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One of the most common chronic pain disorders is arthritis. Arthritis is a condition in which one or more joints are inflamed. Symptoms include stiffness, soreness, and in some cases swelling. Arthritis can be categorized into both inflammatory arthritis or non-inflammatory arthritis.
Those afflicted with inflammatory arthritis typically suffer from Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA). RA is an autoimmune disease in which the body’s own immune system attacks its own joints that result in joint deformity, pain, and inflammation. People diagnosed with RA experience pain in the hands, wrist, elbows, knees, ankles, and feet. Treatment typically involves prescribed medications that are not only very expensive but have severe side effects.
Non-inflammatory arthritis is commonly referred to as degenerative joint disease or Osteoarthritis (OS). It is the most common cause of musculoskeletal disability in elderly individuals. OS is caused by cartilage breakdown between joints ultimately causing stiffness, swelling, and joint pain. The most common form of treatment for OS is the use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID’s) such as aspirin and ibuprofen. Although this is an excellent temporary fix, it does not prevent further cartilage degeneration or improve symptoms, they just make them manageable.
Treatment options for RA and OS have been explored in other avenues due to the limitations of current treatments, especially those that are safe, affordable, and with limited side effects. Despite the differences between the two arthritic conditions, inflammation in the joints typically results in pain, therefore if we can control the inflammatory response, it is likely that symptoms can be alleviated.
Ginger & Turmeric:
Ginger and Turmeric are well known in Ayurvedic medicine for their anti-inflammatory properties. In fact, they have been thoroughly researched in how they provide inflammatory and pain relief in inflammatory diseases such as Irritable Bowel Syndrom (IBS) and RA, predominantly through oral administration.
Ginger for one contains geraniols, which are hypothesized to be the prime contributors to combating inflammation. However, after further research, it is believed that the combination of all the constituents in the oil work together in a synergistic manner to produce anti-inflammatory responses.
For example, in a mouse study, ginger extract and an extract of geraniols from ginger were evaluated for their ability to inhibit joint swelling. The study indicated that the ginger extract had a greater effect on decreasing inflammation, likely due to the synergistic effect of all constituents in the oil. Furthermore, the study indicated that joint degeneration was reduced as a result of using ginger extract.
Upon further investigation on the matter, ginger extract inhibited inflammation by 38% after 28 days of use. It was also concluded that use of ginger extract offered protection during later chronic joint-destructive phases of arthritis and blocked chronic joint inflammation by 97%. Ginger extract was well tolerated and would likely be an excellent support to current arthritis treatment, but more research should be conducted to better understand the mechanism of how ginger prevents inflammation and joint degeneration.
Turmeric boasted similar results to ginger. Turmeric has been researched extensively on the matter and many laboratories have demonstrated the potent physiological effects of turmeric on a molecular level. Compounds found in turmeric, most notably tumerone, are able to block inflammation associated with RA by blocking signaling pathways that promote joint inflammation.
Turmeric extract has been orally administered and proves its anti-inflammatory effects are not limited to just joints. In fact, turmeric essential oil is able to block inflammatory responses throughout the body in areas such as the liver and spleen, which promote an inflammatory response systematically. Because of this, turmeric not only inhibited joint swelling by 21%, but has a protective effect due to the anti-inflammatory response systematically.
Further research has also indicated that turmeric supplementation can be used as a preventative measure for chronic arthritis. It has been indicated that turmeric extract can block cartilage degeneration by 66% and prevents inflammatory responses in the joints in as early as 3 days of use.
What other oils are effective?
Essential oils have also been used topically to help relieve arthritic pain. One study took a look at the effectiveness of a topical ointment (20% essential oil content) containing basil, bitter orange, black pepper, clary sage, cedarwood, clove bud, eucalyptus, fennel, ginger, helichrysum, lavender, nutmeg, pine needle, rosemary, and sage.
Over the course of seven days, arthritic rats were exposed daily with the ointment and compared the results with an untreated group. The rats treated with the essential oil ointment showed significantly reduced the severity of arthritic symptoms, with lowered inflammation in the joints and joint fluid, and decreased joint damage. This was due to the decreased production of inflammatory markers.
Although that is quite the cocktail of essential oils in one blend, we do know that several essential oils have been used effectively to alleviate arthritic pain.
Lavender essential oil is a staple in most homes due to its relaxing and soothing effect. But lavender can also aid in lessening arthritis pain when massaged in problem areas. Results were apparent in as little as one week.
Another oil that has proved to be effective in the fight against arthritic pain due to its menthol content is peppermint. Menthol is the primary component found in peppermint essential oil and has been used to soothe inflammation and has a cooling sensation when applied to the skin.
Additionally, research with regards to Frankincense and arthritis illustrate Frankincense is comparable to aspirin in relieving pain from OS. In fact, a study using ginger and frankincense supplementation indicated participants experienced pain-free walking after over a 6 month period. They also showed lower levels of oxidation due to antioxidant capacities of the supplement.*
Ak-Harrasi A, Ali L, Hussain J, Ur Rehman N, Mehjabeen, Ahmed M, Al-Rawahi A. Analgesic effects of crude extracts and fractions of Omani frankincense obtained from traditional medicinal plant Bowswellia sacra on animal models. Asian Pacific Journal of Tropical Medicine. 2017; 7(1):s485-s490.
Funk JL, Frye JB, Oyarzo JN, Zhang H, Timmermann BN. Anti-Arthritic Effects and Toxicity of the Essential Oils of Turmeric (Curcuma longa L.). Journal of agricultural and food chemistry. 2010;58(2):842-849. doi:10.1021/jf9027206.
Funk JL, Frye JB, Oyarzo JN, Chen J, Zhang H, Timmermann BN. Anti-Inflammatory Effects of the Essential Oils of Ginger (Zingiber officinale Roscoe)in Experimental Rheumatoid Arthritis. PharmaNutrition. 2016;4(3):123-131. doi:10.1016/j.phanu.2016.02.004.
Funk JL, Frye JB, Oyarzo JN, Timmermann BN. Comparative Effects of Two Gingerol-Containing Zingiber officinale Extracts on Experimental Rheumatoid Arthritis. Journal of natural products. 2009;72(3):403-407. doi:10.1021/np8006183.
Funk, J. L., Frye, J. B., Oyarzo, J. N., Kuscuoglu, N., Wilson, J., McCaffrey, G., Stafford, G., Chen, G., Lantz, R. C., Jolad, S. D., Sólyom, A. M., Kiela, P. R. and Timmermann, B. N. (2006), Efficacy and mechanism of action of turmeric supplements in the treatment of experimental arthritis. Arthritis & Rheumatism, 54: 3452–3464. doi:10.1002/art.22180
G. Bolognesi, G. Belcaro, B. Feragalli, U. Cornelli, R. Cotellese, S. Hu, M. Dugall
Movardol® (N-acetylglucosamine, Boswellia serrata, ginger) supplementation in the management of knee osteoarthritis: preliminary results from a 6-month registry study. European Review for Medical Pharmacological Sciences. 2016. 20(24):5198-5204.
Komeh-Nkrumah SA, Nanjundaiah SM, Rajaiah R, Yu H, Moudgil KD. Topical dermal application of essential oils attenuates the severity of adjuvant arthritis in Lewis rats. Phytotherapy Research. 2012;26(1):54-59. doi:10.1002/ptr.3509.
Yang H. Zhao R, Chen H, Jia P, Bao L, Tang H. Bornyl Acetate has an anti-inflammatory effect in human chondrocytes via induction of IL-11. Biochemistry and Molecular Biology for Life Scientists. 2014; 66(12):854-859. doi:10.1002/iub.1338.