“Arthritis” is actually the general term for joint inflammation. However, when most of us use it, we often are referring to osteoarthritis, a chronic and sometimes debilitating inflammation of the hip, knee, spine, hand, and feet bones. This degenerative joint disease currently affects more than 16 million Americans and I can only imagine how these rainy spring days treat each one of them. I often think of my grandma on these dreary types of days and can almost hear her voice lamenting her arthritis flare-ups. Back then, her doctor often recommended daily doses of Tylenol, which in the long run did quite a bit more damage to her overall health. This is why it’s so important to always look for safer, more holistic routes when it comes to the care and keeping of your body. The following may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but they're definitely safer than any painkiller you will find in a pill bottle.
Stinging Nettle: I remember the first time I walked through a stinging nettle patch. It felt almost electric, without being painful. The plant itself is covered in tiny little hairlike projections that provide microinjections of several chemicals that cause a mild stinging sensation. These chemicals have been found to trigger a cascade of chemical reactions in your body that act as anti-inflammatory agents. This cascade of reactions essentially provides an antihistaminic reaction to your body’s acute inflammation. Using the tiny, almost needle-like, nettle hairs to combat inflammation is a practice known as urtication, and it dates back more than 2,000 years! So, this is obviously a tried-and-true method of pain maintenance.
Ginger: Beyond being delicious, ginger is such a powerful addition to our herbal medicine chest. In fact, one study that came out of the University of Miami found that ginger could even one day be a substitute for nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). They found that by taking a therapeutic dose (3-7 grams/day), ginger was able to reduce pain and stiffness in knee joints by 40% compared to the placebo group. This is likely because ginger interrupts inflammatory chemical pathways at a cellular level while also having slight analgesic properties. Ginger is also insanely delicious! So, a win-win!
Turmeric: Turmeric contains compounds that are nearly identical to ginger from a food-chemical perspective. So in many ways, it’s not a surprise that turmeric has a long history of helping as an arthritis treatment. However, it’s important to note that if you’re using turmeric for its therapeutic benefits, it needs to be paired with black pepper. Black pepper essentially acts as a key, unlocking the benefits of turmeric.
Bromelain: Where are all my allergy-suffering kindred spirits? If you’re like me and the first whiff of pollen in the air reminds you to stock up on quercetin and bromelain supplements, you’ll likely already be very familiar with the power of bromelain. But if not, let me introduce you to this pineapple wonder-chemical. Bromelain is found in the core of pineapples (so don’t throw them out! Freeze them and add them to your smoothies!!). In addition to helping with seasonal allergies, bromelain can also help the body get rid of antigen-antibody complexes, compounds that have been found to be involved in many types of arthritis. (Note: I found capsules to be the most efficient way to get a therapeutic dose of bromelain. While I love pineapple, I don’t think you could eat quite enough to make a huge difference)
Red Pepper: Capsaicin is the chemical found in red peppers that causes the feeling of heat and a little bit of pain when eating hot peppers. However, this same chemical also interferes with pain perception throughout the body by triggering a release of endorphins. Red peppers also contain aspirin-like compounds known as salicylates.
So go ahead and give it a try! The next time you can feel these dreary days in your knees, grab some stinging nettle and cut open a red pepper!