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Arthritis is the swelling of joints. It is accompanied by joint pain, swelling, and stiffness that becomes worse with age.
Arthritis is typically one of two kinds: rheumatoid arthritis, where the body’s own immune system attacks the lining of the joints, or osteoarthritis, which occurs as the cartilage between the bones wears down. The main aim of arthritis treatment is to manage and reduce its symptoms.
Several natural remedies float around the Internet claiming to be effective for arthritis pain management, but only some of them have been studied for their benefits.
This article will present some of the herbs and spices that have been shown to improve arthritic pain.
Top Herbs and Spices for Arthritis
The following herbs and spices can help improve arthritic pain.
1. Aloe vera
Gaining swift popularity recently, aloe vera has found its uses for many conditions and causes. It is available in the form of gels, pills, powders, and the entire leaf.
Although aloe vera is mainly famous for its skin care benefits, studies are also being undertaken to evaluate its effectiveness for osteoarthritis, with some suggesting that oral aloe vera can be used in the treatment of pain caused by arthritis. (1)
One of the main benefits of consuming a natural product such as aloe vera is the lack of side effects that are often accompanied by the intake of anti-inflammatory drugs.
How to use:
Aloe vera gel can be applied topically at the location of pain or ingested orally in the form of pills. Some people may be allergic to aloe vera, so it is advisable to consult a doctor before including anything new in the diet.
Indian frankincense is obtained from the resin of the Boswellia tree. It has been traditionally used in Indian folk medicine for its anti-inflammatory properties. It is also used as incense in religious and cultural ceremonies since ancient times.
Reviews have found that the acids within frankincense inhibit the enzymes that cause inflammation, (2) and this effect can be used for the pain management of osteoarthritis.
How to use:
The right dosage for frankincense for pain relief is still being investigated, although topical application of diluted frankincense essential oil may be beneficial.
3. Green tea
Green tea is an abundant source of polyphenols and antioxidants. It has been well researched that antioxidants can combat the inflammation accompanying rheumatoid and osteoarthritis.
In a study that included older people with arthritic pain, the use of green tea led to clinical improvements in the disease along with an improvement in the quality of health. When green tea use was combined with exercises, some preservation of cartilage and lowered bone loss were observed. (3)
How to use:
- Green tea can be taken as tea, pills, supplements, or powdered form.
- Consuming green tea as a drink is the safest option for most as it is tolerable and a healthier option than caffeinated or soft drinks.
Turmeric powder is obtained from drying and powdering turmeric root, and it is used in many South Asian dishes. Most of turmeric’s benefits can be attributed to its active compound curcumin.
Chinese and Ayurvedic schools of medicine have used turmeric as an anti-inflammatory treatment.
A study comparing curcumin (500 mg thrice a day) intake to the painkiller diclofenac found that curcumin showed a similar pain-lowering property to that of the painkiller with much fewer side effects. (4)
While more studies need to be conducted, this shows promising results for those suffering from arthritis and its complications.
How to use:
- Turmeric milk is a very effective and delicious way to take in your daily dose of curcumin, apart from using it in daily cooking.
- Curcumin supplements can also be taken. Just make sure to consult a doctor before starting it.
A popular kitchen ingredient, ginger is also commonly used as medicine to treat nausea and cold. The compound that lends it its strong flavor also gives it its benefits.
One study concluded that ginger could be used as a substitute for nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). (5)
Consumption of ginger is largely safe for many people with little to no side effects, so it can be consumed for long periods. However, it is advisable to consult a doctor before starting anything new for the management of arthritis.
How to use:
- Ginger can be used to prepare tea by boiling 2–3 slices in 2 cups of water.
- It can also be used in daily cooking by using a spoonful of ginger paste obtained from grinding the root or sprinkling dry ginger powder on salads and other savory dishes.
- For the purpose of treating arthritis-associated pain, capsules are recommended; however, their dosage needs to be checked with your treating physician.
