Did you know that pain management can be as easy as opening up your kitchen cupboard? Here at Jan de Vries we always advocate a natural approach to your health and wellbeing which is why, rather than stocking up on painkillers, we’re taking a look at 5 top herbs that can help to relieve muscle and joint pain. The great news? Most of these herbs can be easily found by opening up a kitchen cupboard!
Turmeric is a yellow-coloured powder that originates from India and Indonesia and is often used in cooking to flavour curries. Turmeric is thought to help relieve pain, inflammation and stiffness as a result of curcumin, a key chemical found in this herb. Curcumin is thought to have this effect by blocking inflammatory cytokines and enzymes. Traditionally in Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine turmeric was used to provide relief and treat arthritis, as well as a cleansing agent and digestive aid.
Studies have found promising results of the actions of turmeric on inflammation however, one study found that turmeric was more effective at preventing joint inflammation than reducing the joint pain itself.1 Also, another review found that 8-12 weeks of turmeric supplementation was sufficient in reducing arthritis symptoms.2
The curcumin in turmeric is a powerful antioxidant which helps to keep the body clear of damaging free radicals. Free radicals are unstable molecules that can affect surrounding molecules leading to the damage of tissues and cells. Antioxidants neutralise free radicals thus helping to protect our cells and tissues.
Sadly, turmeric is often poorly absorbed by the body so liquid supplements or diet are the best ways to get it into your body. BetterYou’s Daily Oral Turmeric Spray is one supplement option that's worth considering as it is easily absorbed by the body and has a natural orange taste!
2) Devil's Claw
Devil’s Claw, or Harpagophytum procumbens, is a herb that is only found in the wild Kalahari desert of South Africa. Devil’s Claw is often used for rheumatic pain, backache, as well as muscle and joint pain. The botanical name Harpagophytum means ‘hook plant’ in Greek and it gets its name from its hook-like appearance.
One study looking at the effectiveness of Devil’s Claw on mild to moderate rheumatic disorders found that although Devil’s Claw had no effect on the blood count results of the actual conditions, it had a significant effect on pain reduction with more than 60% of patients seeing a positive impact.3 What’s more, the study also suggests that the use of Devil’s Claw long-term is not only safe but also may show improvements in those with chronic lower back pain.
Devil’s Claw is widely available in tablet form however it is important to take into account the health of your digestive system, as well as the quality and quantity of Devil’s Claw that actually makes it into the tablets. Alfred Vogel was a big fan of using liquid oral tinctures instead of tablets because liquid tinctures are more readily absorbed than their tablet counterparts. What’s more, if you have digestive distress such as diarrhoea or constipation often little of the herbs actually get absorbed by your gastrointestinal tract.
Tinctures are also absorbed directly into the bloodstream on ingestion without needing time to be broken down by the digestive system first. This not only means that tinctures are often quicker acting, but also more effective too! So, why not try A.Vogel's Devil’s Claw tincture out for yourself? For best results mix the recommended dosage with a little bit of water (only around a centimetre or so of water).
Ginger is another common spice that you can easily find by opening up your kitchen cupboard! Traditional uses of ginger include treating nausea and digestive issues however, ginger is now up-and-coming for another amazing benefit – pain relief! Ginger has anti-inflammatory properties and is thought to function as a COX-2 inhibitor in a similar way to some arthritis medications.4
These anti-inflammatory properties are thought to come from several different compounds present in ginger including gingerols and shogaols. These compounds also have antioxidant properties which help to reduce the amount of damage by free radicals and oxidative stress. Research into ginger’s effects on muscle and joint pain has been promising. One study comparing the effects of a highly concentrated ginger extract to a placebo in patients with osteoarthritis of the knee found that ginger reduced pain and stiffness by 40% in comparison to the placebo!5
Ginger comes in a whole variety of shapes and forms including teas, tinctures, capsules, powders and food made from either dried or fresh ginger root. It can be tricky to know which will benefit your joint pain the most – some experts recommend capsules with brands that use ‘super-critical extraction’ to maintain the nutrients of ginger. Some suggest taking ginger alongside food to help quail an upset stomach. Others prefer and recommend a more natural approach; a study published in the Journal of Pain found that a few tablespoons of freshly grated ginger can help ease muscle pain caused by exercise.6
Sometimes referred to as the ‘mountain daisy’, Arnica is a perennial flower found in the mountains of Europe and Siberia. Its bright yellow flowers have a long-standing traditional use of relieving muscle and joint pain, as well as the appearance of bruising. Arnica contains lactones which, in the herbal format, contribute to an anti-inflammatory effect. The lactones intervene at the core of the inflammatory process by inhibiting the production of an inflammatory substance known as Nuclear Factor Kappa Beta (NF-kβ). NF-kβ is a protein complex that plays a key role in regulating the immune system’s response to infection and tissue damage.
Arnica works by preventing the activation of this inflammatory substance at the very start of inflammation. One study found that 3 in 4 people suffering from mild to moderate osteoarthritis of the knees experienced an improvement after using Arnica.7 Another study comparing the benefits of a topical Arnica gel alongside a 5% NSAID Ibuprofen gel found that Arnica gel was more effective in relieving pain in osteoarthritis of the hand.8 A.Vogel's Arnica Atrogel is made from organically cultivated, fresh Arnica flowers and is vegan friendly too. If need be this friendly pain relief gel can be used alongside other pain medication.
Pineapples are a well-loved, tasty tropical fruit but did you know it could help with muscle and joint pain too? Bromelain is an enzyme found in pineapple juice and pineapple stem and is often used to reduce swelling or inflammation. It is also thought to have beneficial effects for hayfever sufferers, as well as preventing muscle soreness after intense exercise. Bromelain is a proteolytic enzyme meaning that it assists the body’s own digestive mechanisms to breakdown complex protein molecules. It is thought to work because of its anti-inflammatory properties and by producing substances that fight pain and inflammation.
Although the research on bromelain for osteoarthritis and muscle soreness after exercise is conflicting, there have been studies which have found it to be useful for relieving symptoms of acute nasal and sinus inflammation when used in combination with other medications.9 Even though supplement forms of bromelain are available, I’d definitely suggest cutting up a tasty pineapple instead as any nutrients and benefits will most definitely be available through eating this tasty fruit.
3 Warnock M, McBean D, Suter A, Tan J, Whittaker P. Effectiveness and safety of Devil’s Claw tablets in patients with general rheumatic disorders. Phytother Res 2007; 21: 1228-1233
7 Knusel O et al., Arnica Montana gel in osteoarthritis of the knee: an open, multicentre clinical trial. Advances in Therapy. 2002: 19 (5): 209-218.
8 Rheumatol Int 27:585 – 591, 2007 (Widrig, Suter, Saller , Melzer)