4 botanicals for pain relief work without the dangerous side effects of medication.
For practitioners, one of the most difficult things to see is patients becoming more immobile as they get older. Unfortunately, this occurrence is all too common. One in five Americans are currently living with diagnosed osteoarthritis, and two out of three individuals struggling with obesity will likely develop knee osteoarthritis in their lifetime.1
Pharmaceutical manufacturers have rushed to fill the subsequent demand for painkillers, and the results have been devastating. Deaths from painkillers have tripled in the past decade, with more than 16,500 bleeding ulcer deaths from arthritis medication, the doubling to tripling risk of heart attack and stroke, and 15,000 overdose deaths from prescribed narcotics.2-4 This translates to over 45,000 U.S. deaths per year that could have been prevented by using natural options that are often more effective than medication.
Like the debilitating health conditions that many people face, many over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription drugs are highly dangerous. These drugs only address pain and not its cause, making them unsuitable for the task at hand. Certainly, better options have emerged for patients, whether they are dealing with rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, past injuries, or work-related wear and tear. Alternatives have emerged in nature as effective botanical compounds that strengthen the cushioning cartilage of the joints and reduce damaging inflammation.
Four important natural agents continue to gain momentum through research:
Curcumin from turmeric (Curcuma longa) is packed with beneficial properties and earns a top spot on the list. Dried and powdered turmeric has been used in India as both a spice and a medicine for centuries. In addition to flavoring food, turmeric has been used to treat conditions as varied as toothache, gas, chest pain, and menstrual problems. Current research has focused on curcumin, the compound from turmeric that essentially powers its effects.
But one of the challenges in recommending curcumin as a therapeutic ingredient has been absorption. The body has a hard time absorbing and retaining even 95 percent standardized extracts at truly efficacious levels.
Fortunately, there is a specialized, high-absorption curcumin available that is at the forefront of clinical study. This formulation blends curcumin extract with turmeric essential oils to boost absorption by up to 10 times that of standard 95 percent extracts. It also stays in the bloodstream at meaningful levels for up to 12 hours, so the benefits of curcumin apply much longer.5
Boswellia (Boswellia serrata), another time-tested botanical, is an important ingredient for anyone suffering from arthritis or joint damage, too. It is especially effective in reducing joint pain, including arthritis, by inhibiting the inflammatory enzyme 5-LOX. A clinically studied boswellia for enhancing mobility is low in beta-boswellic acid (which interferes with beneficial activity) and has higher levels of acetyl-11-keto-beta-boswellic acid (AKBA) to boost the potency of the extract.6,7
Together, curcumin and boswellia reduce the tissue-damaging inflammation that causes pain. They don’t just cover up pain signals—they help the body heal. In fact, they were both featured in an osteoarthritis study that compared the two botanicals to generic celecoxib for individuals with osteoarthritis.
In this study, one group received 100 milligrams of celecoxib twice daily while the second group received a 500-milligram blend of the high-absorption curcumin and the high-AKBA, low- beta boswellia extract twice daily.
When it came to finding pain relief, nearly 65 percent of those taking the herbal ingredients versus less than 30 percent in the drug group improved to such a high degree that they were able to move from having “moderate to severe arthritis” to “mild to moderate arthritis.”6-8
Because curcumin is such a powerful inflammation fighter, it was an appropriate choice to pair with boswellia in this study. Two of the hallmarks of osteoarthritis are cartilage destruction and inflammation—conditions that the curcumin compound can prevent. In fact, one of curcumin’s most interesting properties is its ability to protect chondrocytes, specialized cells found in joint cartilage, from being broken down by inflammatory compounds (IL-1beta, MMP3) in the body.9
Devil’s Claw (Harpagophytum procumbens) from South Africa has powerful applications for practitioners in relieving arthritis inflammation and protecting joints and cartilage.
