Joint pain and inflammation are common characteristics of arthritis. While many individuals use prescription medications to manage their discomfort, other lifestyle modifications such as dietary changes, regular exercise, and herbal supplements may help as well. In particular, certain herbs appear to minimize joint pain more so than others. Although clinical studies on the effectiveness of using the following herbal remedies for joint pain have been limited, the research that has been performed is promising. The following are 5 herbal remedies that may minimize joint pain:
The yellow spice commonly used in Indian food has an orange pulp within its stem, which is where the plant compound curcumin is housed. This powerful agent has demonstrated an ability to reduce chronic inflammation caused by rheumatoid arthritis. Yet, because the body can only absorb so much curcumin, its benefits may be limited.
Oils can be distilled from the eucalyptus plant and used for anti-inflammatory properties. They are also believed to hold antiviral and antibacterial benefits. The tannins and flavonoids within the leaves are antioxidants, which could help to minimize the joint inflammation and pain experienced in arthritis. Eucalyptus oil can be diffused or added to a warm bath, though many individuals have an allergy to the plant.
Hailing from the bark of the Boswellia tree, frankincense has an aromatic quality, making it a popular ingredient in perfumes and incense. It can be inhaled, applied directly to the skin, or taken as a supplement. The herb is also believed to prevent leukotrienes, the compounds responsible for inflammation. It has even been shown to be as effective as NSAIDs for addressing joint pain in conditions like osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, but with fewer side effects.
Aloe is often the plant that many people reach for to treat burns, as it has both anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties. Yet, its anti-inflammatory benefits can be realized by people with arthritis, too. The plant inhibits the production of inflammatory enzymes, which may help to control joint pain.
The starflower plant contains seeds which are rich in an omega-6 fatty acid known as gamma-linolenic acid (GLA). When metabolized, GLA converts into a signaling molecule which helps regulate inflammatory responses within the body. Certain oils with GLA have been shown to alleviate pain in individuals with rheumatoid arthritis, but borage seed oil is believed to be the most effective because it protects cells from oxidative stress which could be caused by high concentrations of GLA.
While herbal remedies, unfortunately, cannot cure arthritis, they may make a noticeable difference in pain levels, swelling, and stiffness. For individuals who are seeking an alternative to NSAIDs or other drugs, trying plant-based alternatives may be a worthwhile therapeutic option to consider.
Chronic low back pain is a common condition that can significantly reduce the quality of life. The degeneration of the intervertebral disc is one cause for low back pain, and there is no therapeutic intervention that effectively reverses this type of degeneration. Both non-surgical and surgical treatments that are currently used for chronic low back pain aim to help the symptoms associated with the condition but do not address the underlying cause. Recently, however, researchers have begun to explore the ways in which stem cells may be used to help regenerate the intervertebral disc to restore functioning and eliminate low back pain over the long-term. A review of the relevant literature was recently published in Translational Pediatrics.
The intervertebral disc does not have a large potential to regenerate itself, so it is a challenge to find the best cell sources to facilitate such regeneration. Adult mesenchymal stem cells, which are found most often in bone marrow and also in fat, or adipose, tissue are attractive candidates for this type of regeneration given their high capacity to proliferate and to differentiate into different types of cells. In addition, they can self-renew, are highly accessible, and unlike some other types of stem cells, there are no ethical issues associated with their retrieval.
Given the success of mesenchymal stem cell transplantation in preclinical studies of intervertebral disc degeneration, the use of these cells has progressed to clinical trials. Autologous bone marrow mesenchymal stem cells – meaning stem cells taken from the bone marrow of the patients themselves – have been reported in the treatment of disc degeneration in patients with leg and back pain. Reduced pain has been observed at one and two years after transplantation. Importantly, the clinical trials investigating the use of stem cells in intervertebral disc regeneration have provided evidence that the relevant procedures are not only effective but also clinically safe. Future research will help to clarify if and how these and other types of stem cells may be used to reverse intervertebral disc regeneration and the associated chronic low back pain.
Reference: Wei, A. et al. (2014). Mesenchymal stem cells: potential application in intervertebral disc regeneration. Translational Pediatrics, 3(2), 71-90.
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a debilitating neurological condition. MS causes nerve cells to become dysfunctional. The symptoms of multiple sclerosis vary from person to person and over time; however, one of the most common symptoms of MS is muscle spasticity. More than 80% of patients with MS have some degree of muscle spasticity.
Muscle spasticity causes increased muscle tone. Affected muscles contract even though the person is not trying to contract them. Patients may also experience uncontrollable muscle jerking and spasms. These muscle contractions can be quite painful and interfere with daily activities. In fact, about one in 20 multiple sclerosis patients with muscle spasticity are completely disabled because of it.
It can be difficult to treat muscle spasticity in patients with multiple sclerosis. Physicians may prescribe baclofen, tizanidine, or dantrolene for muscle spasticity; however, these treatments are only mildly effective and may cause troubling or serious side effects. Baclofen may cause muscle weakness, tizanidine may cause severe dry mouth, and dantrolene is toxic to the liver, for example. Researchers are continuously looking for ways to help multiple sclerosis patients to reduce muscle spasticity.
Cannabinoids are the biologically active chemicals found in the cannabis plant. Cannabinoids have been used successfully for various medical purposes. For example, these agents have been used to treat nausea caused by chemotherapy and to stimulate appetite in patients with cancer. Patients with multiple sclerosis have reported that hemp extract helps relieve symptoms. Moreover, research studies have shown cannabinoids can protect nerve cells against damage. Based on these findings, researchers conducted a clinical trial to study the effect of cannabinoids on muscle spasticity in patients with multiple sclerosis.
A total of 630 patients with multiple sclerosis and muscle spasticity received the hemp extract or placebo for 15 weeks. The researchers then performed a number of objective tests to assess muscle spasticity. Patients who received the cannabinoids had fewer symptoms and less muscle spasticity at the end of the clinical trial compared to patients taking the placebo. The greatest benefit appeared after 40 weeks of treatment. Indeed, patients felt that cannabinoids helped manage their condition. Importantly, no major safety concerns were reported.
These clinical trial results suggest long term cannabinoids treatment is safe and may help people with Multiple Sclerosis control symptoms of muscle spasticity.
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Reference: Zajicek et al. (2005). Cannabinoids in multiple sclerosis (CAMS) study: safety and efficacy data for 12 months follow up.Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery, and Psychiatry. 2005 Dec;76(12):1664-9.