Top 7 Natural Anti-inflammatory Herbs
by Sandra Miller/Nutritional Therapist
Lots of folks are turning to natural remedies for their families today because of their safety and success rate. If you have been wanting to “make over” your medicine cabinet we can start the process with some natural pain remedies. Take note that some of these remedies work on not only pain and inflammation but may have other benefits to health.
First let’s look at the inflammation process itself and sources of inflammation. Our bodies have to stay on the defense and keep alert for anything that looks to attack our system. With daily assaults by so many things in our environment, our bodies have to constantly fight the “fires” of inflammation. After all, inflammation is a natural process and we would not survive without it. Visualize white blood cells rushing to the scene of an injury or bug bite. The area will immediately swell, get warm and turn red. This indicates the process is working properly. It is no different for sprains, strains or headaches.
We have to fight off free radicals every day that steal vital electrons from our cells and without antioxidants, we could not replace that lost electron. The best way to describe an antioxidant is that they are “electron donors”. Excess inflammation can set in for the simple reason that we don’t have enough electrons to replace what is lost. It is like trying to fight a house fire with a spray bottle. This is why a diet high in anti-inflammatory foods is so beneficial. Their mechanism of action is that they replace the lost electron used in the “firefighting” process. It’s like refilling the extinguisher after you spray down a fire. For those who don’t refill, the inflammation rages out of control and voila! Illness, pain and inflammation.
Another body assault is glycation. Due to lack of enzymatic activity, glycation occurs when a protein molecule binds to a sugar molecule. The two, when interlocked, go rouge and produce Advanced Glycation End Products or AGE’s and in turn, these AGE’s causes inflammation as well. It is now well documented that the root of most all disease begins with inflammation. Heart disease, digestive issues, migraines, diabetes – all of these started with a spark of inflammation. Glycation also contributes to AGE–ing. So lots of bodily process have an end product that can spiral into an inflammatory storm. It is for this reason, that sugars have been studied in the diet and we can clearly link these sugars now to dementia and Alzheimer’s. These conditions are the result of extreme inflammation of the brain for long periods of time. If you want your inflammation out of control, wrinkles and a shriveled up brain that looks like Swiss cheese; Eat a diet high in sugars. You will get your wish.
The two main enzymes that are involved in the inflammatory in process are called COX-1 and COX-2. These enzymes convert arachidonic acid to prostaglandin, resulting in pain and inflammation. Pain relievers’ work on the COX-2 enzyme to short circuit the inflammation process. When it comes to something like osteoarthritis, just dampening down the inflammation does not FIX the problem. It only makes it easier to live with and sometimes that is the best we can hope for. Other times it is a particular food that is causing inflammation and the joints may be the target.
Below is a quote from About.com on osteoarthritis
Today our pain relievers are nothing short of miraculous, but miracles don’t come cheap. NSAID use causes many health challenges.
Did you know that there are more hospitalizations due to NSAID bleeding that all American war casualties put together?
NSAIDs are “nephrotoxic” to the kidney and have been linked to acute deterioration of renal function, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians. (See References) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15847359. They also harm our gut lining which effects our entire body. So the point is, if you are on an NSAID more than a day or two a month, your health depends on finding a better solution.
These drugs can be lifesavers when we really need them but for everyday use you would be surprised to find, that there are many herbs with anti-inflammatory properties. Some really get the job done quite well and there is scientific research to back it up.
Natural remedies are safe alternatives for most people and the side effects may be few and far between if at all. Some of these natural remedies even enhance our health. You can start stocking your new natural remedies medicine cabinet with a few herbs and essential oils that will replace much of your needs for reducing pain and inflammation for the entire family.
1) Cat’s Claw (Uncaria Tomentosa)
Also known as “Una de Gato” This herb was used in Peruvian medicine for digestive ailments and wound care but it has come to be one of the best-selling herbs in the USA for its anti-inflammatory properties. It has been the focus of studies and research since the 1970’s since its healing power has been well sought out.
