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Herbal medicine

What is it?

Herbal medicine is the use of plants and plant extracts to treat disease. Many modern drugs were originally extracted from plant sources, even if they’re now made synthetically. Whereas conventional medicine now tries to use only the active ingredient of a plant, herbal remedies use the whole plant. Herbalists argue that the mixture of chemicals in the whole plant work together to give a better effect (called synergy) than a single active ingredient.

Some of the most promising herbs for arthritis, all of which are backed by some research, are:

  • devil’s claw (made from a plant which grows in Namibia)
  • Boswellia (from the frankincense tree)
  • rosehip.

These herbal medicines can be found in health food shops and chemists, but if you consult a medical herbal practitioner you’ll probably be prescribed a mixture of herbs, often in liquid form, tailored to your needs. This may include herbs which have anti-inflammatory and painkilling properties, and others to improve energy or aid relaxation and sleep, or even just to make the mixture taste better!

Is it safe?

Generally speaking, herbal remedies are safe but sometimes they cause side-effects. These can include stomach upsets, sleeplessness and pains in your muscles or joints. Some herbal remedies may also interact with your prescribed medication.

If you’re thinking of using these remedies, always buy them from a trusted manufacturer to make sure they’re a quality product, and discuss their use with your doctor first.

A new system for regulation of traditional herbal medicines was introduced in May 2014. This is administered by a government  agency, the MHRA. It requires that herbal medicines marketed in the UK have a history of traditional use, are of good quality and are safe.

Read more about complementary and alternative medicine for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis and fibromyalgia.

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