Herbal Pain Relief for Arthritis--
A Natural Answer

Herbal pain relief supplements are natural plant-based and popular complementary or alternative treatments for people with arthritis. They’ve been used effectively for all symptoms of various types of arthritis, most notably for the warnings of pain.

My husband and I have used herbal pain relief for many years. While there’s no cure for arthritis, our symptoms are controlled. We no longer use non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) of any kind. My husband’s osteoarthritis in both knees is more acute than my neck arthritis. Because of herbal pain relief supplements, he’s now able to play tennis three times a week without ibuprofen, acetamenophen or prescription pharmaceuticals.

The concept of herbal preparations or dietary herbal supplements is simple. Herbs are plants. Your body efficiently assimilates the nutrients from plants at the cellular level. Synthetic drugs are not recognized by your body as food and cells receive little nutrient value from these treatments.

World history of herbs for natural medicine

Herbs have been used for medicinal purposes for centuries. Herbal pain relief was just one of the uses of the plant world. In the written record, the study of herbs dates back over 5,000 years to the Sumerians, who described well-established medicinal uses for such plants as laurel, caraway, and thyme.

The great age of herbals occurred during the 15th-16th and 17th Centuries. This coincided with the invention of the printing press in 1450, which allowed ready availability of medicinal manuscripts for the first time in English and languages other than Latin or Greek.

United States history of medicinal herbs

The United States has a much shorter history of medicinal herbal use. Native American Indians and early European settlers certainly used plants and glands as herbal pain relief and medicines, but not to the extent of the Asian settlers.

By the twentieth century, however, the pre-eminent position of herbs in medical practice began to fade. This began with the professionalism of the physician, followed by chemical drugs (like arsenic, copper, sulfate, iron, mercury and sulfur).

Then the rapid development of chemistry led increasingly to the dominance of chemical medicine and synthetic drugs as the traditional system of medical treatment in America. Over time, the use of herbal medicines declined in favor of pharmaceuticals. During this time, most Americans shied away from herbal preparations when synthetic ones were available.

However, according to the World Health Organization, 80% of people today worldwide continue to rely on herbal supplements and medicinal herbs for some aspect of their primary healthcare. In Germany, up to 700 plant-based medicines are available and are prescribed by approximately 70% of German physician

Herbal supplements popular again over the past 20 years

In the last twenty years in the United States, the public has become increasingly dissatisfied with the cost and side effect risks of prescription and non-prescription medications. This, combined with an interest in returning to natural or organic remedies, has led to increased use of herbal pain relief, for example.

The use of herbal supplements and alternative medicines is more popular in the United States than ever before.

Herbs come in several forms:

  1. Teas (dried herbs soaked in boiling water)
  2. Syrups (concentrated extracts added to flavored preparations)
  3. Oils (extracted from plants for use in massage rubs, ointments, creams)
  4. Tinctures (extracts of 1:5 to 1:10 herbal concentration as solvents)
  5. Liquid extracts (more concentrated tinctures, usually 1:1)
  6. Dry extracts (the most concentrated form of an herbal product--typically 2:1 to 8:1 sold as tablets, capsules, or lozenges). This is the most common form of herbal supplementation on the market today.

What is an herbal pain relief supplement?

Herbal pain relief is just one of the properties from plant-based supplements.

Technically, herbs are a subset of botanicals. A botanical is a plant or plant part valued for its medicinal or therapeutic properties, flavor, and/or scent. Products made from botanicals that are used to maintain or improve health or fight pain may be called herbal products, herbal supplements, botanical medicine, or phytomedicines.

Herbs can be classified as a dietary supplement, if the herbal (botanical) preparation meets the definition as defined by Congress in the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act which became law in 1994, quoted below:

"A dietary supplement is a product (other than tobacco) that:

  1. Is intended to supplement the diet (cannot be represented for use as a food)
  2. Contains one or more dietary ingredients (including vitamins, minerals, herbs or other botanicals, amino acids, and other substances) or their constituents
  3. Is intended to be taken by mouth as a pill, capsule, tablet or liquid, and
  4. Is labeled “dietary supplement” on the product’s front panel"

Which herbs have proven effective for arthritis?

