Herbal Supplements for Osteoarthritis
Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis and is the leading cause of chronic disability in the United States (affecting up to 27 million people) and there are around 8 million sufferers in the UK.
Although people of any age can be affected, osteoarthritis is usually associated with old age and is more common in women than in men. Any joint can be affected, but it is more common in hips, knees, fingers and the base of the big toe.
There is no cure for osteoarthritis, it is usually treated with weight loss, gentle exercise, analgesics (pain relief) and even surgery to replace hip or knee joints.
Symptoms and Causes
Due to the pain caused by osteoarthritis, people often move less, which causes further problems with the surrounding muscles. Aches and pains, and a "burning" sensation are often described in association with this disease.
The most common characteristics of osteoarthritis are:
- Inflammation of the soft tissue in and around the joints,
- Cartilage damage, causing bone damage as there is no protection against friction in the bones,
- Boney growths or "nodes" forming on the edge of smaller joints e.g. fingers or toes.
"Cracking" of fingers is not a cause of arthritis!
The "cracking" sound you can hear is actually caused by the release of air from that joint.
As I said earlier, there is no cure for osteoarthritis. It is usually treated with prescription pain relief that can have side effects, and lifestyle changes, such as weight loss, gentle (not prolonged) exercise, physical and occupational therapy, and educucation,
There are herbal supplements that you can take, either bought at health food outlets or made yourself, that can help with the symptoms of osteoarthritis. This is not to be used as a replacement for seeking medical advice, and any treatment you choose to use should be discussed with your GP to ensure it does not interfere with treatment you have been prescribed.
STINGING NETTLES - URTICA DIOICA
The stinging nettle possesses many medicinal qualities, and has been used throughout history as an analgesic to relieve pain, and as an anti inflammatory to reduce swelling on joints. For osteoarthritis, it best made into a tincture or drunk as a tea. Preparations can be bought, or made at home as the nettle grows prolifically practically everywhere!
Always consult medical advice from your GP or pharmacist before taking any herbal supplement, as they can interfere with prescribed medications.
A tincture is made by using alcohol to extract essential compounds from plants, and is highly effective! Vodka is best as it is colourless and almost flavourless, but brandy, whiskey or rum could also be used. Ensure the alcohol is 40% (80% proof) or it may go mouldy!
- Fill a jar with fresh young nettle heads
- Cover with alcohol
- Run a knife inside the sides of the jar to dispel any air bubbles
- Seal, and leave in a dark place for 8 days to 1 month, shaking occasionally.
- Strain, and decant into small bottles.
- This will keep for up to 5 years!
Take 1 - 4ml three times daily for swollen, painful joints. This is obviously alcoholic so check it does not interfere with other medications you may be taking.
50g fresh young nettle tops
500ml freshly boiled water
Steep the nettles in the boiled water, cover and leave for 10 minutes. Strain, this makes 3 cups of tea to be drunk over one day.
Cabbage leaves are not only highly nutritious, but have been used throughout European history as a treatment for sore and swollen joints. Cabbage leaves contain glutamine, a powerful anti-inflammatory, and when made into a poultice and placed against the skin of the affected area, it has been shown to dramatically reduce the swelling and help with the pain associated with osteoarthritis.
Cabbage Leaf Poultice
- Take some cabbage leaves and remove the central rib
- Lay them flat on a chopping board and bash with a rolling pin to release the juices
- Place over the swollen joint and hold in place with a bandage
- This is best done at night and removed in the morning to relieve painful, swollen joints.
- Also works for sprains, swellings, ulcers and strains.
Turmeric is a well known spice that is often used as an ingredient for curries, but it has also been used for centuries in Indian and Chinese medicine because of it's powerful anti-inflammatory properties, and for this reason it is effective in the relief of swollen arthritic joints.
- The active ingredient in turmeric is curcumin which as well as having anti-inflammatory properties, is also an antiseptic and antioxidant, and has shown to be safe taken in large doses with no side effects.
- Can be made into a paste to apply externally to the painful joint, or into a tincture to take internally.
- Preparations can also be bought in health food outlets.
- It is also used to heal wounds and for digestive and liver disorders. Recent studies have shown it may useful in the treatment of some cancers and for Alzheimers disease.
- 30g turmeric powder
- 150ml water
Put the turmeric powder and water in a pan and simmer until it is a thick paste. Put some gauze over the affected area and cover with the paste. Do this for just a few minutes 3 times daily to relieve swollen joints.
- 200ml milk
- Half teaspoon of turmeric paste
- 1 teaspoon almond oil and honey to taste
- Fruit can be added for flavour e.g berries or bananas
Put the milk and turmeric paste in a pan and heat to just below boiling point. Add the honey, almond oil and fruit (if desired) and whizz in a blender until frothy. Drink as a health giving smoothie.
Glucosamine can't really be described as a "herbal supplement". It is actually a dietary supplement sold in health food outlets all over the world and is derived from the shells of shellfish, some fungi and rarely it is produced from grain.
Although glucosamine is not a herbal supplement, I feel it is important to talk about it here as it is (in my opinion) incredibly effective in the treatment for osteoarthritis!
Clinical trials of glucosamine have remained inconclusive, so there is no medical evidence for it's effectiveness, and no funding granted for use in prescription medicine as a treatment for osteoarthritis.
So why do I recommend it?
So with no clinical evidence, and the controversial nature of this supplement, why do I want to tell you about it here? Well the reason is the evidence of my own eyes.
- Glucosamine is widely used by vets all over the world to treat animals with arthritis (mainly dogs) and has been shown to be hugely beneficial.
- People who take this supplement regularly report an improvement in their symptoms and the need to take fewer pain relief medications prescribed for their condition.
- My own mum uses it and swears by it!
- It can't hurt to try it, different things work for different people so it may work for you!
- Always consult with your GP or pharmacist when taking supplements on top of prescribed medications.
- Glucosamine sulfate is the only preparation that is used for osteoarthritis.
- It is illegal in the US to market or recommend glucosamine as a treatment for any disease or condition, for this reason I am only suggesting you give it a go. It may not work!