Natural Medicine is a general term used to describe a multitude of medical philosophies and disciplines that focus on less invasive, less toxic and more natural approaches to health care, that always take into account the “wholistic” perspective dealing with the entire individual, not only a health condition.
The term “Arthritis” is often used loosely as if it encompassed one entity, although over 100 types of Arthritis have been identified. It is not one disease, but an aggregate of illnesses whose common features include joint pain, stiffness and inflammation. For millions of Americans, arthritis limits everyday movements such as walking, standing or even holding a pen. The most common form of Arthritis is Osteoarthritis , usually attributed to joint “wear and tear’. Rheumatoid arthritis, although less prevalent , attacks people of every age group, although it is more common in women. It is an inflammatory disease in which the body’s immune system attacks its own healthy tissues. In reality, wholistic practitioners often find that patients actually have a continuum of symptoms. Even those who are officially diagnosed with Osteoarthritis often have some degree of auto immune involvement.
Although psychological and emotional factors often have a part in the development of arthritis, in this article we will focus on several physical parameters that we have seen in virtually all cases of arthritis, and will offer suggestions about specific botanical medicines(herbs) that may be useful.
There are five specific areas that we will focus on:
1) buildup of toxic waste products in the tissue-Alteratives and Tonics
2) a decrease in integrity of the lining of the gastrointestinal tract
3) an overabundance of disease causing microorganisms
4) decreased circulation to painful areas
5) pain management:
The Eclectic doctors at the turn of the century referred to Alteratives as ‘Blood and Lymphatic cleansers. ‘ Alteratives are non-toxic herbs which assist the organs of detoxification and elimination (liver,bowels,kidneys,skin,lungs, and connective tissue), by removing deleterious substances such as environmental (xenobiotic) toxins as well as those generated internally (endobiotic toxins). In ancient systems of medicine throughout the globe, rheumatic ailments, and other painful conditions, are thought to originate from the accumulation of these toxins in the body.
Herbal alterative ‘superstars’ include Milk Thistle (Silybum marianum), Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale), and Burdock (Arctium lappa) .The term’ Tonic’ is synonymous with the more modern designation ‘Adaptogen’ . A tonic is an herb which is safe to use daily, affects many body systems (hormonal systems, organs functions etc.), and has a homeostatic(balancing) effect on the body which helps people to cope with
stress in a positive manner.Ginseng (Panax ginseng) is the king of tonic herbs, creating optimal health and energy when used daily .It works synergistically with Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus). The ancient Ayurvedic medical system from India has honored Ashwaganda( Withania somnifera) for thousands of years. Modern research has discovered that Ashwaganda contains withanolides, which improves stamina and helps with stress management. Bupleurem and Rehmannia are two of China’s most powerful adrenal tonics, which combat fatigue and create well-being.
Individuals suffering from joint and muscle pain due to autoimmune problems, such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and fibromyalgia, often have a condition known as “leaky gut syndrome.” This allows molecules that are usually too large to exit through the gastrointestinal lining to escape and enter the bloodstream, which leads to the formation of “circulating immune complexes”(CIC), implicated in the production of an inflammatory response resulting in joint and muscle pain. Furthermore, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory agents( NSAIDS), the pharmaceutical drugs usually prescribed for arthritic conditions, actually increases the problem of “leaky gut”, which leads to a worsening of the overall disease process. Specific nutrients which coat and soothe the intestinal lining, thus helping to heal “leaky gut”, can help arthritis. These include:
L-glutamine is an amino acid which scientific research has shown to be able to soothe irritated gut linings and help to regrow flattened “villi”- the tiny finger like protrusions that line the GI tract, and act as a surface for the absorption of nutrients.
Primrose oil supplies essential fatty acids needed to soothe and re-establish well formed cell membranes.
Gingko biloba , well known for its effects on brain function, acts to increase circulationto the small capillaries within the GI tract . It also acts as an anti-oxidant, which can help to strengthen the intestinal lining, and heal a “leaky-gut”.
Marshmallow Root and Okra are ” dumulcents”, which coat the gastrointestinal lining and heal irritated tissues.
