Herbs for Arthritis

Relieve Joint Pain Naturally

Ever since popular COX-2 inhibiting painkillers were pulled from the market in 2004, people have been searching for safe, effective ways to ease aches and pains. While the risk of cardiovascular effects of prescription NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) like Celebrex are greater, aspirin and ibuprofen are not completely safe either. Also classified as NSAIDs, these common over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers may increase blood pressure, impair the ability of blood vessels to relax, and even counteract the benefits of some hypertension medications.

Besides the cardiovascular side effects, ibuprofen, aspirin, and their cousins can cause a variety of problems, ranging from ulcers and dangerous stomach bleeding to liver or kidney failure. In fact, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently proposed new warning labels for widely used OTC pain relievers. Until the updated labels appear in a year or so, carefully read and follow manufacturers' directions. You may want to consider some of nature's pain-relieving anti-inflammatories, instead.

Four herbs and spices-celery, ginger, red pepper, and turmeric-are generously endowed with natural COX-2 inhibitors and several healing substances, according to James A. Duke, PhD. They're much safer than prescription and OTC drugs, and they're a lot tastier.

Celery
Apium graveolens L. contains five different COX-2 inhibitors, more than three dozen anti-inflammatory components, and several arthritis-fighting substances. In Great Britain, celery seeds are an ingredient in more than 50 anti-inflammatory products. This crunchy veggie also slows aging and lowers blood pressure and cholesterol.

Ginger
Zingiber officinale, which is well known for digestive complaints and morning sickness, is even better endowed in COX-2 inhibitors and arthritis- and inflammation-fighting compounds than celery. Ginger's antioxidant compounds help fight plaque buildup in the arteries and improve cholesterol levels.

Red Pepper
Capsicum spp., or cayenne, can inflict pain to the tongue, but its fiery capsaicin interferes with the transmission of pain impulses elsewhere in the body. Red pepper also triggers the release of endorphins, nature's own opiates, and contains aspirin-like components. For arthritis, apply capsaicin cream directly to painful joints four times daily. Just be sure to cleanse your hands thoroughly afterward (washing with water is not enough) to avoid getting it in your eyes.

Turmeric
Curcuma longa relieves aches and pains and is easier on the tummy than aspirin. Looking for an all-natural COX-2 inhibitor? This tasty yellow spice restricts the body's release of COX-2 prostaglandins, which are secreted in response to sources of inflammation and swelling. Turmeric(a common ingredient in curry) may also help prevent colon cancer. Eat your curried rice with lots of black pepper; its peperine allows your body to absorb more curcumin. Studies show that 1,200 mg of curcumin daily is as effective as corticosteroids-without the side effects. Don't use this spice if you have gallbladder problems, though.

Selected Sources "Adverse Effects Associated with the Use of Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs: An Overview" by D. V. Derle et al., Indian J Pharm Sci, 2006 } The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods by Michael Murray, ND, and Joseph Pizzorno, ND, with Lara Pizzorno, MA, LMT ($39.95, Atria Books, 2005) } The Green Pharmacy Herbal Handbook by James A. Duke, PhD ($6.99, St. Martin's, 2000) } "Painkillers-New and Old-Increase the Risk for Heart Attack," Harvard HealthBeat, 10/31/06 } "Warnings Proposed for Over-the-Counter Drugs" by Stephanie Saul, New York Times, 12/20/06

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