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                The Best Herbs for Pain Relief

                A look at some of the plants known to have pain-relieving properties.

                | August/September 2009

                • Chamomile: Aromatherapists use chamomile essential oil to promote relaxation and pain relief.
                • Clove: Essential oil from cloves is an age-old remedy for toothaches. Put a drop on a sore tooth while waiting to see the dentist.
                • Lavender: Lavender essential oil has antispasmodic and anti-inflammatory chemicals; it can soothe the soul and alleviate pain.
                • Chile: Capsaicin, the compound that puts the heat in hot peppers, helps relieve nerve pain and arthritis discomfort when used in topically applied creams.
                • Rosemary: Delicious rosemary has pain-relieving, antispasmodic and anti-inflammatory properties.

                A few years ago, I had the pleasure of visiting the home of a gracious woman who deals in antiques. As I admired the many fine pieces displayed there, I came to realize that I, too, am something of a period piece—a baby boomer who’s fundamentally sound but sporting the odd creaky hinge or two.
                Fortunately, the herbal apothecary holds promise. Its medicines are good alternatives to nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs for chronic, mild to moderate aches and can reduce the need for prescription drugs.

                More than 100 plants are known to have pain-relieving properties, but some are really outstanding. Reporting on herbal painkillers for arthritis, a review of clinical trials in the Clinical Journal of Pain says devil’s claw (Harpagophytum procumbens), capsaicin from hot chiles (Capsicum spp.), gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) from seed oils, and certain blended herbal extracts are especially good. Other studies indicate broader pain-relieving benefits from these as well as two traditional favorites, white willow (Salix spp.) and peppermint (Mentha piperita).

                Herbal Rx: Devil’s Claw and Capsaicin

                Devil’s claw is a South African herb with medicinally active roots. This herb eases muscular tension or pain in the back, shoulders and neck. A popular treatment for osteoarthritic pain, it may ease rheumatoid arthritic pain as well. The herb’s active ingredients are harpagide and harpagoside, both iridoid glycosides with analgesic (pain-relieving) and anti-inflammatory actions. Devil’s claw extract has been shown to reduce osteoarthritic hip or knee pain by 25 percent and improve mobility within a few weeks. Rheumatoid arthritic pain may also be reduced and mobility enhanced within about two months. Devil’s claw extract is considered safe at the typical dosage of 750 mg (containing 3 percent iridoid glycosides) taken three times daily. It is also available as tincture (use 1 teaspoon up to three times daily) and tea. It should not be taken with blood-thinning medications and may not be safe during pregnancy or for young children, nursing mothers and individuals with liver or kidney disease, or digestive system ulcers.

                Capsaicin puts the heat in hot peppers. It manipulates the body’s pain status by hindering pain perception, triggering the release of pain-relieving endorphins and providing analgesic action. Commercial capsaicin-containing creams such as Zostrix, Heet and Capzasin-P are used topically for arthritic and nerve pain. Creams containing .025 percent capsaicin can significantly reduce osteoarthritic pain when applied to joints four times daily. A higher concentration of .075 percent works best for peripheral nerve pain—such as that from diabetic nerve damage, HIV and pain following cancer surgery. When using topical capsaicin products, be sure to avoid touching your eyes and other sensitive areas.

                Capsaicin also can be taken internally to help with chronic digestive discomfort, or dyspepsia: A daily dose of 0.5 to 1 grams cayenne, divided and taken before meals, reduces pain, bloating and nausea over a few weeks. If you like to munch hot peppers, rest assured that they do not aggravate stomach ulcers as is commonly believed, and they actually might protect your stomach from prescription-drug damage.

                Healthy Oils Help Relieve Aches and Pains

                Gamma-linolenic acid is one of the good fats. It may help the body produce the kinds of prostaglandins and leukotrienes (hormone-like substances that influence the immune system and many other processes) that can reduce inflammation. It curbs rheumatoid arthritic pain, relieving morning stiffness and joint tenderness. Some evidence indicates that GLA also can help migraine headaches and mild diabetic nerve damage. Borage (Borago officinalis) and black currant (Ribes nigrum) seed oils are the richest sources of GLA, containing up to 25 percent and 20 percent, respectively, while evening primrose (Oenothera biennis), a traditional source, delivers 7 percent to 10 percent. The recommended daily dose for rheumatoid arthritis is 1 to 3 grams GLA supplement, and for mild diabetic neuropathy 400 to 600 mg daily. GLA is not an overnight fix and may take up to six months for significant relief. Also, long-term use may lead to inflammation, blood clots or decreased immune system functioning. A safe route to introduce a little GLA into your diet is by eating a handful of black currants regularly or spreading the preserves onto your morning toast—you might as well enjoy your medicine!

                6/5/2019 6:38:51 PM

                Does anyone know whether these also slow the progression of arthritis (OA specifically), or if it is simply pain relief? I have tried to research this unsuccessfully ... suggestions on searching welcome.

                6/3/2019 10:04:00 PM

                I have been using Indica cannabis oils mixed with shea butter for a decade and a half for peripheral neuropathy (nerve pain in feet & legs). Cannot find anything better.

                11/9/2013 3:15:04 PM

                My doctor, having prescribed many different meds over time for severe OA, decided "out of the blue" it seems, that I was incapable of driving safely, so my driver's licence has been suspended. I'm now looking at herbal remedies to try to keep anything contrary from showing up on blood tests. Good summary of herbs to try & how to use them here. I'll let you know what I take and how it works (if I remember!).


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