In a clinical study published in Phytomedicine, Devil’s Claw relieved hip pain by 54 percent and knee pain by 38 percent in eight weeks.10 In another study, Devil’s Claw was equal in pain-relieving ability to rofecoxib, a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug that has since been pulled off the prescription market because of its side effects.11
Not all Devil’s Claw extracts are equally prepared. Many of them are only standardized at 2 percent harpagosides, the plant’s key compound. But, there is a specialized, concentrated extract standardized to 20 percent harpagosides with documented advantages. Concentrated Devil’s Claw extract has been found to reduce COX-2 activity by 31 percent.12
Aside from fighting inflammation, Devil’s Claw helps regenerate cushioning tissue by increasing the level of glycosaminoglycans (GAGs), which are natural building blocks of tissue. This includes the extracellular matrix that acts as a shock absorber between the joints.13 Additionally, Devil’s Claw boosts hyaluronic acid synthesis in cells that produce and maintain the natural cushioning cartilage between the vertebrae and joints (chondrocytes) by 41 percent.14
Indian gooseberry (Emblica officinalis)—also known as “amla”—has shown anti-inflammatory activity that can protect collagen and cartilage. Scientific research has shown that amla protects chondrocyte activity and inhibits cartilage-damaging enzyme activity in cell studies.15,16
These botanicals have a history of traditional use that is being confirmed in clinical studies and ongoing research. Practitioners have the opportunity to help patients find viable alternatives for relief without complications and side effects, all while making an active life possible.
Jacob Teitelbaum, MD, is director of the Practitioners Alliance network, fostering communication between all health practitioners (vitality101.com/pan) and an internationally known expert in the fields of chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, sleep, and pain. He is the author of many books, including the perennial bestseller From Fatigued to Fantastic; Real Cause, Real Cure; Pain Free 1-2-3; and the popular, free iPhone & Android app Cures A-Z. He can be reached at 410-573-5389 or through endfatigue.com.
1 “Arthritis-Related Statistics.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/arthritis/data_statistics/arthritis_related_stats.htm. Last updated March 17, 2014. Accessed September 5, 2013.
2 Nano S. “Painkiller Overdose Deaths Triple in Decade.” Huffington Post. http://www.huffing tonpost.com/2011/11/01/painkiller-overdose- deaths_n_1070300.html. Published November 1, 2011. Accessed August 8, 2013.
3 Singh G. Recent considerations in nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug gastropathy. Am J Med. 1998;105(1B):31S-38S.
4 Trelle S, Reinchenbach, S, Wandel S, et al. Cardiovascular safety of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs: network meta-analysis. BMJ. 2011;342:c7086.
5 Antony B, Merina B, Iyer VS, et al. A Pilot Cross-Over Study to Evaluate Human Oral Bioavailability of BCM-95CG (Biocurcumax), A Novel Bioenhanced Preparation of Curcumin. Ind J Pharm Sci. 2008;70(4):445-449.
6 Ammon HP. Boswellic acids in chronic inflammatory diseases. Planta Med. 2006;72(12):1100-16.
7 Poeckel D, Tausch L, Altmann A, et al. Induction of central signalling pathways and select functional effects in human platelets by beta-boswellic acid. Br J Pharmacol. 2005;146(4):514-24.
8 Antony B, Kizhakedath R, Benny M, Kuruvilla BT. Clinical evaluation of a herbal formulation (Rhulief™) in the management of knee osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis Cartilage. 2011;19(S1):S145-S146.
9 Henrotin Y, Clutterbuck AL, Allaway D, et al. Biological actions of curcumin on articular chondrocytes. Osteoarthritis Cartilage. 2010;18(2):141-9.
10 Chrubasik S, Thanner J, Kunzel O, et al. Comparison of outcome measures during treatment with the proprietary Harpagophytum extract Doloteffin in patients with pain in the lower back, knee, or hip. Phytomedicine. 2002;9(3):181-194.
11 Chrubasik A, Model A, Black A, Pollak S. A randomized double-blind pilot study comparing Doloteffin and Vioxx in the treatment of low back pain. Rheumatology (Oxford). 2003;42:141-8.
12 Inhibition of cyclooxygenase-2 by concentrated devil’s claw (Harpagophytum procumbens) extract. Unpublished study, 2007.
13 Increased glycosaminoglycans by concentrated devil’s claw (Harpagophytum procumbens) extract. Unpublished study, 2007.
14 Increase of hyaluronic acid by concentrated devil’s claw (Harpagophytum procumbens) extract. Unpublished study, 2007.
15 Sumantran VN, Kulkarni A, Chandwaskar R, et al. Chondroprotective potential of fruit extracts of Phyllanthus emblica in osteoarthritis. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2008;5(3):329-35.
16 Ganju L, Karan D, Chanda S, et al. Immunomodulatory effects of agents of plant origin. Biomed Pharmacother. 2003;57(7):296- 300.