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Herbal Help for Arthritis

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Pain is an unfortunate reality for the four million Canadians afflicted with arthritis, one of the most common chronic conditions

Pain is an unfortunate reality for the four million Canadians afflicted with arthritis, one of the most common chronic conditions. Sufferers often find themselves cutting down on exercise to reduce pain. However, when people stop flexing and using the problem joint, this can lead to even more pain and cartilage destruction as the joint atrophies. On the other hand, by controlling the pain and making dietary and lifestyle modifications, arthritis sufferers can continue to move the joint, which increases circulation and brings blood and beneficial nutrients to the site.

There are many herbs that have proven pain-relieving properties and help to reduce friction and increase joint lubrication. When applied topically as a salve, a herbal blend containing balsam, juniper berry, yarrow, birch oil and chaparral has been found to be particularly helpful and fast in relieving pain in both rheumatoid and osteoarthritic conditions.

Boswellia serrata, a traditional herbal remedy from the Indian system of ayurvedic medicine, is one of the first herbal remedies to have documented clinical evidence of its usefulness in rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, low back pain, soft tissue rheumatism and other conditions involving inflammation and degeneration of the muscles. Modern research has shown that a group of triterpenoids called boswellic acids are responsible for these effects. The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research in India undertook a series of studies in 1989. The researchers concluded that the boswellic acids are more beneficial, less toxic and more potent than standard anti-inflammatory drugs.

White willow bark is another herb with a long history of use. Known for at least 2,000 years for its ability to alleviate pain and reduce fever, this herb has been extensively studied for its anti-inflammatory and immune-boosting properties.

Yucca root is derived from a plant native to southwestern United States and Mexico. It has been used for centuries by First Nations peoples and Mexicans to treat a wide variety of maladies, especially symptoms of arthritis and rheumatism. The late Robert Bingham, MD, director of the Desert Hot Springs Medical Clinic in Palm Springs, Calif., supervised the use of yucca in thousands of patients and believed that yucca extract supplements can produce arthritis remissions. Presenting the results of a placebo-controlled study on the effects of yucca in the Journal of Applied Nutrition, Dr. Bingham reported that 60 percent of people who took yucca supplements experienced diminished pain, swelling and stiffness without side-effects.

Devil's claw root has been reported to reduce swelling and relieve pain, and to improve joint mobility. Most clinical studies have shown that this plant has strong anti-inflammatory
properties.

Sarsaparilla is a large, woody vine growing up to 50 metres in length. Not to be confused with the tree, sasparilla, which was once used to flavour root beer, sarsaparilla has been used since the 1500s by indigenous peoples of Central and South America as a blood purifier and general tonic.

Feverfew leaf is actually most noted for its use in the treatment of migraines. Although it has been used by traditional herbalists for centuries, feverfew began receiving attention in 1978 when a British newspaper reported that a woman had cured her migraines using feverfew. This prompted formal studies into this herb's anti-inflammatory properties, which have been found to provide relief for arthritis sufferers.

Bromelain is an enzyme from the stem of the pineapple plant that blocks the body's production of kinins, which are produced during inflammation. Preliminary evidence in people with rheumatoid arthritis has shown that bromelain might help reduce symptoms such as joint swelling and impaired joint mobility.

Yet another supplement, collagen type II, has shown great promise in many scientific studies for rebuilding and repairing damaged joint cartilage. One major, double-blind, controlled study at Harvard Medical School, the results of which were published in Science, found that collagen type II improved all of the major clinical symptoms of severe joint pain in those suffering from rheumatoid arthritis.

When taken consistently and in the correct dosages, these herbal and supplement helpers have achieved amazing results in the fight against arthritis.

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