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Natural Remedies for Arthritis Pain
May 20, 2016
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Natural Remedies for Arthritis Pain

Many urban legends and wives’ tales claim a variety of foods are natural remedies for arthritis.

And some osteoarthritis patients swear they work.

But do gin-soaked raisins or cayenne pepper really ease osteoarthritis pain?

Here’s a look at some of the most popular natural treatments.

For centuries, people have been trying natural remedies for arthritis in an effort to ease the pain and stiffness of the joint condition.

And while doctors would never suggest you use them to replace a regimen of healthful diet, safe exercise and modern medications, grandma’s home concoctions might have some kick to them.

Despite the lack of scientific evidence, patients, as well as some doctors and nutrition experts who treat women with osteoarthritis, support the power of remedies like gin-soaked raisins or hot peppers to ease osteoarthritis pain.

“Although there’s no 'quick fix,' I find dietary changes combined with proper exercise therapy can be quite effective in treating and managing osteoarthritis,” says Moshe Lewis, M.D., a rheumatologist and pain management/rehabilitation specialist in Redwood City, Calif.

“Even if there’s not a lot of research behind using foods to ease the pain and symptoms of osteoarthritis.”

Dr. Lewis routinely suggests his patients use everyday foods thought to combat stiffness and reduce inflammation that leads to osteoarthritis pain.

After all, there’s little harm.

Arthritis Remedy #1: Hot Peppers

How they work
: All chili peppers, including cayenne, contain a substance called capsaicin, a natural analgesic that may help relieve arthritis pain, research shows.

A gel with 0.0125% capsaicin was an effective treatment in mild to moderate osteoarthritis pain in knees, according to a study published in a 2010 issue of the Journal of the Medical Association of Thailand.

“The exact mechanism is unknown and being studied, but it’s believed that capsaicin relieves pain and itching by acting on sensory nerves,” says Dr. Lewis.

“[It] depletes or interferes with substance P, a naturally produced chemical involved in transmitting pain impulses to the brain.”

Without neurotransmitters, pain signals can no longer be sent to joints.

“The amount of capsaicin determines how long relief lasts, and the effect is temporary,” Dr. Lewis advises.

“The hotter the pepper, the more capsaicin it contains.”

Eating hot peppers also causes the release of endorphins, hormones released in the body that produce a feeling of well-being, which act as the body’s own pain medication.

How to use it: Don’t eat hot peppers, especially if you have digestive issues, Lewis advises.

Using rubs and creams with capsaicin are safer, because the cream works by desensitizing the surface nerve receptors in the painful area, she says.

Creams with up to 0.075 % capsaicin are generally sold in health food stores, pharmacies and groceries.

Start with a low dose if you’ve never used it before.

And beware: You may feel a burning sensation the first few times the cream is applied until you get used to the product, Dr. Lewis warns.

Arthritis Remedy #2: Gin-soaked Raisins

How they work
: Gin gets its flavor from juniper berries, which have the anti-inflammatory compound terpinen, says Jaime Schehr, N.D., R.D., a registered clinical dietitian who specializes in working with patients with arthritis.

“Raisins contain the compounds ferulic acid, gentisic acid and salicylic acid, which have all been found to be pain relievers,” she adds.

Even though there aren’t any credible studies proving that gin-soaked raisins are effective natural remedies for arthritis pain, many women take them, says Schehr.

How to use it: “You can use golden or regular raisins, but golden are preferred because they’re treated with sulphur dioxide to prevent darkening of the raisin,” says Schehr.

“Sulphur dioxide has been associated with a reported decrease in arthritis pain.”

The most common recipe is to empty a small box of golden raisins into a bowl and cover them with gin (pour just enough gin to cover the raisins).

Allow the gin to evaporate (about one week).

(Don’t let raisins dry out completely.)

Eat only 8 to 9 gin-soaked raisins a day, Schehr says.

Avoid this remedy if you have a history of alcohol or substance abuse.

Arthritis Remedy#3: Cider vinegar

How it works
: Cider vinegar can dissolve hard deposits from arthritic joints and stop the condition from getting worse, according to Dr. Lewis.

