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Osteoarthritis in focus

Do you suffer from arthritis? Arthritis means joint inflammation. The most common type of arthritis is osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis is a degenerative joint disease resulting from the wear and tear of of joints throughout your life. It leads to pain, tenderness, swelling, and decreased function of joints. There are many conventional drug treatments for joint discomfort some like aspirin are based on natural substances found in plants like white willow. However, you may have concerns about the many side effects associated with such drugs. Studies suggest that 70% of people taking Ibruprofen for over three months experience damage to their gut. In fact, the drug Vioxx  once commonly prescribed for osteoarthritis, because it was gentle on the digestive system, had dangerous effects on the cardiovascular system so was  taken off the market in 2004.

One of the herbs I used in a small research trial Middlesex University ran at the Archway Clinic of Herbal Medicine is called Devils Claw or Harpagophytum procumbens. Studies demonstrate that it compares well with drugs like Ibruprofen in relieving pain and stiffness but with next to no side effects. Native to southern Africa, Devil’s Claw is named for the miniature hooks that cover its fruit. For thousands of years, the Khoisan peoples of the Kalahari Desert have used Devil’s Claw root in remedies to treat pain and in topical ointments to heal sores, boils, and other skin problems. Since its introduction to Europe from Africa in the early 1900s, dried roots have been used to restore appetite, relieve heartburn, and reduce pain and inflammation. Scientific analysis revealed that the root contains high amounts of chemicals called iridoid glycosides one of these named after the herb, Harpagoside, has demonstrated potent pain and inflammation relieving properties. It does not suit everybody, however, and is best used in an individually tailored treatment plan that is characteristic of my holistic approach.

Research where I was lead clinician that demonstrating a benefit to patients suffering from osteoarthritis:


Focus Altern Complement Ther 2003; 8: 480

Herbal treatment for osteoarthritis: a pilot study investigating outcomes

Bell CM1, Bell L1, Chevallier A1, McDermott A2, Adams R21Complementary Medicine Academic Group, School of Health and Social Sciences, Middlesex University, Queensway, Enfield, Middlesex, EN3 4SF, UK2Archway Clinic of Herbal Medicine, Clerkenwell Building, Archway Campus, Highgate Hill, London, N19 5LW, UK


The aim of this pilot study was to investigate patient outcomes following herbal treatment for osteoarthritis.

Materials and methods

Patients with osteoarthritis were recruited to the study and asked to attend appointments on four occasions. Treatment was given as a herbal formulation with topical treatment given to all patients and a sleep mixture given to those who needed it. Outcome was measured using the SF-36 Health Profile and MYMOP, completed at each visit. Add-on questions requested additional information.Semi-structured interviews were carried out with some patients and practitioners.


A total of 61 patients took part in the study, with 71% (44) attending all four appointments at the clinic (mean age 63 years; range: 38–89 years). Of the volunteers participating in the study, 90% reported that they had been suffering from osteoarthritis for more than 2 years.A significant change was found over the 12 weeks of the study in two of the eight health domains measured by the SF-36. Mean score for bodily pain was found to improve between week 1 and week 12 (P < 0.01; Wilcoxon signed-rank, matched pairs test). A significant change was also found for general health, with improvement over the 12 weeks of the study (P < 0.05; Wilcoxon signed-rank, matched pairs test). Results also suggest improvements in mean MYMOP scores for symptom 1 and well-being over the 12 weeks of the trial (P < 0.01; Wilcoxon matched-pairs signed-rank test).


These preliminary results suggest that the herbal treatment for osteoarthritis provided during this study does appear to benefit patients.

In a different placebo‐controlled, double‐blind randomized controlled trial with 89 patients with pain due to Osteoarthritis, the effectiveness of capsules of powdered Harpagophytum with an iridoid glycoside content of 3% were assessed for 2 months. Results revealed a significant drop in pain intensity and a significant increase in joint mobility in the treated group.

Lecomte A, Costa JP. Harpagophytum dans l’arthrose: Etudes en double insu contre placebo. 37°2 Le Magazine1992;15:27–30

This information is for educational purposes only. For any advice on medicinal use of herbs consult a registered Medical Herbalist.

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