Herbs for Healthy Living

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Keep Moving

By: Alison Cullen

As many as one in ten adults in the UK suffer from some form of arthritic condition, with a variety of different names and consisting of a huge consortium of symptoms. There is no accepted conventional cure to be had. Fortunately natural treatment can help in alleviating symptoms.

What is arthritis?

There are two main divisions in the arthritic world: rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis. This may not mean too much to you when it’s hurting – what’s in a name, after all? It does, however, have some implications for treatment.

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease. The immune system has lost its way and started to attack the body’s own cells instead of bugs, viruses, etc. As the immune system is quite good at attacking things, this results in a great deal of inflammation and deterioration in the joints and tissues that are being attacked. The damage spreads, with cartilage and bone being eroded. The pain can be intense and unremitting.

Osteoarthritis affects the weight-bearing joints and is often caused by wear and tear on those joints through sporting activities, jobs demanding high levels of physical activity or being overweight. The cartilage that separates the bone ends in the joints wears away and the bones rub painfully together causing inflammation and sometimes fusing of the bone ends. Movement becomes painful and often restricted.

Gout and gouty arthritis both involve uric acid collecting in the small joints of the hands and feet, and can be debilitatingly painful. They are traditionally connected to the over consumption of alcoholic beverages such as port, but in reality can affect anyone whose system is rather too acidic from over consumption of red meat, caffeine and highly processed foods.

You can inherit a tendency to arthritic conditions, but there are other factors that influence the development of arthritis and many of them can be tackled using natural methods.

What you can do with your diet

Avoid saturated animal fats, keeping your intake of red meat, dairy products and eggs to a minimum. Oily fish such as herring, mackerel, salmon and tuna contain oils that have a positive effect on inflammation. You can take a supplement of fish oils if you don’t eat oily fish regularly.

Dairy products are problematic not only because of the fat content but also because they contain large amounts of calcium th at may not be well assimilated by the body. Calcium that gets dumped in tissues and around joints creates more painful inflammation and contributes to immobility, so get your calcium from sources that also contain plenty of magnesium, a mineral that humans need to utilise calcium.

Citrus fruits are thought to exacerbate symptoms, so cut out oranges, grapefruit, lemons, tangerines, clementines, etc., and use non-citrus fruit.

Fruit containing digestive enzymes will benefit the gut, so go exotic with pineapple, papaya, mango and guava.

Avoid highly processed foods (e.g. white rice, white flour) as these contribute to the build up of acid in the body, which causes arthritic symptoms.

The Deadly Nightshade family are certainly deadly for many arthritic people, as the alkaloids they contain seem to inhibit collagen repair in joints and create inflammation. Cut back on potatoes, tomatoes, peppers and aubergines.

Tobacco also falls into this category, but I’m assuming you already know that smoking is harmful! Another inflammatory substance that many people consume regularly is coffee. Drink no coffee, drink much more water, and limit your non-herbal tea intake to a maximum of two cups a day, especially if you are frequently tired, as tea and coffee can promote fatigue.

Taking a tablespoon of cider vinegar with a teaspoon of honey and some warm water first thing in the morning is thought to be good for the digestive system as well as reducing acidity in the tissues.

Helpful Tips

Take gentle exercise but keep joints warm, as cold or damp weather often heralds an increase in symptoms. Put ‘Dead Sea’ Salts in the bath, as these appear to draw toxins from the tissues and ease pain. This is best done before going to bed, rather than in the morning.

Consider that long term use of Aspirin or NSAIDs (Non-steroidal Anti-inflammatory drugs)is known to damage connective tissue, increase uric acid levels and inhibit cartilage repair, thus exacerbating arthritic and rheumatic symptoms. There are herbal remedies that effectively combat inflammation without the negative side effects of the drugs.

EAT MORE: Oily fish, Green leafy vegetables, Vegetable oils, Whole grain products, Oats, Figs, Kidney beans, Pumpkin, sunflower and sesame seeds, Pineapple, papaya, mango and guava

EAT LESS: Dairy foods, Meat, Citrus fruit, Processed foods, White flour, White rice, Tomatoes, Peppers, Aubergines, Sugar & salt

Supplements

Devil’s Claw is renowned for its beneficial effect on inflammatory pain. It can reduce pain sensation and improve the mobility of those with rheumatoid arthritis or osteoarthritis within the first few weeks of treatment.

One of the many positive aspects to using this herb is that it rarely upsets the stomach. It does not interfere with conventional medication or other herbs and can be used long term.

When taken over a period of six months or more, it is possible that it will rebalance immune function, which is extremely important in rheumatoid arthritis. It is, however, suitable for all forms of arthritis and has been shown to work well on gout or gouty arthritis.

In joint pain Devil’s Claw can be taken alongside glucosamine sulphate, which helps to repair cartilage and ligaments in the affected joints.

For conditions involving calcified deposits in the joints, such as gouty arthritis, there is a complex of herbs including Knotgrass. This combination of herbs works to dissolve the deposits, improving joint mobility and strengthening the soft tissue around the joint. It cleanses uric acid from tissues, reducing the painful symptoms of gout and gouty arthritis. It takes between two and four months for the full effect to become apparent, so Devil’s Claw can be taken alongside it for the first few months to add an extra element of pain relief.

Any arthritic or rheumatic condition will benefit from a reduction in uric acid levels in the system, so Nettles (Urtica) are always a useful adjunct to any treatment, as they help to dispel uric acid and reduce harmful acidity in the bloodstream.

Magnesium supplements can help if calcium is not being absorbed well.

External Application

An external application may give warming or soothing effects. A herb that has a traditional use for painful swellings, bruises and injuries is Arnica montana. It appears to contain lactones that give it an anti-inflammatory effect, dispelling pain.

An overall treatment plan encompassing diet, lifestyle and supplements, as well as gels and herbs for immediate pain relief, is the best option for dealing with arthritis in the long term.