But if joints are actually worn away, they can only be surgically replaced, he says.

"Apple cider vinegar may help restore alkaline-acid balance [in your body], and disperse acid crystals that build up in joints and cause osteoarthritis pain,” says Dr. Lewis.

Added health bonus: Cider vinegar can control blood pressure and is a natural diuretic, Dr. Lewis says.

“It [also] can help with calcium deficiency, by assisting your body to deal more effectively with the calcium content of food,” he says.

“Like all natural remedies for arthritis, this isn’t for all patients with osteoarthritis pain, and it might not help with severe forms of the disease,” says Dr. Lewis.

“And it could take a few weeks to see results.”

How to use it: Cider vinegar works both internally and applied topically, Dr. Lewis says.

To drink it, mix 2 teaspoons of apple cider vinegar in 8 ounces water.

Add 2 teaspoons of honey to enhance the taste (unless you have diabetes).

“Diabetics shouldn’t add honey, as this increases sugar,” warns Dr. Lewis.

Repeat up to three times a day.

For topical use, mix 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar with 1-1/2 cups warm water.

Soak the painful joint in the solution for 10 minutes.

If you can’t soak the joint, for example, your knee or shoulder, dip a cloth in the mixture and place it on the affected area.

Repeat as needed, up to four times daily, Dr. Lewis says.

You might end up smelling like salad dressing, but that will dissipate after a few hours or a shower.

Arthritis Remedy #4: Cherries

How they work
: Tart or Montmorency cherries have been shown to inhibit the development of inflammation and pain, says John J. Cush, M.D., rheumatologist and principal investigator of a 2007 study that found cherry pills to be effective in osteoarthritis treatment.

“Tart cherries are rich in anthocyanins, potent anti-oxidants that are important in health and controlling inflammation,” he says.

More than half of patients enrolled in his 2007 pilot study at the Baylor Research Institute in Dallas had a significant improvement in knee pain and function after taking cherry pills for eight weeks.

While researchers aren't sure how they work, “these cherries have a lot of the same properties of common anti-inflammatory medicines like ibuprofen or naproxen,” says Dr. Cush, who led a second, similar study to be published in late 2011.

How to use them: The Baylor study found supplements with 100 mg of anthocyanins were the most effective for people with mild to moderate OA.

“The patients in these trials didn’t have severe osteoarthritis pain,” says Scott Zashin, M.D., clinical professor of medicine at University of Texas Southwestern Medical School, who was part of the study’s team of researchers.

If you don’t want to take a supplement, eat a handful of cherries daily, Dr. Teitelbaum suggests.

“Cherry juice can also ease symptoms, but contain a lot of sugar, which can lead to weight gain, so I don’t recommend it,” he says.

Arthritis Remedy #5: Pectin

Pectin is a natural plant fiber used to thicken jams and jellies or for canning, says Dr. Teitelbaum.

Extracted mostly from citrus fruits, pectin may lower cholesterol levels and ease osteoarthritis symptoms too.

“Like many food remedies, we don’t know why it works, yet it continues to be one of the more easy-to-find and inexpensive natural remedies for arthritis that many patients find helpful to ease inflammation and pain,” says Dr. Teitelbaum.

But it doesn’t work for everyone.

In fact, Dr. Teitelbaum says, if you don’t notice a change in symptoms within 2-3 weeks of using pectin, it probably won’t work for you.

It’s as safe as eating pie, he adds.

“Except if you eat just the pectin, you won’t have all the calories and sugar commonly found in pie.”

How to use it: The best way to consume pectin, which is normally found on your grocer’s shelves as a powder, is to add it to foods or drinks.

For example, mix 1-3 tablespoons of pectin in 8 ounces of a low-sugar beverage.

“Drink this mixture 1-2 times a day, for up to two weeks,” says Dr. Teitelbaum.

“If it’ll ease your symptoms, you’ll see results in as few as 7 or as many as 21 days.”

As the pain disappears, you can reduce the amount of pectin to 1 teaspoon and drink the mixture once or twice a day as needed, he advises.

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