The following is a list of herbs and natural substances that may be helpful as herbal pain relief for arthritis and its symptoms (each bold link below takes you to recommended product information pages. Each non-bold link delivers more complete background information on the substance):

Alfalfa (referred to as “the father of all foods,”) has health benefits recognized for centuries. The alfalfa leaf contains a wide range of healing properties that help reduce arthritic stiffness, swelling and pain in joints. It is a natural diuretic. Click for more information on Alfalfa

Ashwagandha (in combination with beta sitosterol—below) helps relax the body and mind. The species name somnifera means "sleep-making" in Latin, indicating its sedating and anti-stress properties. Ashwagandha root contains flavanoids and many active ingredients helpful for reducing inflammatory symptoms of arthritis. Click for more info on Ashwagandha

Beta sitosterol (in combination with Ashwagandha—above) is a soybean phytosterol that helps blunt cortisol—a hormone produced during stress that affects long-term health. For varied reasons, stress is a common aggravation for many arthritis sufferers. Click for more information on Beta sitosterol

Borage Oil (GLA). While not considered a primary herbal pain relief component, Gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) from borage seed oil is used as an anti-inflammatory and assists the body in forming prostaglandins that help regulate many normal body processes. It’s considered even more effective for relief of arthritis when combined in a dietary supplement blend of sunflower seed oil (linoleic acid) and Vitamin E. Click for more information on Borage Oil (GLA)

Boswellia (in combination with safflower – below) has herbal pain relief (anti-inflammatory) properties comparable to those of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Starts slower but lasts. Long-term use does not lead to irritation or ulceration of the stomach as do NSAIDs. Click for more information on Boswellia

Cat's Claw from the Peruvian Amazon has remarkable anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and restorative properties proven beneficial for arthritis relief (believed more effective for herbal pain relief when used in combination with glucosamine—below). Click for more information on Cat’s Claw

GLA (See Borage Oil above for more information on the substance GLA)

Menthol is an organic compound obtained from peppermint oil with local anesthetic and counter-irritant qualities In an herbal pain relief cream from symptoms of arthritis or other conditions, menthol replaces the pain message with a cooling sensation in order to provide temporary relief from localized pain. Click for more information on Menthol

Safflower (in combination with boswellia—above) has a centuries-old tradition of medicinal use in Asia. The safflower plant provides natural alternatives for joint discomfort of arthritis. It’s an herbal pain relief extraction as its properties reduce pain and inflammation. Click for more information on Safflower

St. John's Wort is a shrubby plant used as a natural alternative treatment for mild depression, anxiety or sleep disorders commonly linked to people with arthritis. It has long been used as an herbal supplement in Europe for treating mood disorders and has become very popular in the United States. It has far less side effects than drugs. Click for more information on St. John’s Wort

Valerian is a hardy perennial flowering plant safely used as an dietary herbal supplement for relief of insomnia, anxiety or restlessness. The pain and discomfort of arthritis can prevent sound sleep. The valerian root promotes a calm, restful sleep and helps maintain a relaxed state naturally. Click for more information on Valerian

Other dietary supplements helpful in arthritis relief

Glucosamine is a sugar compound found naturally in the human body, but its production slows with aging when people need it the most. Taking glucosamine as a nutritional supplement is thought to help repair damaged cartilage, a typical symptom of osteoarthritis and other types of arthritis. When combined in a supplement with cat’s claw (above) it improves joint lubrication, joint cushioning, and restores a comfortable range of motion. Click for more information on Glucosamine

Fish Oil--Omega-3 Fatty Acids from cold water fish (tuna, mackerel, halibut, cod, salmon) are anti- inflammatory for arthritis relief. Fish oil is also effective in rheumatoid arthritis. Good dietary fish oil supplements contain all seven fatty acids, and guarantee the removal of all contaminants such as lead, mercury, arsenic, cadmium, dioxins and PCBs. Click for more information on Fish Oil (Essential Omega-3 Fatty Acids)

My husband and I use one of the world’s finest fish oil supplements. Its pharmaceutical-grade omega-3s feature a state-of-the-art, proprietary, triple molecular distillation process that concentrates natural beneficial omega-3 fatty acids and removes all impurities. It contains a full spectrum of seven omega-3’s DHA, EPA, and more. Supportive but not conclusive research shows that consumption of EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease, which is a risk of rheumatoid arthritis.

