What is Inflammation?
When we are injured or infected, inflammation occurs as part of our body’s defense mechanism. White blood cells rush to protect us from bacteria and viruses and in the process release chemicals that increase the blood flow to the affected area. This process results in redness and warmth. Sometimes these chemicals cause fluid to leak into the tissues, which causes joint swelling and pain. During this process the number of cells and inflammatory substances in and around the joint increases, causing irritation and swelling in the lining of the joint. This constant irritation eventually wears down the cartilage at the ends of the bones leading to long-term damage of the joints.
Arthritis is a common chronic inflammation condition triggered by an unnecessary inflammatory response, even without the presence of infection. This causes the immune system to actually damage its own tissues. Swollen joints, redness, pain, stiffness, and loss of function are often associated with arthritic inflammation. These symptoms are painful and debilitating to many who suffer from it. These symptoms may be sustained, temporary, mild, moderate, or severe. They can stay the same for years or worsen as time goes on.
The treatment for conditions like arthritis can include painkillers, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like Advil and other forms of Ibuprofen, different varieties of ointments and creams, and corticosteroids that are either taken orally or injected directly into the affected joint. Some of these treatments have adverse side effects that can make them a bad option for some. It’s becoming more common for sufferers of inflammatory disease to try natural remedies instead of (or in combination with) prescription medications.
There are a number of natural anti-inflammatory remedies available that researchers have found to be effective. A study published in December 2010 investigated the use of natural remedies in place of or in conjunction with over-the-counter and prescription medications1. The study was particularly interested in the benefits natural remedies could provide over the long term, especially in regards to side effects. We will discuss their findings below.
What Are My Options?
Cat’s Claw (Uncaria Tomentosa)
Cat’s Claw is a Peruvian herb that comes from woody vines with small thorns shaped like claws. The bark of cat’s claw is used as an anti-inflammatory treatment with active ingredients like flavonoids, proanthocyanidins, tannins, alkaloids, and sterols. Research has found that cat’s claw is especially effective at inhibiting production of TNF (tumor necrosis factor), an inflammatory chemical the body produces. It also may help to protect against gastrointestinal inflammation. Cat’s claw is normally ingested as tea or dried inside a capsule.
CBD comes from the cannabis plant, a plant that has been used medicinally for centuries. CBD is a naturally occurring compound found in marijuana and hemp products. Despite coming from the cannabis plant, CBD doesn’t make the user feel intoxicated because it is a different compound than THC. It is possible for the CBD to be isolated, however researchers believe the “Entourage Effect” is the most beneficial, so leaving all cannabinoid compounds in place to work with each other may produce the best results2.
Current research suggests that because CBD interacts with the endocannabinoid system (ECS) to regulate homeostasis within the human body, it could be used as an effective treatment for inflammatory diseases3. It is thought to work at reducing joint inflammation while also protecting the nerves.
CBD is extracted from the flower of a cannabis plant and then used for a variety of products, including tinctures, salves, lotions, or edibles. Potency levels and results vary by product, so often people will need to try a few before deciding what ultimately works best for them and their condition.
Chili Pepper (Capsaicin)
Chili peppers come from a spreading shrub that was originally popular in the tropical regions, but now grows worldwide. The plant produces the fruit we know as chili peppers. Inside those chili peppers is a chemical called capsaicin, which gives the pepper its stinging quality. Capsaicin was isolated by chemists over one hundred years ago, but chili peppers have been used for generations by natives of the Americas.
Capsaicin is a powerful local anesthesia that works by degenerating the capsaicin-sensitive nerve endings. This chemical does burn when it comes in contact with the skin or digestive tract, but when used for its medicinal values it is rarely consumed alone, usually being mixed with other natural ingredients used for anti-inflammation.
