Natural Arthritis Relief

Relieve the pain of arthritis naturally by relying on herbs, supplements and healthy habits.

| September/October 2013

  • In studies, concentrated cherry juice has been found to relieve inflammation and pain.
    Photo By ThinkStock
  • Capsaicin gives peppers their heat and can help increase circulation in arthritis sufferers.
    Photo By iStock

Arthritis is a common condition—an estimated 50 million Americans report a diagnosis of arthritis, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention—and the pain resulting from this inflammation of the joints can significantly decrease our quality of life. Yet many over-the-counter pain medications for arthritis have been linked with problems ranging from calcium loss and gastrointestinal upset to liver damage and, rarely, even death. Potential side effects also vary from one medication to another and from person to person (including with homeopathic remedies), so it’s always a good idea to check with your doctor or pharmacist when you’re considering your options for finding relief.

If you suffer from arthritis pain, take comfort knowing that you may be able to relieve suffering naturally. Many natural options have been shown to reduce pain and inflammation, offering relief from the ache and discomfort of this common ailment. While there are many types of arthritis, the two most common are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Regardless  of which type of arthritis you’re experiencing, there are herbs, foods, supplements and lifestyle adjustments that may help minimize your suffering.

Healing Herbs for Arthritis

Devil's claw: Don’t let the name scare you—devil’s claw is a powerful anti-inflammatory herb. A study in the journal Rheumatology found that a devil’s claw extract providing 60 milligrams (mg) daily of the active ingredients, harpagosides, was as effective as the drug Vioxx, without the drug’s serious side effects (which were dangerous enough—including a significant increase in heart attack or stroke, and death—that it’s since been removed from the market). Avoid if you have ulcers or gallstones.

Willow bark: One of the original sources of salicin, the naturally occurring chemical used to develop aspirin, willow bark has been shown in some studies to be as effective for reducing pain and inflammation as aspirin—and at lower doses. Side effects of willow bark are usually mild but are possible, so as with any change to your health regimen, check with your doctor first. The therapeutic forms of willow bark are usually derived from the species Salix alba, S. fragilis or S. purpurea. Dosages of 60 to 240 mg of salicin daily have been shown effective in studies. Because salicylic acid has blood-thinning properties, avoid it if you are hemophiliac or taking blood-thinning drugs, and don’t give it to children under the age of 16.

Capsaicin, the compound that gives chilies their heat, can also reduce pain and may improve circulation in arthritics. A typical dose is 500 mg three times daily. If you are using an extract of capsaicin, follow the package directions—when taken in excess, capsaicin may cause a mild burning sensation in the stomach. Alternatively, you can sprinkle cayenne powder on food. Be careful to keep it away from your eyes and any broken skin because of the burning sensation it can cause. To be effective, use it consistently and in sufficient doses (1⁄4 teaspoon is about the equivalent of 400 mg of cayenne). 

Food for Arthritis

Berries: Tart cherry extract is 10 times more effective than aspirin at relieving inflammation and the pain linked to it, according to studies conducted by Muraleedharan Nair, a professor at Michigan State University. Nair’s study participants obtained these results by drinking 2 tablespoons of concentrated tart cherry juice daily. Blackberries, raspberries, blueberries and strawberries may have similar pain-alleviating effects—drink concentrated juice or eat about 50 berries daily.

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