FDA de-regulates dietary supplements in 1994

Prior to 1990, all dietary supplements were tightly regulated by the FDA, the same as pharmaceuticals. At that time, the description “dietary supplement” included only essential nutrients such as vitamins, minerals and proteins.

In 1990, the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act added “herbs or nutritional substances” (including herbal pain relief treatments) to the description but the FDA continued to maintain control over pre-market approval, the same as they did for drugs. Dietary supplements, like pharmaceutical drugs, could not be marketed without FDA approval and pre-marketing efficacy testing. However, this tight industry control was dramatically relaxed just four years later.

In 1994, a landmark Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA) was passed by the U.S. Congress that expanded the description of dietary supplements further to include substances such as: “Ginseng, fish oils, enzymes, glandular products such as hormones and steroids, and mixtures of these.”

Of more importance, the DSHEA legislation interpreted that dietary supplements were not drugs and therefore no longer had to have pre-market approval. This drastically changed the dietary supplement landscape.

The lack of FDA control over dietary supplements was decried from many quarters. In the minds of health officials, physicians and others, the new law created what was considered a virtually unregulated industry.

Lack of regulations opens door to opportunists

Without regulation, anyone could dice up a few potent herbs, bottle them and make claims for those herb’s effects. If it was a supplement for herbal pain relief, all the manufacturer had to do was send a letter to the FDA stating that they don’t “expect any negative side effects from the product.” The FDA had no authority to deny the supplement’s entry into the marketplace—even though the new product had no scientific evidence or pre-market approval!

In most instances, there weren’t clinical studies performed by the manufacturer on the marketed product. There was no proof the product actually worked!

Can you imagine what would happen if the FDA allowed pharmaceuticals to be treated so lightly? Yet drugs and dietary supplements were both used by consumers to treat the same symptoms—arthritis pain, for example.

This law opened a wide door to opportunistic entrepreneurs. The market was flooded with new dietary supplements of all kinds. And flood the market they did. Herbal supplement sales jumped from $4 to $14 billion annually.

Between 1994 and June, 2008 dietary herbal supplements could and did vary widely from bottle to bottle, or even dose to dose. Manufacturers were not regulated to guarantee specific amounts of active ingredients. Nor were requirements in force to test raw materials for contamination or potency.

Likewise, there were no regulations to prevent the marketing of herbal supplements containing wrong ingredients, heavy metals, glass or pesticides. Some products were marketed without any active ingredient, period, much less a different amount than listed on the supplement’s label.

Dietary herbal supplements have been contaminated and sub-potent

In recent years, the dietary supplement industry has been the target of widespread criticism for selling products with contaminated and undeclared ingredients, or with sub-potency. The media has characterized the industry as being largely unregulated and allowing unscrupulous companies to flourish.

Herbal pain relief products and other dietary supplements are a topic of great public interest. It’s estimated that nearly one-third of Americans use herbs or herbal supplements. A study in the New England Journal of Medicine indicated that nearly 70% of those taking medicinal herbs or herbal dietary supplements were reluctant to reveal their use to their doctors.

Since 1994 the FDA has received tens of thousands of adverse event reports concerning dietary and herbal supplements. Many complaints were related to misbranding or adulteration. A significant number of others were because of pesticides, bacteria, glass, lead and other heavy metal contamination.

In 2007 the FDA acknowledges dietary supplement quality problems

The FDA said the current Good Manufacturing Practices (cGMPs) announced in 2007, ending 13 years without regulation of dietary supplements, is their response to quality issues within the industry. The new regulations require manufacturers to test the purity and composition of their products to bring more strict control on quality and safety.