Fish Oil (Omega-3 EFAs)
Cod liver fish oil has been used for centuries in the treatment of muscular, skeletal, and discogenic diseases. Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids are considered some of the most effective natural anti-inflammatory compounds available. Fish oil works naturally to enhance the conversion of a powerful natural anti-inflammatory agent inside the human body. This agent, called prostaglandin E3 inhibits the growth of inflammatory substances and cytokines.
For the treatment of arthritis, studies have found fish oil to be more effective than traditional pharmaceutical treatments. In fact, a study recently found that 59% of patients taking NSAIDs for lumbar disc disease could replace those medications with fish oil as a natural choice and see the same results4.
Frankincense (Boswellia Serrata Resin)
Frankincense is a gum resin that comes from the Boswellia species of trees found in India, Ethiopia, and the Arabian Peninsula. The resin possesses powerful anti-inflammatory and anti-arthritic properties. It’s usually used to treat degenerative and inflammatory joint issues like arthritis because it reduces the total white blood cell count in joint fluid. Frankincense is often used as a liquid extract and consumed a few times each day.
Green tea is a relatively new discovery for its treatment of inflammatory diseases. Long recognized for its treatment in preventing cancer or cardiovascular disease, researchers are now discovering that some of the compounds in green tea are helpful in preventing collagen degradation in cartilage. The recommended dosage of green tea is 3-4 cups per day, but can also be taken as an extract. Green tea does contain caffeine so users should be aware or search for decaffeinated green tea if preferred.
Maritime Pine Bark (Pycnogenol)
Maritime pine bark has been used for more than 2000 years as a remedy for wounds, scurvy, ulcers, and inflammation. It contains catechin, taxifolin, procyanidins, and phenolic acids and is currently one of the most powerful antioxidants available.These active polyphenols help decrease inflammatory response in the human body.
Resveratrol is plant-based and comes from various sources, including the Japanese Knot weed and the skins of red wine grapes. Plants use resveratrol in their skin to defend against infection, excessive UV radiation, and general plant defense. Research has also shown that resveratrol has anti-inflammatory properties when consumed by humans and animals. It is particularly effective in the treatment of arthritic joint pain.
Derived from a flowering plant in the ginger family, turmeric is traditionally used as a coloring and flavoring spice in food. For years, Ayurvedic and Chinese people have used turmeric as a treatment for inflammation. Current research has also shown turmeric to be effective in treating cystic fibrosis because of its powerful anti-inflammatory effect. As a supplement, turmeric works to inhibit the production of certain enzymes and cytokines that cause inflammation.
While studies so far have been mostly on animals, the recent discovery of turmeric’s ability to naturally slow inflammation combined with its long history of use for certain cultures leads researchers to believe it’s a realistic alternative for the treatment of inflammation.
White Willow Bark
The bark of the white willow tree dates back centuries as one of the oldest herbal remedies. Ancient Egyptian, Roman, Greek, and Indian civilizations used it to treat pain and inflammation. White willow bark works similarly to aspirin, but because it doesn’t have the same side effects as aspirin, it’s become a popular alternative for the treatment of inflammatory conditions. Working much the same way other natural anti-inflammatories do, white will bark combats inflammation by inhibiting certain enzymes within the body that cause inflammation.
White willow bark is costlier than aspirin and while studies have shown it to be just as beneficial, users should still be aware that there are restrictions on who can take white willow bark and should always talk to their doctor before use to avoid any complications.
Which One is Right For Me?
As people move away from pharmaceutical treatments due to health concerns or cost, more research goes into finding natural alternatives less harmful to our bodies and pocketbooks. No matter which of these categories you might fall into, the most important part of choosing which treatment is right for you talking to your doctor. If you are currently taking other medications or have underlying health conditions, your doctor will be able to tell you if one of these natural remedies is right for you. You should be aware that some of the natural anti-inflammatories listed above could interfere with the potency of any other medications you might be taking, or even cause dangerous side effects when used in combination with other medicine. Please consult your doctor with any questions about adding natural supplements to your healthcare routine.