Medical herbalist Nicola Parker explains the treatment for different types of arthritis
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Last week I wrote about arthritis, the type that happens as we age and our joints become victim to the usual wear and tear that comes with use.
Following on from that, I’d like to talk about some of the other types of arthritis that can affect us.
Rheumatoid arthritis is not caused by wear and tear, but rather our own immune system attacking the joints. Unlike osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis is not something that comes to most of us as we age although if you do suffer with it, then your joints may become gradually worse over time.
The immune system is triggered into acting as though we are being attacked at the site of the joints, causing swelling, redness and inflammation. This inflammation can be quite aggressive and in some cases the swelling itself causes the joint to mis-align, becoming painful and deformed permanently.
A common area for this to happen is in the finger and wrist joints. The fingers can start to bend in ways that are abnormal, making every day tasks like opening jars difficult and painful.
If you have rheumatoid arthritis, then nutrients like glucosamine, MSM, collagen and chondroitin are not the remedies to turn to. While these nutrients are used to repair and protect joints over time, in rheumatoid arthritis, the most important method of protecting your joints is to manage the inflammation and keep it under control.
Herbs that manage inflammation are too numerous to list in a single article but there are a few that are very specific to joint pain. One of these is devils claw, a herb that I was taught in my early years of training is especially helpful for arthritis that has begun to warp the fingers.
Since people with RA (rheumatoid arthritis) can end up with their fingers bent and curled at the joint, I was taught to remember devil’s ‘claw’ for hands that are curled like claws.
Not everyone with RA has joint damage to this extent and managing the condition can help to avoid serious or more permanent changes to the joints. Devil’s claw is an anti inflammatory herb which acts by blocking some of the chemical pathways that lead to inflammation.
By blocking these pathways, the inflammatory response of the immune system is reduced, leading to less pain and a longer life for joints that would otherwise be damaged.
Unlike other pain medicines, devils claw should be taken over a period of eight weeks before you assess how well it is or isn’t working for you. Rather than a temporary action that gets to work immediately but fades after a few hours, the effect of devil’s claw is gradually built up. Once it is working the anti inflammatory effect should be consistent and it is safe to take long term.
In a trial over eight weeks, patients with various rheumatic conditions were given a dose of devil’s claw. Results concluded that pain was significantly reduced by up to 58 per cent, so even though it can take a while to get to work, it is worth sticking out that eight week period.
If you suspect that you have an arthritic condition, getting a clinical diagnosis from your GP is very important. Your doctor can provide a blood test if they suspect that your arthritis is rheumatoid. If you test positive, then treatment can be provided that is specific to your condition, making it more likely to be effective and lengthening the life of your joints.
In some cases, autoimmune medicines are offered to stop your body from attacking itself. A big concern, especially during current times, of people on immune suppressants is that they may not be as able to fight off colds, bugs and viruses as they otherwise would be.
In this instance, you can help yourself with herbs but it is important to avoid anything stimulating like echinacea which can work against your medicine.
Instead, take immune nutrients like zinc, vitamin C and vitamin D to support your body more gently through nourishment.
For more information on arthritis and ways to manage it naturally, contact Nicola at her clinic on 01524 413733.