Herbal Remedies for Osteoarthritis

Herbal remedies have been used for thousands of years. Since they come from natural sources, you might presume they are safe. However, herbal remedies do not have to undergo the same quality and safety tests that are required for prescription drugs.

Therefore, when considering whether or not any herbal remedy is safe, the correct answer is you can't be sure. Many herbal remedies contain ingredients that are not listed on their product labels. Some of these ingredients can be toxic and lead to serious side effects or adverse drug interactions. They also may contain far less—or more—of an ingredient than the label claims.

This article takes a closer look at the evidence for and against using herbal remedies to treat osteoarthritis. It discusses which herbs have been proven to benefit osteoarthritis symptoms and which you should avoid.

Ginger root
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Herbal Remedies That May Be Helpful

Researchers looking to find natural treatment options for osteoarthritis have studied a handful of herbs. A few of these have shown therapeutic effects that may benefit some people with osteoarthritis.

While the following herbal remedies have shown promising effects, they cannot be considered osteoarthritis treatments. More research is needed to determine how these herbal remedies may be used to help people with osteoarthritis.

ASU (Avocado Soybean Unsaponifiables)

ASU is a natural vegetable extract made from avocado and soybean oils. Researchers believe ASU slows the production of certain chemicals that trigger inflammation.

In theory, ASU could prevent the breakdown of cartilage and help slow the progression of osteoarthritis. A review of studies in 2014 put this theory to the test.

The review found evidence that ASU may improve pain and function slightly, thus reducing the need for over-the-counter pain relievers like Advil (ibuprofen) or Tylenol (acetaminophen).

However, there is no evidence that ASU will preserve joints or protect them from the damage that osteoarthritis causes.

Boswellia Serrata or Indian Frankincense 

Boswellia is extracted from gum resin found in the bark of the Bos­wellia serrata tree. This tree is native to India, North Africa, and the Middle East. The extract is sometimes referred to as Indian frankincense.

Boswellia may have anti-inflammatory and analgesic (pain-relieving) properties, according to a 2014 review published by Cochrane. But the evidence in favor of these benefits is limited and inconsistent.

The Cochrane review did find high-quality evidence that people who consumed Boswellia serrata extract showed slight improvements in their pain and joint function.

Herbal Remedies That May Be Harmful

Despite the popularity of many herbal remedies, such as ginger and stinging nettle, there is little to no evidence that they can help people with osteoarthritis.

Furthermore, some herbs—ginger and stinging nettle included—can trigger unwanted and in some cases dangerous side effects.

Before buying or using any herbal remedy, you should always consult with your healthcare provider to make sure it's the right choice for you.

This is especially important if you are taking any prescription medications, since many herbal remedies can interact with medications in harmful ways.

Cat's Claw

Cat's claw (Uncaria tomentosa) comes from the dried root bark of a woody vine that grows in the Amazon rainforest. This extract is believed to stimulate the immune system and has even been used traditionally to treat osteoarthritis.

But if you are looking to purchase a cat's claw supplement, you need to be careful. There are several types of vines in the cat's claw family, and some are highly unsafe to consume.

Extracts from the vines Uncaria tomentosa or Uncaria guianensis are considered safe in their pure forms. Senegalia greggi, on the other hand, is a highly toxic plant that grows in Mexico and the southwestern United States. It is also referred to as cat's claw.

Even if you choose to consume an extract from one of these safer vines, you should know that there are still risks involved.

Cat's claw extract is known to interact with certain medications, including blood thinners, diuretics, blood pressure medications, and medications that suppress the immune system.

Devil's Claw 

Devil's claw is a traditional herb used in South Africa. There is some evidence that the active ingredient in devil's claw, harpagoside, may reduce pain and inflammation in joints.

Nonetheless, there are specific warnings associated with the use of devil's claw. For example, it can affect the heart's rhythm and should not be used by people who are being treated for a heart rhythm disorder.

Ginger 

Ginger comes from from the dried or fresh root of the ginger plant. Ginger contains active ingredients that may have analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties, potentially reducing joint pain in people with osteoarthritis.

Warnings are associated with ginger—for example, it can interfere with medications for blood thinning.

Stinging Nettle 

Stinging nettle extract is derived from the leaves and stem of the stinging nettle plant, a stalk-like plant found in the United States, Canada, and Europe.

Stinging nettle is thought to decrease inflammation and reduce aches and pains associated with osteoarthritis. Stinging nettle may interfere with blood thinners, diabetes medications, heart medications, and it may lower blood pressure.

Feverfew 

Feverfew products usually consist of dried feverfew leaves, but all parts of the plant that grow above ground may be used. The plant is native to southeastern Europe, but it has become widespread throughout Europe, North America, and Australia.

While feverfew does seem to have anti-inflammatory properties, one study revealed that it is no more effective at easing arthritis symptoms than a placebo.

Willow Bark 

The extract of willow bark has been used as a pain reliever.

In 2004, a study published in The Journal of Rheumatology concluded that willow bark has no benefit to people with osteoarthritis.

Summary

Herbal remedies do not have to undergo the same rigorous safety tests that other medications do, so you cannot be sure what exactly they contain. Researchers have found limited and inconsistent evidence that some herbal remedies could help ease osteoarthritis symptoms. But even though these remedies are natural, they still come with a risk of unwanted side effects and drug interactions.

A Word From Verywell

Reviewing the most popular herbal remedies for osteoarthritis has made it clear that you should not consider taking any herbal remedies until talking to your healthcare provider. You must be aware of warnings associated with the herbal remedies and potential drug interactions. Their effectiveness against osteoarthritis remains inconclusive as well.

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10 Sources
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