The proliferation of “unfriendly” microorganisms, including bacteria, yeast, fungi and parasites, is often undiagnosed by conventional medicine. Yet, these organisms are present in a large majority of people who suffer from a wide variety of symptoms including gas, bloating, digestive disturbances, skin rashes, allergic reactions and muscleand joint pains. The presence in the intestinal tract of an excess of these organisms is referred to as “dysbiosis”. Not only can this situation cause the above mentioned symptoms, but it can weaken the body’s immune system. In order to get rid of these “invaders” and reestablish a “healthy” gut flora, a variety of herbs act to discourage the growth of pathogenic(disease causing) organisms, while building and supporting the immune system:
Barberry root contains berberine, the yellow compound that is also found in Golden Seal Root. Berberine helps the liver filter out bacteria, and can inhibit the growth of streptococci and other microorganisms. It helps to kill parasites and tonifies the intestinal tract.
Citrus Seed Extract contains proanthocyanadins(OPC’s), biologically active flavonoids which help to heal irritations to the lining of the intestinals. Citrus Seed Extract has a very high level of activity against micro-organisms. ( Journal of Orthomolecular Medicine, Vol 5, Nov 1990)
Black Walnut Hulls is a time honored “vermifuge” ( worm destroyer) used traditionally in Western Herbal Medicine. It is high in tannic acid which tonifies the digestive tract and helps rid the body of parasites.
Thyme and Oregano Leaf Oil are essential oils with powerful antimicrobial effects. They have been proven to destroy parasites, worms, fungi, bacteria and viruses.
It is also important to “re-inoculate” the gastro-intestinal tract with ‘friendly’ bacteria. Acidophilus taken as a supplement can be helpful for this purpose.
Poor circulation can often be helped by massage along with the topical application of medicinal herbs. When some part of the body is injured, the innate, natural response is to rub the afflicted area. This act of rubbing itself seems to be therapeutic; however, the use of herbs when applied topically can enhance the healing response.Menthol has been used for eons of time in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). It is one of the principle essential oils derived from peppermint, and acts as a powerful analgesic when applied topically. Initially, it produces a cooling sensation to inflamed areas, followed by a profound warmth. TCM refers to painful afflictions of muscles and joints as ‘Bi’ syndrome, which menthol helps to alleviate.
Capsiacin is a resin found in many species of ‘hot peppers’. Historically, shamans and folk healers have used capsaicin as a skin rub for pain. More recent scientific studies have proven that Capsiacin depletes substance P, a chemical believed to be overabundant in the peripheral nerves of patients with arthritis, fibromyalgia and other painful syndromes. Substance P is released in response to injury or inflammation and pain. Extreme care in handling Capsiacin is necessary, as the oleo-resins are quite pungent and can burn sensitive tissues (eyes, nose, genitalia, mucous membranes, open tissue), so extra special care should be used during and after application. The hands and under the finger nails should be thoroughly washed with hot, soapy water after applying it to the area.
Camphor is a penetrating, medicinal oil derived from the tropical tree, Cinnamonium camphora. When applied topically, Camphor may redden the skin and produce a warming sensation. When rubbed into painful, stiff joints, ligaments and muscles, it provides soothing “camphor-ice” relief. In Chinese Medicine, Camphor is called Zhang Nao. It is believed to ” invigorate the blood and relieve stagnation “, thus causing pain relief. Wintergreen(Gaultheria procumbens) is a low growing evergreen shrub found in the damp woods of the Eastern U.S. Oil of wintergreen has chemical properties similar to salicylic acid- an aspirin like compound with pain relieving properties.Cloves(Eugenia caryphylii) and Allspice(Pimenta diocia) contain the essential oil , Eugenol which acts as an excellent anesthetic (numbs pain). Folk healers in the Caribbean use Clove and Allspice as an important ingredient in topical rubs and liniments to relieve the pain of arthritis and painful muscles, tendons, ligaments, and sinews throughout the body. The Chinese use cloves in salves and balms for treating Kung fu injuries, arthritis which is worse with damp, cold conditions and fungal infestations of the skin.Boswellia (Boswellia seratta) Boswellia is a gum resin extracted from the bark and trunk from a tree in India. The tree is scraped and the resin is allowed to exude from the tree until it dries. It has been used traditionally in Ayurvedic medicine to treat chronic pain and inflammation.
