body usually uses most sugars for energy, glucosamine, however, is used by the body to glue itself together. A few of the many places it is found are eyes, nails, heart valves, skin and in high concentrations joints. The body uses glucosamine to repair the wear and tear of daily use on joints. Unfortunately, aging decreases the production of glucosamine in to body. For this reason it is frequently recommended for those beginning to show signs of arthritis. The effects of glucosamine are usually felt within two to eight weeks. Some people only notice its effects when they stop taking it. The arthritis gets worse. Research has shown that NSAID interfere with the body’s production of glucosamine.
This is just a few of the solutions to relieving the pain of arthritis. Once joint damage has occurred, it is impossible to repair it, but there is a lot that can be done to reduce further damage and ease the pain of aching joints.
Herbs for Life is written by Abrah Arneson, a local clinical herbalist. It is intended for information purposes only. Readers with a specific medical problem should consult a doctor. For more information, visit www.abraherbalist.ca. Arneson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.