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Herbal Healing For Aching Joints with Ciara O' Meara

Wednesday, 23 January 2008

Today Ciara will be speaking about the herbal remedies for a variety of joint problems. Ciara will be looking at rheumatic problems and she'll be showing you at home the various herbal remedies for these problems.

Ciara O Meara - Medical Herbalist
I have a long standing interest in natural medicine. From a young age I found myself allergic to antibiotics, this prompted a proactive approach to preventative medicine, ensuring that through diet and exercise I was always doing my best to stay healthy. I completed an honours Science degree in University College Dublin in 1997 followed by an MSc in Medical Genetics at Aberdeen University. I then spent a number of years working in the field of academic research in areas such as The Human Genome Project at Oxford University, UK, and on Cancer research at Cancer Research UK. It was during this time that I took up a yoga practice and further cultivated an interest in holistic medicine.
First hand experience of successfully using herbal medicine  prompted me to pursue an interest in the subject. I soon realised that this interest was part of a much broader, richer and complex area of natural medicine which required dedicated study to appreciate both its subtleties and power. To deepen my knowledge on the subject and acquire the ability to confidently use it as a health professional I completed a four year degree at Westminster University in London.
This University is a long established centre for excellence in the training of medical herbalists. Its facilities encompass a central London clinic for herbal medicine where members of the public can avail of treatment. This is where I completed 500 hours of clinical training as part of my degree, treating members of the public from young to old with a range of illnesses. This was an integral part of the educational programme, in the interests of maintaining a high level of safe practice. This training included differential diagnosis of illness up to a high standard of training clinically on par with that of a GP.

Joint Disease:
Both rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and Osteoarthritis (OA) are the two most common joint diseases, both are characterised by inflammation in or around the joints.

Here are some dietary and lifestyle recommendations which may help.

. Avoid acidic foods in the diet as they can cause build up of toxins in the joints, some of which are by-products of animal proteins examples of foods to reduce or avoid
. Sea foods like mussles and prawns
. Pork and to a lesser extent red meats ( chicken is less problematic)
. Milk and cheese (butter and yoghurt are better tolerated)
. Wheat products especially refined flour products( cakes, biscuits etc)
. Sugar, tea, coffee, alcohol, also avoid pickled products.

. Include Essential Fatty Acids in the diet: these help support the body's own anti-inflammatory chemicals, they also help reduce cholesterol. Look for brands with EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) in them.

. Food sources - Oily fish 2-3 portions a week recommended, Sardines, mackerel, salmon, tuna (fresh not tinned).
. Nuts: sunflower, sesame, pumpkin, almonds, brazil nuts.
. Some inflammatory conditions can be aggravated by eating Solanacea plant family members, these include: tomatoes, potatoes, aubergines, red peppers and caynne peppers, tobacco try excluding for 2 weeks then reintroducing to see if they are aggravating factors for you.

. Ensure adequate supply of Zinc (recommended dosage 15mg/day) in the diet from, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, fish, Wheatgerm (can be sprinkled on muesli), brewers yeast wholegrains, nuts (not peanuts),
. Pumpkin seeds also have a beneficial effect on prostate health and contain essential fatty acids (1 dessert spoon daily).
. Vitamins and minerals - a good supply is important as they can mop up or have what is called an antioxidant effect cleaning up the toxic by-products of inflammation in the body. Ensure plenty of fresh fruit and veg in the diet.
. Epsom Salt Baths: neutralise toxins by assisting their removal via the skin, use 2-3 good handfuls! , if its your hands or feet which are affected you can make a foot or hand bath.

This is a common disease found in 1-3% of the population with a higher frequency ion females, about 10% pf sufferers will have a family history.

What is it? The synovial membrane which covers the joint becomes inflamed and enlarged, prolonged inflammation can lead to permanent damage to the joint cartilage, bones, ligaments and tendons. Symptoms of joint pain and stiffness are usually worse in the morning and improve with activity. In severe cases other organs in the body may also become affected.

What is the treatment? Conventional treatment focuses on the use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAIDS) to control inflammation.  In severe aggressive cases of RA cases immunosuppressant drugs may be used to control inflammation before long term join damage results.

How can herbs help?  There are many effective herbal anti-inflammatories which can be used.

White Willow (Salix alba)
This is the original source of the active ingredient the anti-inflammatory salycilates
found Aspirin. White willow however is as nature intended it and has none of the side effects associated with NSAIDS which can include gastrointestinal bleeding and inhibition of cartilage repair.  Dosage 4-6 capsules daily.

Note if you are currently taking prescribed medicines see a medical herbalist before taking white willow.

Devils Claw (Harpagophytum procumbens)
Much research has been done on this herb which has proven its effectiveness in treating rheumatic conditions. It is the root of this plant which has been proven effective. It can be taken in capsule form or tincture form, capsule dosage 4-6 capsules a day, tincture dosage will depend on the strength.

These anti-inflammatory effects may take 3-4 weeks to reach full effect in the body.

This is by far the most common of the joint diseases. It affects about 80% of people over the age of 70 to some degree.
What causes it? It is due to the cartilage between joints wearing down resulting in the rubbing of bone against bone this results in pain and loss of movement. Often times bony spurs may develop deforming their shape. Common joints involved include the knees, hips, neck, lower back. Generally symptoms are worse towards the end of the day and are exacerbated by exercise.
What is the treatment? Most of the conventional treatment options again focus on controlling the inflammation that occurs with NSAID.

The natural alternatives
. Attention to diet is very important and many sufferers can gain enormous benefits from this.
. The use of topical treatments can be of great benefit to sufferers:
Topical Plaster for sore joints, especially suited to osteoarthritis as it is a cold condition these plasters will bring heat to the area reducing stiffness and discomfort.
. Take 1gram of caynne pepper add this to 29 grams of kelp powder. Mix well.
. Melt some beeswax in a glass bowl, add the powder.
. While the mixture is still warm soak strips of cotton bandages in it and allow them to dry.
. Before using them lay them over a radiator to heat up, wrap around the affected joint and cover with a heat pad.
. Leave on as long as is comfortable, note some individuals may have a reaction to cayenne on the skin, in this case it can be replaced with mustard powder.
. ALWAYS wash hand after using caynne pepper, avoid contact with eyes.


Tumeric (Curcuma longa)
This herb is anti-inflammatory and can also be used in RA. It can be used as a tincture or as a powder. Daily dosage of the powder is approximately 4 grams for treatment of OA. Tumeric has a number of other benefits to the body such as reducing cholesterol and enhancing detoxification via the liver.

Cramp Bark (Viburnum opulus)
This is an excellent herb for reducing muscular spasm stiffness and pain which allows improved blood flow to the joints. It can be taken in capsule or tincture form capsule dosage 2 capsules 3 times daily before food. Tincture dosage will vary with concentration.

Always consult a medical herbalist before taking herbs if you are on prescribed medications, this ensures that you are taking the most suitable herbs in the safest manner.

Next week we will be speaking about circulatory problems.