Archive for the ‘Arthritis’ Category

Natural pain relief for arthritis, back pain, PMS, headaches and more

Monday, June 1st, 2009

If you’ve ever suffered from arthritis, back pain, headaches, PMS, or a number of other conditions that cause pain, you may have reached for ibuprofen or over the counter medications to give you pain relief. In some cases this may offer temporary relief, but an increasing number of my patients have found that they don’t work and even if they do the relief is not permanent, not to mention unpleasant side effects such as stomach upsets. In short, over the counter pain relief medication simply doesn’t cut it.

If you’re wary of pain relief medication the good news is that there are plenty of alternatives – natural ones – that have science on their side. From herbs that attack inflammation to techniques that encourage the brain to release natural pain killers into your body, nature offers a number of remedies for painful conditions such as arthritis, headaches and muscle strain. Here are some natural remedies you may want to consider experimenting with; they can help ease pain and leave you feeling healthier and happier for the long term – without the side effects.


Fish Oil: for arthritis related joint pain or autoimmune disorders


Studies have shown that fish oil breaks down into a hormone-like substance called prostaglandins which can reduce inflammation. One study, from the University of Pittsburgh, showed that about 40 per cent of the arthritis sufferers who took fish oil every day were able to cut their use of pain relief medications up to a third. People with neck and back pain seemed to fare the best. After about 10 weeks nearly two thirds were able to stop taking pain relief medication altogether.


Taking Omega 3 fish oil every day has been shown to help the heart by boosting circulation, but for pain the dose needs to be higher. For osteoarthritis you should take 2,000mg daily and you may need even more for rheumatoid arthritis and autoimmune diseases associated with joint pain, such as lupus. It’s always best to consult your doctor before self –medicating, especially if you have high blood pressure and take heart medication because high doses of omega 3s can thin the blood. If you do want to take supplemental fish oils don’t be tempted to supplement with cod liver oil capsules. In the sea the fish can accumulate toxins and mercury which your body doesn’t want or need. If you don’t want to take fish oils consider supplementing with 1,000 mg daily of linseed oil. Linseed, also called flaxseed oil, contains both omega 3 and omega 6 essential fatty acids, which offer natural pain relief.


Do make sure you look at the EPA and DHA content of the fish oil you’re using and don’t be swayed by how much total fish oil content there is. Take at least 700mg EPA and 500mg DHA a day. Ideally, you are aiming to do this in the smallest amount of capsules. The one I use in the clinic is called Omega 3 Plus, which contains that amount in just two capsules. 


Capsaicin: for arthritis and headaches


An active component of chilli pepper, capsaicin can desensitize pain prone skin nerve receptors called c-fibres; soreness is diminished for 3 to 5 weeks while they regain sensation. One study from Oxford University showed that nearly 40 percent of arthritis patients reduced their pain by half after using a topical capsaicin cream for one month and 60 percent of neuropathy patients achieve the same after two months. Patients at a New England Centre for Headaches decreased their migraine and cluster headaches intensity after applying capsaicin cream inside their nostrils.


For arthritis try 0.025 or 0.075 percent capsaicin cream, one to four times daily, for at least two weeks.


Magnesium: for PMS

Up to 90% of women will experience Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) related pain at some point during their reproductive years. While over-the-counter medications can help with bloating and pain, they do little for mood swings and depression and often have unpleasant side effects, such as poor digestion. In a study published recently (in the journal Clinical Drug Investigation) women with PMS were treated with 250mg of magnesium a day over a 3-month period. The study led to a reduction in symptoms by up to a third. Another study (in The Journal of Women’s Health) found that 200mg a day of magnesium reduced PMS fluid retention, breast tenderness and bloating by 40 percent. Magnesium is classed as ‘nature’s tranquilliser’ and women with PMS have been found to have lower levels of red blood cell magnesium than women who don’t have symptoms. Supplementing with magnesium may therefore be extremely useful in alleviating PMS related pain and even more effective when taken with vitamin B6 – another important nutrient that can ease PMS related symptoms.

In addition to magnesium, the herb Agnus Castus is also great for easing PMS related symptoms. Agnus Castus works on the pituitary gland and has a balancing effect on the hormones in the second half of the cycle. I recommend combining other herbs including black cohosh, dong quai, milk thistle and skullcap and take for three months. (See Agnus Castus Plus at

 (For more information on natural ways to relieve the misery of menstrual cramps see the article on them in this newsletter.)


Yoga and gentle exercise: for back pain


The worst thing you can do if you have back pain is take to your bed. Hull university researchers found patients who followed a programme of stretching and low impact aerobics made a faster recovery from back pain than those who did not exercise. So to keep back pain at bay try the following gentle stretching exercise four to five times a day – it will help to keep your back flexible: from a neutral standing position lean forward gently and then lean back and then move from side to side. Repeat.


