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Instep Dance Magazine Articles

Reprints of monthly column as first appearing in Instep Dance Magazine.

September 1999

Natural Remedies - Part 1: Supplements and Herbs for the Relief of Pain, Swelling and Inflammation

By Rick Allen, DC

"Better health leads to better dancing."

One of my readers suggested that I give some information about the herbs commonly used in chiropractic and naturopathic medical practice. Herbal remedies can often be used as an alternative to over-the-counter (OTC) drugs. They are effective and, in general, have many less side effects than pharmaceuticals. This first column will be about the herbs used to bring down pain, swelling and inflammation.

Dangers of Using NSAIDs

 stylized drawing of herbs

First, a note of warning on the most commonly taken OTC drugs: ibuprofen and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). I have written several times in the past about the dangers of the common use of these pharmaceuticals. The evidence keeps mounting: they offer short term relief of swelling and pain, by blocking "bad" prostaglandin pathways, but also stop healing of swollen, painful joints, by blocking "good" prostaglandin pathways. They have been found to actually to retard the growth of cartilage. NSAIDs and aspirin also cause stomach irritation by interfering with the production of protective mucous lining the gastrointestinal tract. In fact, NSAIDs are the #1 cause for admission to hospitals for GI bleeding. Nutritionist Robert Crayhon, M. S. says that NSAIDs are "the number one accelerator of joint destruction in America." I urge you to explore herbal alternatives that work without such negative side effects.

Alternative Natural Remedies

Bromelain is a digestive enzyme from pineapples that has been shown to help reduce inflammation. Along with vitamin C, bromelain can help ease delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) following exercise. My column for June 1997 gives more tips for minimizing muscle soreness.

White willow has been known since ancient times to alleviate pain and inflammation. It may be combined with meadowsweet to jointly reduce pain. White willow and meadowsweet both contain salicin, which works like aspirin. In fact, the word aspirin is derived from meadowsweet's botanical name, Spiraea. These natural herbs reduce the levels of pain-producing prostaglandins without the side effects associated with aspirin and NSAIDs, such as stomach upset, cartilage destruction, headaches and dizziness.

Feverfew is an herb that works similarly to willow and meadowsweet in that it reduces prostaglandin levels, therefore decreasing pain and inflammation. It contains compounds that help re-establish proper tone of blood vessels in the brain. It is so effective in the prevention and treatment of migraine headaches that it might be called "headache-few." Feverfew is contraindicated in pregnancy.

Boswellia serrata is commonly used as another alternative to aspirin with no ulcerogenic effects on the stomach. Boswellia inhibits pro-inflammatory mediators in the body, such as leukotrienes. One of my suppliers, Nutrilite, has recently introduced a formulation combining glucosamine hydrochloride with boswellia serrata to help reduce the pain of arthritis. Boswellia is frequently found in herbal flu and cold formulas, helping to alleviate overall aches associated with the flu.

In Ayurvedic medicine (the traditional medicine of India), tumeric and similar species have been prescribed for rheumatic pains. The active ingredient, curcumin, has a host of beneficial properties, including reducing inflammation. It accomplishes this by reducing histamine levels and possibly by increasing production of natural cortisone by the adrenal glands.

Skullcap is a sedative that helps to reduce muscle spasms and joint swelling.

Wild yam is also considered to be a strong antispasmodic and is potentially anti-inflammatory. (Wild yam has other beneficial properties, including lowering blood sugar and triglycerides while raising HDL ["good"] cholesterol, and is becoming widely known for its progesterone-like activity that is useful for peri- and post-menopausal women.)

Black cohosh is a shrub-like plant native to eastern deciduous forests of North America whose dried root and rhizome are useful in reducing hot flashes and menstrual cramps.

Passionflower was widely used by the Aztecs as an analgesic and sedative. It is widely known for its calming effects. It contains a muscle relaxing flavonoid.

Valerian has been used for centuries to treat insomnia and nervous conditions. By the eighteenth century, it was an accepted sedative and was also used for nervous disorders associated with a restless digestive tract. According to Lininger, et al, recent research indicates that valerian does not impair ability to drive or operate machinery. Valerian does not lead to addition or dependence. Valerian should not be taken with alcohol.

Note: Many of these herbs are used in combination for the reduction of pain, swelling, and inflammation. In fact, one of my other suppliers, NF Formulas, produces a formulation called "PSI" to do just that. It comes in original "nighttime" and new "daytime" formulations. The daytime version omits valerian, which may make you sleepy.

Resources: An herb specialist or naturopathic or chiropractic doctor will be good sources of information. An excellent resource book is The Natural Pharmacy by well-known authorities Skye Lininger, D.C., Jonathan Wright, M.D., Steve Austin, N.D., Donald Brown, N.D., and Alan Gaby, M.D. This book is available from Prima Publishing, PO Box 1260BK, Rocklin, CA 95677; telephone (916) 632-4400.

CAUTION: While many of these herbs are available, I suggest you check with a knowledgeable local health care provider about the appropriate use in your specific case. I have intentionally omitted doses in this overview article. Even natural herbs need to be used with appropriate caution.

Next article: Let's continue with more natural supplements and herbs.

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