It grows all over South America and according to Dr. Ray Sahelian: “Cats Claw has anti-inflammatory benefits and it is a remarkably potent inhibitor of TNF alpha production.” The primary mechanism for cat’s claw anti-inflammatory actions appears to be immunomodulation via suppression of TNF alpha synthesis. TNF stands for tumor necrosis factor. It is not clear how it compares to NSAIDs such as ibuprofen or naproxen.” http://raysahelian.com/catsclaw.html
What we do know for sure is that it also has antioxidant properties. So it is also donating that electron which also in turn, helps put out the fire as well. Now that’s bang for your buck!
2) Boswellia (boswellia serrata)
Also called Indian frankincense or Salai, boswellia is traditionally used to aid arthritis, respiratory problems and digestive symptoms. Recent studies seem to confirm the benefits of this plant and have identified the active anti-inflammatory compounds in boswellia called boswellic acids and are found in the resin. These acids were found to deter the formation of enzymes that can lead to inflammatory disorders such as bronchial asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.
I used this in capsule form for close to a year in conjunction with another great inflammation fighter I will talk about in a moment. This wonderful herb helped me through some difficult times with my shoulder tendonitis and rotator cuff tear right up until surgery. NSAIDS are very damaging to the system long term, so finding natural remedies can really maintain our health as we treat our pain.
There is another form of boswellia that you may have heard about. It’s called Frankincense essential oil. Certified pure therapeutic grade (CPTG) essential oils can generally be taken internally, inhaled and rubbed on the skin. If you want more information on the oils that I use or some free resources, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will forward you a link to my page and some additional resources on essential oils. The company I use has compliance guidelines that do not allow me to put its name into an article but I can certainly share in other ways. You can also go here to the RESOURCES page and scroll down to the ESSENTIAL OILS RESOURCES section. Click the brand I show and that will take you directly to the page where you will find some great resources as well.
Frankincense oil is a great option for kids who don’t like to swallow pills. It can be mixed with a “carrier oil” like coconut and spread anywhere on the body. The soles of the feet are used often because they have numerous pores and absorb quickly. The benefits of this miraculous plant goes well beyond helping with inflammation. Frankincense oil has been well studies to be cytotoxic to cancer cells. In a direct quote from the abstract at PubMed:
“Comprehensive gene expression analysis confirmed that frankincense oil activates genes that are responsible for cell cycle arrest, cell growth suppression, and apoptosis in J82 cells”
This means that it turns on genes that tell the cell to stop growing and commit suicide!
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19296830 I am not making a claim but rather just sharing current science.
You can find hundreds of references at PubMed just by typing “frankincense oil and cancer” Frankincense and Boswellia can be staples in your medicine cabinet for your overall holistic health needs.
Here are a few more references on frankincense oil.
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22457547 frankincense oil
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24619538 against ulcerative colitis
3) Proteolytic Enzymes
Proteo what? No worries. All this means is “an enzyme that breaks down protein.” You probably have heard that papaya enzyme or “papain” helps with digestion. Bromelain is another and that is derived from pineapple. What I bet you didn’t know, is that these enzyme work powerfully toward reducing inflammation. There are a few others enzymes you could add to the mix as well. This product I use contains them all and it’s called Wobenzyme. This is the one that I use below.
You can get Wobenzyme here:
This traditional herbal remedy has an ancient history and is used world- wide. Modern research has shown it to have effects upon, digestion, the endocrine system, and the liver. Constituents of Glycyrrhizin have been shown to metabolize into molecules that have a similar structure to the adrenal cortex hormones. Some holistic doctors use this when someone has low cortisol. Licorice has shown not only anti-inflammatory benefits but also anti-hepatotoxic benefits meaning it can be beneficial to the liver and its ability to get rid of toxins. Licorice is used in allopathic and homoeopathic medicine as a treatment for peptic ulceration, gastritis and ulcers. It can be used in the relief of abdominal colic.