An anodyne helps achieve pain relief. Since pain is such a common human affliction, societies around the globe have experimented with many plants to discover which ones were most useful for this purpose. The combined global plant wisdom of Native American, Traditional Chinese Medicine, Ayurvedic traditions of India, Jamaican Maroon ‘science’, and Western herbal traditions all have discovered plant medicines for coping with discomfort.
White Willow Bark (Salix alba) contains glycosides, which are converted in the body into active salicylates, similar to the chemicals found in Aspirin. Thus, it is often referred to as Nature’s Aspirin, yet does not cause gastrointestinal bleeding as does Aspirin.
Kava-Kava (Piper methysticum) is used in the South Pacific to relax the mind and body, achieve a tranquil state, and ease pain and anxiety, which often exacerbates pain. Research on Kava reveals the active Kava pyrones to be a strong skeletal muscle relaxant, and was used by the Hawaiians for arthritis and for soothing tight and aching muscles.
Jamaican Dogwood (Piscidia spp.) was used historically as one of themost effective pain relievers by the Eclectic (M.D.) physician’s at theturn of the century ,used for fibromyalgia, joint pain, and the pain associated withbone fractures. In the Amazon and Jamaican rainforests, the curanderos (healers) and ‘Bush doctors’ use the plant to treat migraines ,joint pain, sprains, muscular aches and neuralgia.
In Chinese herbal traditions, Yan Hu Suo (Corydalis ambigua) is the strongest pain killer in the Materia medica. Although very effective, it is non-addictive and virtually free of side effects.
Boswellia is derived from the gum exhuded from the tree Boswellia serrata, native to India. It has been documented in the medical literatureto block inflammatory compounds which lead to a heightened pain response.
Phyto-Nutrition refers to the presence of high amounts of “Phyto-Nutrients”- specific nutritional components needed by the body that can be found in certain foods and herbs. This innovative, delicious tasting food medicament contains impressive levels of bioflavonoids, antioxidants and botanicals which can help to strengthen the structural integrity of cartilage and connective tissue. In Arthritis, and other inflammatory problems, joint and tissue destruction is often exacerbated due to a deficiency of several key nutrients. Joint Phyto-Nutrition® is specifically designed to contain many of the exact nutritional components that the body needs to build healthy tissues. . The flavonoids found in abundance in Joint Phyto-Nutrition® act in synergy to reinforce the collagen matrix which provides structure to ligaments, tendons, and connective tissues. The flavonoid complex also acts as a powerful antioxidant, and stops the release of inflammatory compounds. It’s paste like consistency is based on the ancient Ayurvedic medicine known as Chyawanprash, a traditional medicinal paste taken by the teaspoon or spread on bread or crackers.
Ingredients can include:
Hawthorn(Creteagus oxycantha) possesses a rich array of bioflavonoid components , responsible for the deep hues of red, blue, and purple found in many berries. It also contains quercetin, another powerful bioflavonoid. Bioflavonoids increase the collagen building activity of Vit C in the body.
Pine Bark is a premier source of oligo-proanthocyanadins (OPC’s) , which display an antioxidant activity 50 times greater than vitamin C, and Rose Hips, the orange-red fruit found on rose bushes in the fall, are brimming with citrus bioflavonoids.
Gotu kola (Centella asiatica) is a plant native to the tropics which contains components that have been scientifically assayed and shown in clinical trials to promote the healing of damaged connective tissue, including, skin, veins, tendons, ligaments, cartilage and joints.
Glucosamine has been shown in scientific studies to help relieve pain and inflammation. It can help to stimulate the repair of cartilage tissue, by providing the building blocks the body needs.
Excerpts included from THE NATURAL MEDICINE CHEST, and ARTHRITIS- The Alternative Medicine Definitive Guide, authored by Eugene Zampieron ND and
Ellen Kamhi PhD RN .
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