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Herbs to Alleviate Pain, Arthritis, and Inflammation

As long as human beings have been in motion, they have experienced musculoskeletal aches and discomforts. Consequently, traditional healing systems around the world have sought and identified botanical substances to relieve pain. Our most potent narcotic pain relievers are derived from the juice of the poppy, a plant well known to the ancient Sumerians over five thousand years ago. The bark of the willow tree is the original source of salicylates, the basis of aspirin. Although a multitude of effective nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines are available today, natural alternatives continue to gain in popularity.

Glucosamine and chondroitin sulfates are widely used in degenerative arthritis. Although they are not herbal products, they are mentioned here because they are currently among the most commonly used �natural� arthritis medicines. Controversy as to their efficacy abounds, but recent reviews have suggested that they do reduce pain and may slow or stabilize joint deterioration.

Massaging the skin with herbalized oils has been used to reduce tissue pain for thousands of years. Oil from the wintergreen shrub, menthol from mint, camphor from the camphor tree, and capsaicin cream from chili peppers are rubbed over a sore joint or muscle to increase blood supply and reduce pain. Capsaicin, which depletes nerve endings of the neurotransmitter known as substance P, reduces the transmission of painful impulses. It has been useful in painful conditions ranging from diabetes to osteoarthritis.

Internally, many common herbs and spices have measurable anti-inflammatory effects, although their clinical relevance remains to be fully defined. Turmeric, basil, rosemary, thyme, and chamomile are a few of the many culinary herbs and spices that can cool inflammation.

Frankincense and myrrh, gifts of the Three Wise Men to the Christ Child, are closely related to two Ayurvedic herbs used in the treatment of arthritis. An extract of Boswellia serrata, a close cousin to frankincense, has shown anti-inflammatory activity in both animals and people. Guggulu, the resin from Commiphora mukul, is in the same family as myrrh. A number of recent studies attest to the long-standing reputation of guggulu as an effective anti-inflammatory agent.

Finally, feverfew, an herb used for over two thousand years to treat headaches, is effective in the treatment of migraines and arthritis. Phytochemicals in this daisy like plant inhibit inflammation and muscle spasm. New users of feverfew should be cautious, as allergic reactions to this herbal medicine are not rare.

Herbs can be helpful in reducing the discomfort of chronic discomforts, but it is important to remember that pain is a symptom of some underlying dysfunction or imbalance. If a part of your body continues to call for attention, please have a competent health-care provider evaluate your symptoms to be certain that you are not ignoring an underlying illness that requires more-specific treatment.

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