Herbal remedies are derived from the extracts of certain plants. Since herbal remedies have been used for thousands of years, you are likely to presume they are safe -- but think again. According to the American College of Rheumatology, herbal remedies are not subjected to the same quality assurance testing that is required for prescription drugs.
It has also been discovered that the contents of many herbal remedies don't always match the ingredients on their label. Probably the biggest concern is that herbal remedies can be toxic and can adversely interact with prescription drugs. When considering whether or not herbal remedies are safe, the correct answer is you can't be sure.
Let's take a look at herbal remedies that have been recommended for treating osteoarthritis.
ASU (Avocado Soybean Unsaponifiables)
ASU is a natural vegetable extract made from avocado and soybean oils. Researchers believe ASU slows the production of some inflammatory chemicals. By doing so, ASU may prevent the breakdown of cartilage and help slow the progression of osteoarthritis. No significant problems have been associated with ASU, according to researchers.
Cat's claw comes from the dried root bark of a woody vine that grows in the Amazon rain forests in Peru and other South American countries. Cat's claw is believed to have anti-inflammatory properties, possibly by inhibiting tumor necrosis factor-alpha.
Experts warn that only products from the vine Uncaria guianensis or Uncaria tomentosa should be bought and used. Acacia greggi, a highly toxic plant that grows in Mexico and the southwestern United States, is also referred to as Cat's claw.
Devil's claw is a traditional herb used in South Africa. The active ingredient in Devil's claw, harpagoside, appears to reduce pain and inflammation in joints. The herb may help lower uric acid levels in people with gout also. Specific warnings are associated with the use of Devil's claw.
Ginger originates from the dried or fresh root of the ginger plant. Ginger contains active ingredients that may have analgesic (pain relieving) and anti-inflammatory properties -- causing less joint pain in people with osteoarthritis. Warnings are associated with ginger -- it can interfere with medications for blood thinning.
Boswellia or Indian Frankincense
Boswellia originates as gum resin from the bark of the Boswellia tree found in India. This herbal remedy may have anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties but researchers claim the evidence is limited and effects are inconsistent.
Stinging nettle 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. Warnings are associated with stinging nettle -- it may interfere with blood thinners, diabetes medications, heart medications, and it may lower blood pressure.
Feverfew products usually consist of dried feverfew leaves, but all parts of the plant that grow above ground may also be used. The plant is native to southeastern Europe, but it has become widespread throughout Europe, North America, and Australia. Touted as having anti-inflammatory properties, feverfew has been shown in studies to be no more effective than placebo.
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 extract showed no relevant efficacy in patients with osteoarthritis.
Points to Remember
Reviewing the most popular herbal remedies for osteoarthritis, has made it clear that you should not consider taking any herbal remedy until talking to your doctor. You must be aware of warnings associated with the herbal remedies and potential drug interactions. Their effectiveness against osteoarthritis remains inconclusive as well.
A Cochrane Review of herbal remedies for osteoarthritis, published January 22, 2001, concluded that there was convincing evidence ASU offered some benefit, but evidence for other herbal remedies was not convincing enough to either encourage or discourage their use.
Herbal Therapy for Treating Osteoarthritis. Little et al. The Cochrane Collaboration. January 22, 2001.
Herbal and Natural Remedies. American College of Rheumatology. March 2005.
Supplement Guide. Herbs for Osteoarthritis. Arthritis Today Magazine. Arthritis Foundation. 7/16/2007.