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Herbs In Rheumotology

Herbs in Rheumatology

by Jim Duke, PhD

"Exercise is the single best treatment for the pain and disability of arthritis." (Sobel and Klein, 1993).

This issue of News from the Herbal Village is based, in part, on the draft of my upcoming book, Green Pharmacy, reviewing the so-called "green alternatives" (GA) or millennial medicines for some 125 modern ailments from the Herbal Village, stressing aromatherapeutic, herbal, food farmacy, nutritional and pharmaceutical alternatives. In preparing the book, I developed a GA database, not to encourage self diagnosis nor self medication, rather to elucidate and enumerate for intelligent readers some of the alternatives to which an increasingly large percentage of Americans are exposing themselves, be they good or be they bad alternatives. Eisenberg (1993) indicated that Americans visit alternative practitioners more than conventional physicians. Many of these alternative therapists are encouraging the "green alternatives" covered in the GA database and Green Pharmacy. Until America performs unbiased head-on trials comparing the millennial green alternatives with the centennial synthetic alternatives (standard pharmaceuticals, some 25-60% ultimately derived from green alternatives, depending on the accounting system you use), America cannot be sure it is getting the best medicines. After 60 years as an outdoor botanist, the last 30 years as an ethnobotanist keenly interested in medical botany, I believe that in many cases the global green alternative is better than what we are getting. If I were diagnosed with arthritis, I’d much rather take some of the herbs listed below than steroids. I once endured a course of injected steroids prescribed for bursitis and I really prefer the GA. In retirement, as I told you in the first two issues, I am campaigning to get America to give the GA’s fair trial rather than keep them in the closet.

DEFINITIONS: Rheumatoid arthritis, often called rheumatism or synovitis, is characterized by inflammation and pain, perhaps more frequently in the hands - especially the knuckles and second joints - in anyone, especially older people, often causing deformities as muscles weaken, tendons shrink, and ends of bones enlarge. (Time-Life Medical Advisor{TMA}1996).

Infectious arthritis is caused by a bacterial or viral invasion of the joints, often following such diseases as gonorrhea, Lyme disease, staph infections and tuberculosis. I think I may have avoided this one in 1996 when a combination of echinacea and garlic, and the prescription antibiotic doxicyclin may have spared me Lyme disease and infectious arthritis.

Osteoarthritis, or degenerative joint disease, refers to pain and inflammation resulting from systematic loss of bone tissue in the joints. Some seem to have a genetic predisposition. (TMA, 1996)


Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) inhibit cartilage repair (by inhibiting the production of the collagen matrix). Since osteoarthritis is caused or characterized in part by cartilage degeneration, the NSAIDs which suppress the symptoms may worsen the target condition by inhibiting cartilage formation and hastening its destruction. Individuals with rheumatoid arthritis may have "leaky guts" (increased intestinal permeability), especially if heavily dosing with NSAIDs. NSAIDs increase the leakiness of the gut, so that large dietary and bacterial molecules are absorbed into the body, leading to formation of complexes which can be deposited in the joints. Thus, the as

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