The coldest months of the year can be the cruelest as well, especially if you suffer from stiffness, aches, or reduced mobility because of your joints, ligaments and connective tissues.
Powerful antioxidant botanicals, herbal remedies, and even nutrition can play a huge part in feeling better until Spring has Sprung!
Sweet cherries are delicious and good, too, but it is the tart Montmorency cherry (Prunus Cerasus) that several newer studies show has medicinal anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects. This means the negative impact of stress we all experience during wintertime is kept to a minimum.*
For the elderly, 8 ounces twice a day of tart cherry juice (60mg anthocyanins, 550mg phenols) supports wellness including possible disease prevention and improved sleep (1).*
In another study, tart cherry use appeared to show increases in healthy melatonin levels. People who drank 1 ounce tart cherry juice concentrate (equivalent to about 100 cherries) a half-hour after waking up and again a half-hour before bedtime for one week experienced “significant increases” in time in bed and total sleep time (2). Elderly individuals with moderate to severe insomnia reported improved sleep quality.*
The Power of Detoxifying, Antioxidant Enzymes
Tart cherry appears to work by “turning on” phase II detoxifying enzymes, which means the liver, immune system, and whole person runs “cleaner.” Repair of damaged nucleic acids from oxidative stress? Yes! Tart cherry also helps recovery from exercise with decreased inflammation. Healthy runners who drank ½ Liter of Tart Cherry juice before and after marathons had less pain and quicker recovery (3).*
There are mixed results regarding tart cherry helping the chronic pain of fibromyalgia (FM): slight improvement in muscle strength (important because FM patients need some exercise, even though they feel weak), but exhibited better results on reducing pain (4).*
The final word on Tart cherry: for wintery aches and pains, toss the dried cherries on salads or cooked grains, and enjoy the Vitamin C-rich juice without guilt about the calories of fruit juice: this is medicinal!
In the United States, “back pain” is the most common cause of disability in people under 45 years of age. Back pain comes in a variety of different forms and causes, and is one of the top two reasons people in industrialized countries miss work and see a physician.
In a study reviewing all the published research on remedies for back pain, scientists compared the best ten projects that used good-to-high quality science: three on white willow (Salix alba), three on devil’s claw (Harpagophytum Procumbens, see below), and four on topical Cayenne products (1). ‘These herbal medicines could be considered as treatment options for acute episodes of chronic low back pain,’ they write.
Aspirin’s Natural Cousin
One of the active plant compounds in White Willow, salicin, is the historical source for acetyl salicylic acid, AKA aspirin – the most commonly known of the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or “NSAIDs”. Comparing white willow to a standard prescription, 228 patients took 240mg salicin a day or 12.5mg of rofecoxib (an NSAID associated with numerous side effects). Willow worked just as well as the pharmaceutical, at least in the short time of the study on patients with acute episodes of chronic, non-specific low back pain.*
Two studies that compared willow to placebo (dummy pills) found that after five days, 4 out of 210 were pain free on placebo, 15 were pain free on 120mg salicin, and 27 were pain free on 240mg a day of salicin.*
Because long term use of willow is known to be safe*, while NSAID prescriptions are notorious for causing bleeding in the digestive tract, care providers familiar with integrative medicine find that people with arthritis and other muscle/joint pain need their digestive systems healed (not harmed) in order to resolve aches and pains.
Willow soothes an inflamed digestive lining while its pharmaceutical cousin, aspirin and other NSAIDS commonly prescribed by conventional doctors, tend to inflame the digestive system.*
Devil’s claw (Harpagophytum Procumbens and H. Zeyheri) is a monstrous-looking root shaped like an arthritic old claw. This well-researched herb for rheumatic aches and joint pain grows in the harsh Kalihari desert in southern Africa. The Khoisan people traditionally use Devil’s Claw for fever, digestive problems, diabetes, hypertension, and blood diseases.
Herbalists consider rheumatic pains to be a digestive, blood, and connective tissue condition. The herb contains the active plant compound harpagoside (an iridoid glycoside) also found in other underground plant parts. Since 1962 studies have shown tuber extracts to be effective for rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, tendonitis, kidney inflammation, and heart disease.* It is an “official” medicine for rheumatic and arthritic issues in the European Pharmacopoeia (1).
Natural Joint Relief
In the Cochrane Review cited above (1), one human trial in which 118 patients with low back pain used 50mg harpagoside for four weeks. There was a significant jump in the number of pain-free people in just one month (from 9% to 17%), compared to placebo (dummy pills), from only 2% to 5%). In a larger human trial, 197 people took either placebo, 50mg, or 100mg of harpagoside for four weeks.
By the fourth week, researchers found that significantly higher numbers of people were pain-free for at least five days longer than in the 100mg group than in either the placebo group or the lower dose (50mg) group.
If you’ve the time or money to buy or make your own organic Tart Cherry juice, boil your own White Willow tea, tinctures or grind your own Devil’s Claw extract, more power to you. But, if you’re like the rest of us, your Winter is spent preparing holiday meals, shoveling the driveway, or tending to family guests on holiday.
There is a way to naturally nourish the stiff and aching ligaments and soft tissue in your joints. Our master herbalists at Blessed Herbs have designed a natural supplement designed to encourage and promote joint health and relief from stiffness and improve your mobility without using painkillers to numb or mask the pain.*
The Blessed Herbs joint relief supplements contains all three of the discussed herbal ingredients above: Tart Cherry extract, White Willow Extract, and Devil’s Claw extract. It also contains other nourishing herbal extracts and a Seaweed extract blend – one of nature’s best sources for bio-available calcium.* Combined with well-known health promoting ingredients such as Turmeric and Celery seed extracts, Joint Relief from Blessed Herbs is an excellent, natural way to support joint health!
Amanda McQuade Crawford, M.A. is an herbalist and clinical psychologist practicing integrative health care in Ojai, serving Santa Barbara, Ventura and Los Angeles counties.
References for Tart Cherry:
- Traustadóttir T, Davies SS, Sock AA, et al. Tart cherry juice decreases oxidative stress in healthy older men and women. J Nutr. 2009;139: 1896-1900.
- Howatson G, Bell PG, Tallent J, Middleton B, McHugh MP, Ellis J. Effect of tart cherry juice (Prunus cerasus) on melatonin levels and enhanced sleep quality. Eur J Nutr. 2011; [epub ahead of print]. doi: 10.1007/s00394-011-0263-7.
- McHugh M. The health benefits of cherries and potential applications in sports. Scand J Med Sci Sports. 2011 Oct;21(5):615-616.
- Elliot DL, Kuehl KS, Jones KD, Dulacki K. Using an eccentric exercise-testing protocol to assess the beneficial effects of tart cherry juice in fibromyalgia patients. Integr Med. Dec 2010/Jan 2011;9(6):24-29.
References for White Willow
- Gagnier JJ, van Tulder M, Berman B, Bombardier C. Herbal medicine for low back pain (review) Cochrane Database Syst Rev.. April 19, 2006;(2):CD004504.
References for Devil’s Claw
- Georgiev MI, Ivanovska N, Alipieva K, Dimitrova P, Verpoorte R. Harpagoside: from Kalahari Desert to pharmacy shelf. Phytochemistry. August 2013;92:8-15.