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Arthritis is a degenerative condition that affects the joints. There are over 150 arthritis diseases, the most common types being osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and Gout. Osteoarthritis is caused when the cartilage at the end of two bones wears out; once the cartilage is worn out, the two bones begin to rub against each other, causing pain and inflammation. Rheumatoid arthritis develops when the immune system attacks the lining of the joints, causing the synovial membrane to swell and become painful. And Gout is characterized by an accumulation of uric acid crystals in the joints, which can produce acute pain attacks.

Symptoms of arthritis include but are not limited to:

  • Pain

  • Swelling

  • Redness

  • Stiffness

  • Heat

  • Fever

TCM refers to arthritis as "Bi Syndrome." The obstruction of Qi, blood flow, and energetic imbalances causes this condition. Traditional Chinese Therapy takes a different approach to this degenerative illness than Western medicine.

Arthritis symptoms can be categorized into the following groups using TCM pattern differentiation:

  • Excess heat causes pain, redness, swelling, and fever

  • Excess cold causes sharp pain

  • Excess damp causes heavy-fixed pain and swelling

  • Excess wind causes wandering pain that moves around the body

Using Herbs To Calm Cold, Hot, Damp, Dry, And Wind

In herbalism, we use plants to help bring the body back into homeostasis. In the case of Arthritis, cooling anti-inflammatory and bitter herbs are used to dispel heat/dampness from the body; if someone is too dry, moistening anti-inflammatory and demulcent herbs are recommended; for those exhibiting cold/damp symptoms, warming, drying herbs are best, and finally for people with excess wind and damp spasmodic, moving- sour herbs and foods are indicated. My favorite herbs for Arthritis include:

Gotu Kola (Centella asiatica)

Energetics: Cooling

Uses for arthritis: Anti-inflammatory, Antioxidant, circulatory stimulant, diuretic

Gotu kola is a small herb with kidney-shaped leaves native to Southeast Asia; it is full of benefits for the brain, skin, joints, and heart. Traditionally, this herbal ally has been used to enhance memory and cognition, improve circulation, aid wound healing, and reduce inflammation.

Some animal studies have shown promising results from Gotu kola; these results showed a significant reduction in inflammation and erosion of the joints after administering Gotu kola.

Cat's Claw (Uncaria tomentose)

Energetics: Cooling

Use for arthritis: Antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, immunomodulator

Cat's claw has been used for over 2,000 years by indigenous people in South and Central America. Some of its traditional uses include pain relief for osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, immune system booster, and may help lower high blood pressure.

Some studies suggest that this herbal ally may help relieve inflammation associated with arthritis, therefore reducing pain and stiffness of the joints. 

One 45-patient study concluded that "Cat's claw is an effective treatment for osteoarthritis… They are effective antioxidants, but their anti-inflammatory properties may result from their ability to inhibit TNFalpha and, to a lesser extent, PGE2 production."

Fennel seeds (Foeniculum vulgare)

Energetics: Warming

Uses for arthritis: Antispasmodic, anti-inflammatory, phytoestrogen

Fennel seeds are rich in minerals like calcium and phosphate, essential for bone health. These seeds contain both anethole and fenchone, constituents that have anti-inflammatory properties.

In 2020 a study was published on 66 women with knee osteoarthritis and the effects of fennel seed extract. Half of the women were given fennel seed powder extract and the other half a placebo. Results showed that the women taking the fennel seed extract indicated a reduction in joint stiffness and pain after two weeks.

Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)

Energetics: Warming and drying

Uses for arthritis: Antispasmodic, anti-inflammatory, analgesic, 

Rosemary is commonly used to enhance flavor in cooking, but it also has a long history of health benefits. These benefits include improved memory and circulation, immune system stimulation, and hair growth stimulation. She may help to relieve pain and inflammation linked with arthritis when used topically as an infused oil.

Bayleaf (Laurus nobilis)

Energetics: Warming and drying

Uses for arthritis: anti-inflammatory

Bay leaves contain parthenolide, a constituent known for its powerful anti-inflammatory effects. This phytonutrient works best when applied topically to the affected area. 

Black Cohosh (Actaea racemosa)

Energetics: Cooling and drying

Uses for arthritis: Alterative, analgesic

Native Americans have utilized black cohosh for hundreds of years to reduce discomfort related to PMS, childbirth, and menopause. Today this plant is being used to alleviate pain linked with arthritis.

Black cohosh contains Ferulic acid, a chemical recognized for its anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties.

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