The form that is generally used for digestive purposes is called DGL. This form removes the glycyrrhizin, the component that can raise blood pressure. If you have blood pressure issues, DGL (or de-glycyrrhizinated licorice) would be a better form for you should you decide to try licorice. Here is a look at licorice and inflammation from the Journal of Biomedicine and Biotechnology.
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25918809 and another showing positive effect of all substances mentioned in this article.
This is a quote from the article:
“We concluded that neem and licorice are more effective than ibuprofen in suppressing LPS-induced inflammation in C2C12 cells.” They also proved even more effective than boswellia!
Azadirachta indica, commonly known as neem; is heavily used in Ayurveda and homeopathy. It is a very structurally complex compound and more than 140 active constituents have been documented form all parts of the plant. It has even shown to be an immune modulator. Many natural toothpaste remedies include neem for its anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-infectious properties.
From aches pains to nausea and digestive ails, Ginger’s natural anti-inflammatory properties have been relied upon for thousands of years by the Chinese to cure pain. Ginger helps aid symptoms of nausea, arthritis, headaches, menstrual cramps and muscle soreness. Ginger makes a great addition to teas and beverages and has a savory but pleasant taste.
The resin of the guggul tree is heavily used as a detoxifying herb in Ayurveda. Guggul resin has been found to have anti-inflammatory and cholesterol-lowering effects. Many find guggul helpful for fibromyalgia and rheumatism. Guggul can be found in raw gums and resins but also in powder, capsules and tablets.
Note: Guggul has blood-thinning properties and therefore, should not be used together with other medications that reduce platelet aggregation.
6) White Willow Bark (salix alba)
Willow bark acts a lot like aspirin, so it is used for pain, including headache muscle pain, menstrual cramps and rheumatoid arthritis (RA), osteoarthritis, gout, and even has been used in a disease of the spine called ankylosing spondylitis. Like aspirin, willow bark may bring down a fever and it has been said that it has “appetite suppressing effects”. It does work a bit slower when dampening inflammation, but has longer lasting effect and with less stomach upset than is noticed with aspirin.
Back in the days of Hippocrates people would be advised to chew on the bark to help alleviate pain and fever. The active ingredient in willow bark is “salicin” which converts to salicylic acid in the body. This is a very similar compound to that in aspirin. You might have heard that Beethoven ingested large amounts of salicin before his death. When his autopsy was performed it was clear that his kidneys were damaged due to excessive salicin.
We must remember that natural compound are what most commercial drugs are made with and must always be used with caution and only for limited amounts of time. We would use the same caution as their pharmaceutical counterparts. It should not be taken by those who are allergic to aspirin or on blood thinners.
7) Essential Oil of Thyme
Scientists have proven that certain essential oils work in similar ways to inhibit the COX- 2enzyme and the latest to show promise is thyme oil. Carvacrol is the active constituent responsible in this herb. Now scientists have finally proven that the anti-inflammatory properties of six essential oils work in similar ways that compare to NSAIDS against the COX2 enzyme. Other oils of note were rose, bergamot, eucalyptus and fennel. Among the six essential oils studied, thyme’s anti-inflammatory action is found to be the most potent. Its oil is capable of reducing levels of COX-2 enzymes by as much as 75 percent. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Triterpenoid_saponin
When it comes to toothache, an old folk remedy is to make a paste out of clove powder or we can use essential oil of clove, to get to the source of the pain. Oil of clove has antibacterial properties as well and makes a better mouth health strategy than alcohol filled mouth washes which disturb the natural Ph. of the oral cavity. Add cinnamon or cassia oil, (which is similar) and you will have yourself an oral health solution that can be antibacterial and help with toothache problems until you can see your dentist. You might be surprised to know that inflammation in the mouth can lead to heart disease and greater systemic inflammation. Stay tunes and keep checking back as next I will be sharing an anti-inflammatory diet that will support your efforts in fighting the fires of inflammation.
As with any other medicinal herb, consult a knowledgeable herbalist or physician before self-medicating.
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