Nature's Answer to Tame Inflammation
By Laurel Sterling, MA, RDN, CDN, National Nutritionist & Educator for Carlson Labs
Unfortunately, joint pain has become an extremely common problem and a major complaint for people of all ages for a variety of reasons. Some of the main causes of joint issues include: aging, overuse, and injury. Stress, poor diet, lack of proper sleep, and other lifestyle choices also compound the matter by contributing to increased inflammation. Joint inflammation can lead to aches, pains, stiffness, swelling, tissue breakdown, and eventually arthritis. All of these symptoms can limit a person's activity level and affect their ability to perform daily tasks. Many people simply trudge along daily with the pain while others resort to pain medication (NSAIDs) and over-the-counter (OTCs) pain relievers. This may help in the short-term, but it can potentially cause some serious health issues if used long-term.
Inflammation isn't necessarily a bad thing; in fact, it's a useful element that contributes to our body's healing process. Typically, pain is observed first, then swelling, warmth, redness, and finally stiffness at the site of "injury". This is the body's way of getting more blood and immune cells to the "injury" in order to speed up the healing process. The heat comes from the increased blood flow to the injured site and the swelling is due to the increased blood volume and immune cells rushing in. Then, the inflammation caused by the "injury" induces joint stiffness due to the limited mobility of the affected area. The problem starts to occur when inflammation persists for an extended length of time because it can damage healthy tissue—as is the case with arthritis.
Arthritis ("arth" meaning joint; "itis" meaning inflammation) is a condition that millions of people world-wide suffer from. This is typically thought of as a health condition reserved for the elderly; however, this is simply not the case. There are many types of arthritis that affect people, but the most common form is osteoarthritis— which is considered the "wear and tear" form. Osteoarthritis is a process that gradually breaks down and wears away the cartilage in between your joints. Cartilage cushions the joints and protects bones from directly rubbing against one another. Typically, the aging process, repetitive overuse of specific joints, and injuries—related to sports, work, heavy labor, or exercise—are the main culprits that cause osteoarthritis. When there is continuous inflammation in an area of your body, the immune system kicks into overdrive and dispatches those specialized immune cells mentioned earlier. When these immune cells linger for an extended period of time, your joints and cartilage start to deteriorate causing Osteoarthritis.
NSAIDS (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) include: OTC aspirin, ibuprophen, and naproxen, as well as prescription drugs like Celebrex and Vioxx, typically used for arthritis and joint pain. NSAIDs are COX-2 inhibitors and can have serious side effects. COX-2 inhibitors inhibit a natural enzyme in our body called cyclooxygenase-2. COX-1 and COX-2 help speed up production of prostaglandins—hormone-like fatty substances that are formed when arachidonic acid is broken down. They are also what cause pain, swelling, and redness. Prostaglandins do many things, but an important role to note regarding NSAIDs is that they protect the lining of the stomach from the acid's damaging effects. NSAIDs reduce pain and decrease prostaglandin production by inhibiting the COX enzymes. NSAIDs can wreak havoc on a person's stomach, along with other potentially harmful effects. Science demonstrates that when we disrupt nature's delicate balance, other health-related problems can ensue.
There are many all-natural remedies available that can assist in decreasing or stopping the inflammatory cascade and some of these include natural plant compounds. Curcumin, boswellia, and ginger can all be utilized by the body to naturally promote a healthy inflammation response. Each herb has multiple purposes, but we will only review their anti-inflammatory properties in this article. Turmeric is a well-known herb that reduces inflammation as well as having many other significant properties. Curcumin is a powerful antioxidant that is found in turmeric and curcumin provides curcuminoids, which are powerful phytonutrients that give turmeric its yellow hue. These curcuminoids work to reduce pain by blocking the enzymes that cause inflammation. Curcumin thus supports a healthy inflammatory response, promotes joint health and movement, and provides antioxidant protection. There are specific technologies available to increase the bioavailability of compounds like curcumin because they are not readily absorbed. When choosing curcumin products, consumers need to be sure to choose an enhanced form of curcumin that's clinically proven to increase absorption of total curcuminoids over standard curcumin and has been shown to be significantly more bioavailable than other forms.
Boswellia comes from the Boswellia serrata tree. Researchers have looked at extracts of boswellia and discovered the plant compounds within it called boswellic acid. These studies found that boswellic acid can reduce inflammation and improve blood flow to joints. It inhibits the COX enzyme pathways, thus reducing inflammatory prostaglandins and balancing levels of leukotrienes, which are compounds that cause inflammation. Boswellia was found to be very effective in treating osteoarthritis with no evidence of stomach lining irritation.
Ginger (Zingiber officinale) is predominantly known for helping to treat nausea and vomiting. Research on ginger has shown it to have antiinflammatory properties similar to COX-2 inhibitors in decreasing joint pain, reducing inflammation, and ginger has been researched widely for rheumatoid and osteoarthritis treatment.
When dealing with joint issues, there are several options on the shelves to choose from. If you are looking for a more natural approach over NSAID use, the powerful anti-inflammatory benefits of bosweilla, curcumin, and ginger make for an excellent choice!
1. Natural Medicine for Arthritis, Andrew Weil, MD, www.prevention.com
2. Get a Grip on Arthritis and Other Inflammatory Disorders, Lorna Vanderhaeghe
3. Safe Solutions for Chronic Pain, Jacob Teitelbaum, MD
4. Efficacy and tolerability of Boswellia serrata extract in treatment of osteoarthritis of knee. Phytomedicine 2003; 10:3-7
These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.