Examples of problems the new regulations hope to prevent are:

  • dietary supplements that contain much more than listed (a rare occurrence) on the label and therefore may be harmful
  • dietary supplements that contain less ingredients (far more likely) than listed on the label
  • wrong ingredient discovered in the supplement
  • drug contaminant found in the supplement
  • other contaminant (e.g., pesticide, bacteria, lead, glass or foreign material in a dietary supplement container)
  • not packaged property
  • mislabeling of the supplement

"This has been a `buyer beware' market," Dr. Mark B. McClellan, the FDA commissioner, said in the announcement, in which he estimated that 1,000 domestic and foreign companies make supplements sold here. "Millions of Americans use dietary supplements every day, and we need to make sure they're getting the products they pay for."

Dietary supplement industry in “buyer beware” mode

The new rules are being phased in by the FDA over a three-year period. Large companies had to be in compliance effective June, 2008. Small companies with 499 employees or less were to comply in June, 2009, and very small companies with less than 20 employees had until June, 2010 to comply.

This makes it evident that the herbal dietary supplement industry is still in “buyer beware” mode through June, 2010.

But some experts say the new regulations have nothing to do with the efficacy of the products as pre-market testing is still not required to prove the effectiveness of an herbal supplement. These critics say that even beyond June, 2010, under current regulation, the dietary supplement industry will continue to be in a buyer-beware mode.

The new regulation “is an example of better late than never,” said Sen. Richard Durbin, an Illinois Democrat. But he said the rules “do not appear to go as far as they could have.”

Risks of dietary herbal pain relief supplements

Many consumers believe that herbal pain relief or dietary supplements are safe because they are natural. This is not necessarily true. Plants can be toxic and excess doses can produce toxicity of some herbs.

In addition, herbals may interact with synthetic drugs causing toxicity to the patient. If you are under a doctor’s care taking pharmaceutical drugs, you should always check with your doctor for possible inter-actions before beginning a complementary alternative medicine (CAM) program.

Because standardization of purity and dosage has been unregulated and will continue to be for some companies until June, 2010, not all dietary supplements are equal.

If you’re using an herbal pain relief supplement that’s contaminated, for example, you may have replaced the purity and proven efficacy of a drug for an herbal product without proven efficacy at all.

One study analyzed 59 preparations of echinacea and found that about half did not contain the species listed on the label! A government-funded NCCAM study of ginseng products found that more than half contained less than half the amount of ginseng listed on their labels!

On March 2, 2010 the makers and sellers of fish oil supplements were sued by the Mateel Environmental Justice Foundation in California under California Proposition 65 for not telling consumers on product labels that their products contained toxic levels of PCBs. The defendants in this lawsuit were Omega Protein, a Houston-based company that is the world's largest producer of omega-3 fish oil, and the many companies that they produced fish oil for -- companies like Rite Aid, CVS, GNC, Now Health Group, Pharmavite, Solgar and Twinlab. And that's just the beginning. Mateel only tested 10 omega-3 supplements manufactured by Omega Protein to date and have found PCBs in all of them. They plan to continue testing and to add other companies to the lawsuit if their products are also contaminated.

Even scarier is that many of the product labels said that the omega-3 supplement was treated to reduce or remove PCBs. Consumers were led to believe that they were safe!

Who can you trust as an herbal dietary supplement company?

How do you find out whether what’s in the herbal pain relief bottle is safe to take? How do you find out whether science has proven that the product does what it claims?

These are legitimate questions. They’re the same questions my husband and tried finding answers for in 1994 related to dietary nutritional supplements for our own health. In fact, I developed a list of 30 questions to help us find a top-quality manufacturer.

We found only one natural health company that stood out compared to its competitors when the determining factor is solid science and double-blind placebo-controlled clinical studies.

Whether you’re talking about herbal pain relief from arthritis or nutritional supplementation for overall health, we think it’s important that you find a company you can trust with your health. After all, it’s your life you’re talking about. Why take a chance? It’s comforting when you find a company that’s as concerned about your health as much as you are.

The gold standard is placebo controlled testing

For risk assurance, proper double-blind clinical trials are needed to determine the safety and efficacy of each plant before they can be recommended for medical use.

If you’re currently using a dietary supplement or herbal pain relief treatment, ask the manufacturer if they conduct randomized double-blind placebo controlled testing on any of their products. The gold standard for clinical testing is to have your studies published in peer-reviewed medical journals, such as the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, American Journal of Cardiology, etc. The herbal dietary supplement company that my husband and I use has been in business for 50-plus years, is known as the #1 natural nutrition company in the U.S.. It has invested more than $250 million in clinical testing, research and development and has over 90 published studies in peer-reviewed scientific journals—more than any other nutritional company!

