Ask the Doctor: 8 Herbs for Arthritis

Reach for these herbs for arthritis to ease pain and reduce inflammation naturally.

  • Ginger helps decrease pain and inflammation.
    Photo by dream79/Fotolia
  • Cayenne contains capsaicin, which eases arthritis.
    Photo by Jiri Hera
  • Natural inflammation remedies, like ginger tea or turmeric in curry, can reduce joint pain and inflammation.
    Photo by maiwharn
  • High-impact activities, like running, can wreak havoc on joints. Learn how to reduce joint pain with herbs.
    Photo by Maridav/Fotolia
  • Healing turmeric is delicious in yellow curry.
    Photo by matin

Q. My husband is very active, but has joint pain from arthritis. Are there herbs for arthritis that can help his joints?

A. While injuries and overuse can contribute to osteoarthritis (the most common type of arthritis), physical activity maintains overall health and joint health and forms an essential part of arthritis treatment. Obesity poses a greater threat of joint degeneration than exercise. If activity produces pain, it’s a good idea to consult the family physician.

Secondly, herbs can reduce joint pain and inflammation. Natural arthritis remedies act more slowly than nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, but have fewer side effects. Three—turmeric, ginger and boswellia—come from the Ayurvedic (traditional Indian) tradition and work well in combination.

Turmeric (Curcuma longa), the spice that makes curry yellow, contains the potent anti-inflammatory chemical curcumin. Because of poor stability and intestinal absorption, curcumin is usually combined with bromelain (a pineapple enzyme that alone improves osteoarthritis), piperine (an ingredient in pepper) or phosphatidylcholine. Two long-term studies show that a particular curcumin-phosphatidylcholine complex (Meriva) improves arthritis symptoms and reduces blood levels of inflammatory chemicals.

Another curry spice, ginger (Zingiber officinale), decreases pain and inflammation. In one study, 250 mg of a ginger extract, taken four times a day, diminished pain from knee osteoarthritis, but only after three months of continuous use. A few studies also suggest that boswellia (Boswellia serrata), also called Indian frankincense, improves knee arthritis. Side effects may include gastrointestinal upset.

Herbs from other continents have also been studied. South African native devil’s claw (Harpagophytum procumbens) has the support of tradition and several studies for decreasing arthritis symptoms. Two species of cat’s claw, a spiky vine from South America, also shows arthritic healing promise. Uncaria guianensis has been shown to relieve knee pain during activity (but not at rest) in people with osteoarthritis; U. tomentosa reduces rheumatoid arthritis symptoms, particularly when used as a complement to conventional medical treatment.

Sandra Dattoli
2/26/2013 4:08:52 PM

The most important factor to prevent arthritis is to change your diet. Get rid of sugar and don't eat processed foods, especially bread and baked goods from the supermarket. The food you eat greatly contributes to the instance of arthritis.

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