Few headlines strip a magazine off store shelves faster than “New Arthritis Cure Found”. The phrase “Arthritis Cure Formula” on bottles containing herbal supplements provides similar selling power to the manufacturers of such products. Why is this so? What is it about arthritis that has so many who suffer from it grasping for whatever relief might be out there?

The reason, quite simply, is that arthritis hurts. And people, in general, don’t like pain. And arthritis pain is always present, affecting every aspect of its sufferers’ lives. And-contrary to some advertising claims-there is no cure, which leaves people always scrambling to find something new to help them feel better.

There. I’ve said it. The unfortunate truth. Arthritis, regardless of the type, is an incurable condition for which existing treatments are designed purely to alleviate the pain.

There are many types of arthritis which basically fall under one of three categories, 1) mechanical arthritis, in which there is a structural degeneration of one or more of the joint components such as bone or cartilage, 2) inflammatory arthritis, in which the body’s immune system attacks something in the joint tissues it doesn’t like and 3) arthritis as a result of both structural damage and inflammatory processes. I think it’s safe to say that many with arthritis, no matter what the type, suffer from pain caused by a combination of structural damage and inflammation. Sometimes the structural damage comes first and sometimes the other way around but eventually, you end up with both processes acting to cause arthritic pain.

The vast majority of medications for the treatment of arthritis deal with the inflammatory component. When the inflammation is reduced, the pain associated with it is lessened. The same is true with herbal remedies. In this and in the article which follows, we will learn about the commonly used herbal therapies for arthritis, explore how they work, and sift through the available research on their use.

First, I’d like to talk a bit about glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate. They are both popularly used these days by many arthritis sufferers. Many people I know swear by their effectiveness and use them faithfully for arthritis relief. There is research that indicates they are effective. They are not herbs, though, but rather are glycosaminoglycans, chemical substances that are the precursors to healthy joint cartilage. Because they have no particular anti-inflammatory properties, there is no reason not to also use an herb or conventional medication along with them in order to help alleviate the inflammatory component of arthritic pain.

Speaking of herbs…

White willow bark was used for pain and fever relief for centuries by the Europeans and later by American colonists. It is literally extracted from the bark of a white willow tree and is also known as “natural aspirin”. There is a good reason for that nickname. Chemically, it is nearly identical to aspirin.

White willow bark contains salicin, a precursor chemical that, once ingested and absorbed, is transformed by the body into salicylic acid which has anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties. (Aspirin, by the way, is acetyl-salicylic acid. Not much of a difference, chemically speaking.) Because one ingests a precursor to the active ingredient and not the active ingredient itself, the onset of action for pain relief is slower than with, say, taking aspirin. The side effects can be expected to be similar to those with aspirin. Needless to say, it’s probably not a good idea to take white willow bark and aspirin together unless you want a very big stomachache.

The recommended dose of white willow bark is 1-3 grams of dried bark taken three times a day. The bark is steeped into a tea before consumption. This translates into a daily dose of salicin of between 60 and 120 milligrams (an average aspirin is 325 milligrams). Somehow this doesn’t seem to be enough medication to make any difference. In fact, one source I found revealed that one would have to drink a quart of tea made from superior grade white willow bark (containing 7% salicin) to consume the equivalent of two aspirins. Of course, herbalists can justifiably argue that there may be other constituents in white willow bark that work along with the salicin to impart anti-inflammatory pain relief to its users. I suspect this is the case. In any event, it might be worth looking into if you are interested in herbal relief for arthritis. As always, read labels carefully before purchasing any product.

If you’ve been enjoying the benefits of herbal tea and would like to expand your experience with eastern medicine, consider booking an acupuncture appointment with AB Acupuncture.

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