20 Natural Ways to Conquer Arthritis Pain
Arthritis strikes the fingers, knees, elbows, hips, jaw—anyplace in the body where there’s a joint between the bones. The most common form of arthritis, called osteoarthritis, is characterized by pain (especially after exercise), swelling of one or more joints, and stiffness.
There are two more fairly common forms of arthritis—gout and rheumatoid arthritis (often just called rheumatism). Gout affects mainly the toe joints. Rheumatoid arthritis, an inflammatory form of joint disease, is considered an autoimmune disease— one in which the body’s immune system attacks itself. Many of the remedies outlined below work for all three.
Alfalfa. People living in the Appalachian mountains have been making alfalfa leaves and seeds into tea as a remedy for arthritis for hundreds of years—probably because of the plant’s anti-inflammatory properties. Because it reduces knuckle swelling and joint pain, alfalfa is often recommended for people who spend much of their time at the typewriter or computer keyboard. Drink a cup of alfalfa tea several times a day. Or try the recipe for alfalfa sprout dressing at the end of this chapter. You can also find alfalfa tablets at health food stores.
Blackstrap molasses. The British, known for their fondness for sweets, swear by crude blackstrap molasses dissolved in water. When taken every morning, they say this preparation eases and even eliminates pain in the joints. Molasses is an excellent source of minerals, including potassium and magnesium.
Celery. An old German folk remedy has people with joint pain slowly chew 1 to 3 teaspoons of celery seed powder mixed with spices, such as rue, cloves, and saxifrage. The Japanese also believe in the pain relieving effects of celery: They recommend eating cooked or raw celery daily for one to two months. Alternatively, you could substitute a daily glass of celery juice. Celery is a diuretic, and the loss of excess fluid can reduce the inflammation associated with arthritis.
Cherries. To alleviate pain from arthritis, the Japanese eat six to eight cherries a day (canned, frozen, or fresh). Cherries are good sources of minerals like magnesium (a natural painkiller) and potassium, which acts as a diuretic, reducing inflammation by ridding tissue of excess fluid. This remedy works particularly well for gout sufferers.
Copper. Until recently, most Western doctors dismissed the idea of wearing copper bracelets to treat arthritis as folklore. Researchers in Australia, however, have found that people who wear copper and take aspirin experience more effective arthritis pain relief than those who treat their pain with aspirin only.
Dandelion. One of the best remedies for treating arthritis is probably growing right in your backyard—fresh young dandelion leaves. Because of their high vitamin A and C content, these greens help your body repair damaged tissues and help your liver clear toxins out of your blood. This remedy also works well for gout sufferers.
Devil’s claw. An ominous-sounding plant, devil’s claw comes from the Kalahari Desert of South Africa where it has been used for over 250 years to treat arthritis pain. Recent French and German studies found that the therapeutic action of devil’s claw is similar to that of cortisone. The root acts mainly as an anti-inflammatory thanks to its active ingredient, harpagoside. Devil’s claw is especially beneficial for people with rheumatoid arthritis.
Feverfew. Compounds in the feverfew plant suppress the release of prostaglandins and histamines, chemicals that produce inflammation.
Fish oils. Fish oils, especially those from fatty fish (herring, salmon, mackerel, tuna, and sardines) are good sources of omega-3 fatty acids. These fatty acids interfere with the formation of prostaglandins that can lead to inflammation. A daily serving of fresh fish (or fish oil capsules if you don’t like fish) should produce positive results. Just be careful to limit the amount of high-mercury fish you eat. For a list of various fishes’ mercury content, visit the environmental protection agency website at www.epa.gov and type the phrase “fish advisories” into the search function at the top of the page.
Garlic. Because of its ability to reduce inflammation, garlic may well ward off the pain and discomfort felt by those with arthritis.
Ginger. The traditional Ayurvedic medical system of India holds that ginger is very effective in the treatment of osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and a host of other ailments. Recent medical research in Holland has also indicated that eating ginger really does help alleviate arthritis pain. Because of its ability to increase blood circulation, ginger carries away inflammatory substances from the affected joint. See the recipe section at the end of this chapter to learn how to make a wonderful Chinese arthritis remedy that centers around ginger.
Goldenrod. British herbalists recommend goldenrod tea as a remedy for the painful effects of arthritis and gout. Because it stimulates the elimination of waste by the kidneys, goldenrodhelps rid the body of toxins produced during inflammation—and so reduces arthritis pain. Goldenrod tea can be found in grocery stores and health food stores along with other herbal teas.
Herbal baths. Hot baths may temporarily relieve arthritic pain, since lying in the tub takes weight off of aching joints. And when added to the hot water, certain herbs—such as driedrosemary, peppermint, or chamomile—make for an ever more relaxing, fragrant experience. Note: wrap the herbs in cheese cloth to avoid clogging the drain.
Nettle. In Germany, vitamin C-rich nettle tea is sipped torelieve arthritis.
Quince. In the 12th century in Bingen, Germany, a mystic named Saint Hildegard used her knowledge of natural medicine to treat arthritis. Her words of wisdom still hold true today:“Detoxify, purify, and regenerate the whole organism.” To get rid of the rheumatic toxins that cause pain, Hildegard prescribed eating fragrant, raw quince. The fruit, which can be found seasonably in most grocery stores, can be cooked in water or wine, baked in a cake or pie, or made into jellies and candy.
St. John’s Wort. The oil form of an herb known as St. John’s Wort has been used by people with arthritis to lessen the pain of this affliction.
Spikenard. The Cherokee Indians make the powdered root of the Aralia racemosa (“spikenard”—also called “Indian root” and “life-of-man”) into a tea to treat rheumatoid arthritis. They also pound the root and apply it as a poultice to painful areas of the body.
Willow. For thousands of years, the bark of the willow tree has been used to treat arthritis. In fact, Dioscorides, the ancient Greek physician, probably deserves as much credit as Bayer,the German who first marketed aspirin, for bringing pain relief to the people. The bark, leaves, and buds of the willow contain salicin, which is converted to salicylic acid in the body. Salicylic acid is almost identical to the synthetic pain reliever, aspirin (acetyl salicylic acid). In Dioscorides’ day, patients chewed the bark of the willow tree. Today, willow tree bark is available in powdered form.
Wintergreen. Oil of wintergreen is another source of natural salicin (aspirin).
Yucca. A drink made of mashed yucca root mixed with water is an American Indian arthritis remedy. Yucca can also be mashed and applied topically to the afflicted area. Since yucca contains a substance similar to cortisone, it reduces inflammation.
By Michele Cagan