We've become 100% drug free in treatment of arthritis pain

From personal experience over many years, my husband and I have treated our arthritis with a variety of methods. However, beginning in 2003, our natural nutritional company introduced a scientifically designed herbal pain relief program, which has successfully weaned us away from drugs. We no longer use prescription or non prescription pharmaceuticals of any kind for relief of pain and arthritis symptoms.

Instead, we’ve substituted three separate products with excellent results without any side effects whatsoever.

My husband’s knees are in the best shape they’ve been in ten years. He now plays tennis without the pain, swelling and extreme stiffness he used to experience.

Recommended herbal pain relief supplements for arthritis relief

The clinical studies have spoken--there are herbal pain relief supplements that can have significant benefits, and more and more people are choosing safer alternatives to treat arthritis joint discomfort.

After extensively researching herbal and natural remedies for osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, we've experienced great success with the following products:

A natural herbal complex for chronic pain relief

A natural glucosamine hydrochloride complex for joint health

A natural deeply penetrating herbal pain relief rub that we think is the best found anywhere on the market.

Each of these supplements contains natural osteoarthritis relieving nutrients and special herbal ingredients formulated to help reduce inflammation, stiffness and swelling as well as protect the joints and bring forth long lasting pain relief. Best of all, they do the job naturally without the side effects of drugs!

I’m happy to confidently recommend the above highly effective herbal pain relief trio of supplements. Try any or all to see if they work for you.

Borage oil. Several studies confirm borage oil GLA, an omega 6 fatty acid, as an effective treatment for joint pain, stiffness and grip strength in RA patients, with few side effects. Click here for details

Fish Oil. Studies validate that fish oil supplements reduce joint inflammation in rheumatoid arthritis and other arthritis types. Fish oil contains omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA. Click here for more information

Ashwagandha. Dietary supplements containing ashwagandha provide natural herbal stress relief without the side effects of drug treatments. Click here for more

Glucosamine Hydrochloride. The first authentic natural helper to appear in arthritis treatment in years. As a nutritional supplement it’s thought to help repair damaged cartilage. Click here for more on glucosamine hydrochloride

Boswellia. This ancient herb has natural benefits similar to arthritis pain relief medicines but without harmful side effects. Click here for more on boswellia

Cat’s Claw. Can help put the spring back in your step by lessening joint discomfort. Click here for more

Safflower. This plant’s properties reduce pain and inflammation and provide natural alternatives for joint discomfort. Click here for more about the safflower herb

Menthol. In an arthritis pain cream, menthol replaces the pain message with a cooling sensation in order to provide temporary relief from localized pain. Click here for more details

St. John’s Wort. Helps life spirits of arthritis sufferers as a natural alternative treatment for mild depression, anxiety or ....Click here for more

Valerian. Sleep well tonight with this safe herbal choice as a natural dietary supplement for insomnia relief, restlessness and anxiety. Click here for more information

Alfalfa. Known as the “father of all foods,” the alfalfa leaf contains a wide range of healing properties that help reduce arthritic pain, swelling and stiffness in joints. Click here for more on alfalfa’s benefits

Arthritis Products. 3 safe natural products scientifically designed to fight pain and reduce dependency on pharmaceutical medicines. Each unique for rapid relief and joint health... Click here for details

Vitamin Supplements. There are no vitamin supplements proven to reduce symptoms of arthritis, a debilitating disease. A natural multivitamin can improve overall health and vitality. Click here for recommended multivitamin.

Rheumatoid Arthritis Relief. Many of the natural or herbal supplements for osteoarthritis are also recommended for rheumatoid arthritis. Click here for RA natural treatment options

Joint Pain Relief. Wouldn't it be great if you could have a drug-free future with no harmful side effects and have complete control over your joint pain? It's not a dream--all of this is possible.... Click here for more on natural joint pain relief

Osteoarthritis Relief. Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis. It affects joints of the knees, hips, fingers, lower spine and neck. Click here for more on osteoarthritis

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