Joints are amazing. Right now, no matter what you are doing, your joints are helping you to move, bend, or flex. Sitting down? Your knee joints are most likely bent. Typing at a computer? Your elbow, wrist, and finger joints are all at work. Striding down the street? Your hips, spine, knees, and ankles are all in play. There are over 400 joints in your body!
For those with joint conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis, joints can also be a source of pain, inflammation, swelling, and stiffness. An estimated 27 million adults in the US are living with osteoarthritis. This common type of arthritis occurs when cartilage breaks, usually later in life, affecting weight bearing joints like the knees.
Glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate are two very commonly used supplements for people with joint pain and osteoarthritis. Both of these natural substances are found in and around the cells of cartilage. But what other options are out there for joint pain sufferers?
Four Herbs to Naturally Support Joint Pain
Green tea is the most widely consumed beverage in the world, and is a rich source of antioxidant polyphenols that have anti-inflammatory properties. Green tea is the leaves of the camilla sinensis plant. While legends differ regarding the discovery of this popular drink, experts agree it has been enjoyed as a health promoting beverage for over 5,000 years.
A study done at the University of Maryland and Rutgers University examined the effects of green tea polyphenols on rheumatoid arthritis in an animal study. The researchers found green tea significantly reduced the severity of arthritis compared to a control group that only received water.
Researchers suggest the positive affects of green tea on rheumatoid arthritis may be caused by changes to arthritis-related immune responses; green tea suppresses an inflammatory substance known as cytokine IL-17, and antibodies to a disease-related antigen known as Bhsp65. Green tea also increases levels of an anti-inflammatory substance known as cytokine IL-10.
Their final recommendation? Green tea continues to be further explored as a dietary therapy along with conventional treatment for rheumatoid arthritis.
Stinging Nettle, Urtica dioica, was used as far back as medieval Europe as a remedy for joint pain, and as a diuretic. It is still used as a remedy for painful muscles and joints today. For this purpose, it is the leaves and stems of nettle that are typically found in a joint or muscle formula.
Studies on the affect of Stinging Nettle on joint pain have suggested that some people suffering from osteoarthritis experience pain relief from topical application to painful areas. Other studies demonstrated that an oral extract of stinging nettle allowed people to reduce their usage of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).
Turmeric, curcuma longa, has been used for over 4,000 years in both Indian Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine practices as an anti-inflammatory, to heal wonds, digestive problems, and more. Turmeric is a spice widely used today in currys, and in the bright yellow mustard found in most homes. Turmeric has made multiple appearances this month on our blog as we discuss joint health and inflammation, and for good reason!
It is turmeric's possible anti-inflammatory properties, and not its legendary use in the kitchen, that might inspire you to keep some on hand. In a randomized placebo-controlled trial, 120 patients with knee osteoarthritis received either 500mg of turmeric extract twice daily, a placebo, or a combination of glucosamine and turmeric extract.
The results showed the patients who received turmeric showed a significant decrease in severity of pain, a significant decrease in the use of rescue medication, and experienced clinical and subjective improvement compared to the placebo group. The study concluded turmeric was a safe and effective treatment option for patients with primary, painful knee osteoarthritis.
Pomegranates, Punica granatum, have been cultivated since ancient times throughout the Mediterranean regions of Asia, Africa, and Europe. Pomegranate juice was used as a folk remedy for dispepsia and even leprosy. It was also used dysentary, bronchitis, and to relieve sore throats. Pomegranates had an almost magical, mythical reputation in various cultures, and were known as "the Fruit of Life".
A recent study on the affect of pomegranate extract in mice with collagen-induced arthritis (CIA) demonstrated that pomegranate extract significantly reduced the incidence and severity of CIA. The arthritic joints in these subjects had less inflammation, and alleviated destruction of bone and cartilage after receiving pomegranate extract. The researchers concluded that the pomegranate extract selectively inhibited inflammatory cytokines critical to the development of inflammation.
While more research needs to be done, pomegranate shows promise as an effective and natural option for the prevention of arthritic joints.
More Tips for Healthy Joints
A good diet full of whole foods with anti-inflammatory properties may help to prevent joint problems later in life. Be sure to include the following:
- Omega-3 essential fatty acids, like those found in salmon and walnuts, encourage the body to produce chemicals that help control inflammation.
- Foods high in vitamin D, like eggs, oysters, and cod liver oil, are important for people with osteoarthritis, as research shows low levels of vitamin D can lead to more joint pain.
Get moving! Keeping muscles strong and the body limber may help prevent future joint problems later in life. Eating right and getting daily exercise can also keep extra, unwanted pounds off the body that could lead to further stress on joints.
It's never too late to start exercising for joint relief. In one study, osteoarthritis patients with an average age of 65 who practiced tai chi twice a week improved in scores of pain, physcial function, and physical quality of life.
University of Maryland Medical Center; Turmeric; May 2013; http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/herb/turmeric
PubMed; Safety and efficacy of Curcuma longa extract in the treatment of painful knee osteoarthritis; April 2013; http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23242572
University of Maryland Medical Center; Stinging Nettle; May 2013; http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/herb/stinging-nettle
WebMD; Supplements for Arthritis and Joint Pain; May 2012; http://www.webmd.com/diet/arthritis-guide
National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine; Arthritis; http://nccam.nih.gov/health/arthritis
National Center for complementary and Alternative Medicine; Green Tea May Help to Protect Against Rheumatoid Arthritis; http://nccam.nih.gov/research/results/spotlight/120808.htm
National Center for complementary and Alternative Medicine; Pomegranate Extract May Be Helpful for Rheumatoid Arthritis; http://nccam.nih.gov/research/results/spotlight/120508.htm?nav=gsa
WebMD; Osteoarthritis Health Center; Oct 2008; http://www.webmd.com/osteoarthritis/news/20081024/tai-chi-may-ease-knee-pain