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Newsletter for July 2012


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Herbs for Pain Management

By Cathy Wong
(Excerpted from Guide, updated April 24, 2009)

At the heart of many pain-causing conditions is chronic inflammation. A natural immune response to infection or injury, inflammation can become chronic due to factors like poor diet, stress, lack of exercise, and exposure to environmental toxins.

If you suffer from an inflammation-related condition such as arthritis, neck and back pain, or tendonitis, adding anti-inflammatory herbs to your health regimen may help you manage your pain. Although not as fast-acting as standard pain medication, such herbs may significantly diminish your pain when used regularly (especially when combined with daily exercise and the practice of relaxation techniques, both of which can provide pain reduction).

Keep in mind that anti-inflammatory herbs won't heal your condition itself, despite their pain-easing effects. Furthermore, addressing the cause of chronic inflammation is essential for working your way toward optimal health; not only known to generate pain, inflammation is a major risk factor for chronic diseases like cancer, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes.

Be sure to consult your primary care provider before using herbs, to avoid making common mistakes.

Herbal Pain Relief

Here's a look at six inflammation-fighting herbs that may provide pain relief.

1) White Willow Bark

Containing aspirin-like compounds, this herb was found to be as effective as conventional medicine in lessening pain among people with mild to fairly severe knee and hip problems in a 2008 study. White willow bark may also alleviate acute back pain, joint pain, and osteoarthritis.

2) Boswellia

Sourced from a resin found in the bark of frankincense trees, boswellia has been shown to thwart chemical reactions involved in inflammation. Practitioners of ayurvedic medicine have long used boswellia to treat arthritis; the herb may also benefit people with inflammatory bowel disease.

3) Devil's Claw

Traditionally used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, devil's claw may also soothe pain resulting from osteoarthritis, tendonitis, and back and neck troubles. In a 2007 study of 259 people with rheumatic conditions, researchers found that 60% of study members either reduced or stopped their pain medication after eight weeks of taking devil's claw. The herb also appeared to improve the participants' quality of life.

4) Bromelain

An enzyme extracted from pineapple stems, bromelain reduces levels of prostaglandins, which are hormones that induce inflammation. Bromelain may benefit people with arthritis and conditions marked by musculoskeletal tension (such as TMJ syndrome), as well as those suffering trauma-related inflammation. What's more, the enzyme may promote healing in muscles and connective tissues.

5) Curcumin

Another ayurvedic remedy known to tame arthritis pain, curcumin is a compound found in the curry spice turmeric. In an animal-based study published in 2007, scientists discovered that curcumin can overpower pro-inflammatory proteins called cytokines. The compound may also help decrease pain associated with autoimmune disorders and tendonitis.

6) Ginger

While sipping ginger tea can help relieve cold-related congestion, supplementing with this warming herb may deliver long-lasting health effects. Research indicates that ginger may calm arthritis pain, possibly by lowering your prostaglandin levels. One 2005 study even suggests that ginger could reduce pain and inflammation more effectively than non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (such as aspirin).


Beer AM, Wegener T. "Willow bark extract (Salicis cortex) for gonarthrosis and coxarthrosis - Results of a cohort study with a control group." Phytomedicine 2008 [Epub ahead of print]

Grzanna R, Lindmark L, Frondoza CG. "Ginger--an herbal medicinal product with broad anti-inflammatory actions." Journal of Medicinal Food 2005 8(2):125-32.

Reyes-Gordillo K, Segovia J, Shibayama M, Vergara P, Moreno MG, Muriel P. "Curcumin protects against acute liver damage in the rat by inhibiting NF-kappaB, proinflammatory cytokines production and oxidative stress." Biochimica et Biophysica Acta 2007 1770(6):989-96.

Warnock M, McBean D, Suter A, Tan J, Whittaker P. "Effectiveness and safety of Devil's Claw tablets in patients with general rheumatic disorders." Phtyotherapy Research 2007 21(12):1228-33.






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