Yet another herb used in the kitchen, garlic is very beneficial for several conditions. It is loaded with anti-inflammatory properties and is used as medicine in many cultures.
In an 8-week study to evaluate the effectiveness of garlic in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis, supplementation with 1,000 mg garlic significantly reduced inflammatory markers in the blood. The people who received the supplementation also experienced lowered pain intensity, tender joint count, and a lowered fatigue level. (6)
How to use:
Garlic can be safely consumed by a large group of people. Using garlic supplements in the form of pills and powders is advisable.
As studies indicate the use of 1,000 mg each day, it can be a good dosage to start with. More studies, however, are needed to observe the long-term effects of garlic on arthritis. It is advisable to consult a physician before starting an adjunct remedy for pain management. (6)
Saffron is a very expensive and valued spice used by Persians and South Asians in their cooking. It is obtained from the stigma of the saffron crocus flower.
In a clinical trial for a period of 12 weeks, supplementation with 100 mg saffron per day decreased the number of tender and swollen joints and joint pain intensity. Inflammatory markers in the blood also were reduced at the end of the trial. (7)
It is also important to note that no adverse effects were noticed by the people who use saffron. Oftentimes, people prescribed long-term pain relievers complain of side effects, making natural and herbal medicine a safer way to manage arthritic pain.
How to use:
- A few strands of saffron can be added to 1 cup of milk and boiled. This can be safely consumed a few times a day.
- Saffron pills and supplements can also be taken in doses up to 100 mg/day as recommended in the study.
A hot chili belonging to the capsicum family, cayenne is loaded with capsaicin, an active compound that is recommended for managing the pain associated with arthritis. Many sources suggest the use of capsaicin creams or gels for topical application for arthritic pain relief.
Reviews on the efficacy of different concentrations of capsaicin in a 20-minute topical application suggested that 5% capsaicin in a kaolin-based preparation prevented the increase of inflammatory markers in the blood. (8)
How to use:
Topical application of capsaicin in a vegetable-based oil or kaolin-based cream is the most effective way of managing the pain associated with arthritis. Several creams and gels that work to the same effect are also available over the counter.
Eucalyptus is a fast-growing evergreen shrub, and its leaves and oil have been used as medicine for several conditions.
Famously used to treat colds, sinusitis, and congestions, aromatherapy using eucalyptus has also been known to reduce pain, swelling, and inflammation within the body.
A study investigating the effects of eucalyptus oil inhalation on pain and inflammatory response showed that 30-minute inhalation of eucalyptus oil along with a carrier oil significantly reduced pain within a day. (9)
How to use:
- Eucalyptus oil and gel can be applied topically to the area of pain for relief.
- Mixing eucalyptus essential oil along with a carrier oil for steam inhalation or topical application is also beneficial.
Note: It is advisable to do an allergy test on the skin 24–48 hours before using eucalyptus.
Precautions to Consider
When using herbs and spices, keep these things in mind:
- Getting a physician’s recommendation or approval is advisable before including any adjunct for the treatment of a health condition.
- The lack of adverse side effects, reduced pain, and better pain management warrant a measure of trust in these remedies. However, do note that most herbs and spices need more extensive studies to establish their benefits and long-term results of use.
Can I use all remedies at once?
It is advisable to use one remedy at a time to figure out which works best. However, prolonged use of one method may pose a risk of building tolerance, at which point switching to another herb or spice might be beneficial.
Can I take more than one dose a day?
As most herbs and spices are still being studied, it is better to stick to the recommended doses and not overdose on the quantities to reap maximum benefits and avoid complications.
Arthritis can cause debilitating pain, largely impacting your quality of life. The constant pain and stiffness can cause be a hindrance to your day-to-day activities.
As most treatments for rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis revolve around managing pain and swelling, it is worth a shot to try adjuncts for treatment. Most NSAIDs and pain relievers prescribed for pain management pose a risk of side effects with long-term use and can create a need for additional medication by causing digestive distress.
Adjuncts such as herbs and spices pose very little risk with regard to side effects and can be used safely at home.