“Considering the huge portion of our population suffering from osteoarthritis (OA) and low back pain, the need for safe and effective alternatives to reduce pain and inflammation and improve mobility is significant.”
The search for safe and effective pain relief has been going on for centuries. Modern medicine has developed the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAIDs) class of drugs. While effective at alleviating pain, ongoing use is associated with stomach and kidney complications in some.
Considering the huge portion of our population suffering from osteoarthritis (OA) and lower back pain, the need for safe and effective alternatives to reduce pain and inflammation and improve mobility is significant. Here are three herbal products that I think deserve consideration for those seeking alternatives to NSAIDs.
Curcumin is the yellow orange pigment in turmeric and is a powerful antioxidant offering multiple health benefits including helping to decrease inflammation. In fact, curcumin is one of three different curcuminoids in turmeric – each important to its anti-inflammatory actions. Unfortunately, curcuminoids from most dietary and supplement sources are poorly absorbed into the bloodstream. Without this absorption (also referred to as bioavailability), they can not help with inflammation and pain relief.
The good news is that researchers in Italy have unlocked the key to curcuminoid bioavailability by creating a unique complex with phosphatidylcholine known as Meriva®. A human study compared the bioavailability of Meriva with a conventional standardized turmeric extract (containing 95% curcumin) and found curcuminoid bioavailability was 29 times greater for the Meriva preparation.1
A three-month study with persons suffering OA in the knee found that Meriva significantly decreased pain and stiffness and improved joint mobility and walking distance compared to those taking placebo.2 Extending the study out to eight months, researchers found that pain relief and improved mobility continued with daily use of Meriva and that the product was safe.3 Notable in this long-term study was the fact that persons taking Meriva had a 63% reduction in the need for NSAIDs to control pain.
Boswellia (Boswellia serrata) is an herb that comes to us from India and Ayurvedic medicine. With a long history of treating joint pain, modern research discovered that the gum oleoresin contain active constituents designated as boswellic acids that were responsible for the anti-inflammatory actions of the herb.
Recently it has been discovered that the boswellic acid, 3-Ο-acetyl-11-keto-β-boswellic acid (AKBA), is the most potent member of the group with regard to combating inflammation. A significant advance in boswellia ingredients was introduced that was standardized to 20% AKBA and proven to have superior bioavailability of this constituent compared to other boswellia preparations. Known as AprèsFlex (also called Aflapin), it offers a more potent and lower dose alternative to conventional boswellia extracts.
In a three-month study with persons suffering from OA of the knee, researchers found that this advanced boswellia extract significantly decreased pain (within the first week of the study) and improved joint function and mobility.4
White willow bark contains the active constituent known as salicin. Once in the body, it is metabolized to salicylic acid. If that sounds familiar, it’s because the active compound in aspirin is acetylsalicylic acid. While salicylic acid was the compound that led to the discovery of aspirin, I try to discourage people from thinking of white willow bark as “the natural aspirin.” Because aspirin is already metabolized to an active form, it acts quicker as a pain reliever. However, the trade-off is stomach irritation in some people. Because it is broken down more slowly in our body, the salicin from white willow bark has a slower onset of action but a longer duration of pain relief than aspirin. It’s also much less likely to cause stomach irritation.
While research has found that white willow bark reduces pain and improves mobility in persons with osteoarthritis, I’m a big fan of its fantastic effects in persons with low back pain. A 2007 published review of clinical studies on alternatives for low back pain gave a thumbs-up to standardized white willow bark.5 One study found that a white willow bark extract delivering 240 mg of salicin per day was just as effective as an NSAID for management of low back pain.6
1. J Natural Products 2011;74:664-9.
2. Panminerva Med 2010;52(S 1):55-62.
3. Alternative Med Review 2010;15:337-44.
4. International J Med Sciences 2010:7:366-77.
5. Spine 2007;32:82-92.
6. Rheumatology 2001;40:1388-93.
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