It usually comes on quietly. “I thought it was tendonitis from working long hours on the computer.” One person describes the beginnings of rheumatoid arthritis.
Another tells of not being able to get out of bed in the morning because her ankles were swollen and stiff. “For three months I took ibuprofen for the pain. Then my wrists swelled, and a month later the pain was in my neck.”
These are a description of the onset of Rheumatoid Arthritis.
Attacking our own body
Rheumatoid Arthritis is classed as an auto-immune disease. The human body is fantastically complex; trillions of cells about each other. They feed each other, nurse each other back to health, banish renegade cells with their agenda (cancer) and continually replicate.
This co-existence requires the ability for cells to recognise that they belong to the same community called the human body. Something happens in auto-immune disease which causes this harmonious relationship to go astray and the immune cells to assault the cells of the cartilage, bones and ligaments in joints.
This assault results in inflammation, or in other words, painful, swollen and stiff joints.
Why does it happen?
It is accepted that RA is a genetic disease. However, a useful question to ask is, “why do some people with a history of RA in the family never develop it while others do?”.
The internal environment of the body is the deciding factor by which genes are turned on or off, including genes which trigger chronic disease. Much of the current research in genetic disorders, including other auto-immune conditions and some cancers, suggests that the internal environment of the body is profoundly influenced by the external environment.
Gaining relief with herbs
Each person I have spoken to with RA associates the onset of RA with unusually stressful events in their lives. Stress profoundly affects the internal environment of the body, interfering with sleep, digestion, and hormonal balance.
This is where herbal medicine shines. It eases the effect of stress on the whole body while targeting the specific area under duress.
In relieving RA, herbalists turn to anti-inflammatory herbs like turmeric (Curcuma longa), liquorice (Glycyrrhiza spp.) and devil’s claw (Harpophytum procumbens).
In some ways, to call these herbs anti-inflammatory is to misrepresent them. They do not act like over the counter pain medicine or like prescription anti-inflammatories which offer temporary relief for as long as the drug is used. Anti-inflammatory herbs work with the body to resolve inflammation. They may take longer to work, but their effects are longer lasting.
How do they work?
So what do these herbs have to do with stress aggravating RA?
- Both turmeric and liquorice moderate the effect stress have on the immune system. Adrenal glands react to stress. These herbs enhance the adrenals’ efficiency in secreting the anti-inflammatory, cortisol.
- They interfere with inflammation messengers the body produces when fighting illness, such as arachidonic acid.
By the way, arachidonic acid is higher in those who eat a lot of red meat. For this reason, holistic practitioners recommend decreasing or eliminating red meat from the diet while suffering from chronic inflammation.
- Licorice and turmeric are also high in anti-oxidants which negate the effect of free radicals produced by our stressed-out body.
- Both are considered herbs that protect the liver and support it in eliminating the debris created by chronic inflammation.
Devils Claw is a plant from the Kalahari desert in South Africa and is used by the Hottentot people to relieve migraine headaches. In 1953, it was imported to Europe and embraced by western herbalists as a pain reliever and anti-inflammatory for arthritic conditions, including RA.
There have been several clinical trials using Devil’s Claw in the treatment of RA. Each trial has demonstrated the herb’s active pain-relieving actions. At this time, how the plant reduces inflammation is not known. In holistic medicine, sometimes the search for the specific mechanism in a plant’s medicinal activity is like not seeing the forest for the trees.
The plant works. It also improves digestion and scavenges free radicals.
One final important herb added to an RA formula is the bark of the poplar tree (Poplaris spp.). In the spring, scrapping of the bark of young branches exposes a lovely green powder. This powder is high in salicylic acid, the pain-relieving compound found in over the counter medicine such as aspirin. Although symptomatic in its effect, poplar bark eases pain while the other herbs do their job.
Speak to your herbalist to find out how nature’s medicine can help you with your symptoms.
This article is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
Now I would like to hear from you. Do you have Osteoarthritis? What have you tried to help their symptoms? Let us know in the comments below.