You may also want to try the following yoga stretch, called a cat stretch, which can help keep your spine mobile and rid it of tension. To perform a cat stretch, kneel down and place your hands on the floor in front of you so that you are on all fours with your knees, feet and hands about a foot apart. Now slowly arch your back into a hump, dropping your head. Hold for a few moments and then gently and slowly lift your head and at the same time gently drop your lower back and stick your bottom out. Repeat this three times slowly and without strain. Just doing this part of the exercise is great for removing tension from your spine and can really help with an aching back. Then gently bend the elbows and place your chin on the floor between your hands.


In addition to gentle exercise and stretching, applying heat or ice can reduce pain, stimulate blood flow and speed the healing process by bringing blood cells to clear the damaged tissue site. Generally, heat should be applied on the first day of injury and ice is better for spasms. Apply an ice pack wrapped in a towel, for no longer than 15 minutes at a time though or the cold itself could trigger a muscle spasm. If cold doesn’t help try using a hot water bottle and applying for no more than 15 minutes at a time, up to four times a day. A bath with Epsom salts can also soothe pain, as can Bromelain or Devil’s claw tablets. Bromelain is an enzyme derivative of pineapple and research has found it can be as effective as ibuprofen in relieving back pain – without the side effects. Devil’s claw is an African herb and trials at the University of Reading have found it to be effective in treating pain relief if taken for a minimum of six weeks.

(For some lovely Epsom salts infused with essential oils go to and click on Natural Lifestyle Products.)


Arnica: for acute injury and post surgery swelling


Arnica is a herb that comes from a European flower and research has shown it has natural anti-inflammatory properties. Taking oral homeopathic arnica after a tonsillectomy decreases pain, according to British research, and one German study showed that it can reduce surgery related knee swelling.


If you want to give arnica a try for acute injuries, use homeopathic arnica as well as ice, herbs or conventional pain relief. Rub arnica ointment on bruises and strained muscles.


Count out loud: for needle stick pain


And finally, if you’re frightened of the pain from injections counting backward from 100 out loud during an injection can decrease pain, (according to a recent Japanese study from the Yokohama City University Medical Centre in Kanagawa). None of the 46 patients who counted backwards complained afterwards and only one of them could remember pain from the injection at all. Among the 46 who didn’t count, 19 said the injection hurt and 10 recalled what it felt like. Counting out loud might work by distracting the brain from processing the sensation of pain. The trick is probably only useful for short or acute periods and the degree of pain reduction really depends on how well the patient concentrates on counting.

Ingredient Spotlight: Mackerel

Friday, May 1st, 2009

Mackerel is classed as an oily fish, along with other fish such as salmon, herrings, tuna etc. Oily fish provide us with important Omega 3 oils, which can help to lower blood pressure, reduce the risk of heart disease, soften the skin, increase immune function, increase metabolic rate, improve energy, help with arthritis (as they have an anti-inflammatory effect) and help with skin problems such as eczema. 100g of mackerel can provide 1000mg of Omega 3 fatty acids, while the same size piece of cod can contain only 300mg.

Mackerel not only contains these Omega 3 fats but is also a good source of selenium, vitamins B3, B6 and B12 and also vitamin D.


The Department of Health recommends that we should double our intake of Omega 3 oils by eating oily fish two to three times a week. But concerns have been raised about mercury intake from oily fish. The research has shown that the health benefits from eating oily fish definitely outweigh the risks. And that in fact we are not eating enough fish in general. The Harvard School of Public Health has shown that eating about six ounces of mackerel each week can reduce the risk of death from heart disease by a third.












Your 40s 50s and 60s: control common problems the natural way

Sunday, March 1st, 2009

As we age we all become more vulnerable to certain health conditions, but there are plenty of natural ways to prevent them so you can live your life to the full. Whatever your age, the following natural well being plan will help you control some of the most common age-related problems.


Your 40s


Sleep problems

Sleeplessness is more likely to occur in your 40s when the hormonal changes of the menopause approach and this can increase your risk of stress, anxiety and fatigue. Along with a healthy diet and regular exercise studies have shown that a quality night’s sleep is essential for weight management, hormone balance and good health in general.


To encourage a good night’s sleep boost your calcium and magnesium intake by eating more green leafy vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds during the day. Calcium and magnesium work together and are often described as ‘nature’s tranquilisers.’ You may also want to try a little herbal help with valerian, which, along with passion flower and hops, is known for its sleep-inducing and calming qualities.


Try to get at least 30 minutes exercise in the fresh air as natural daylight and activity can result in 50 percent improvement in sleep patterns. It can also help to make sure your bedtime routine is relaxing. Have a warm bath with aromatherapy oils to wind down and avoid drinking caffeine during the afternoon and evening. Don’t take your worries to bed. Make a list of things you need to think about tomorrow. If you still can’t get to sleep don’t lie there tossing and turning and clock watching – get up and do something relaxing, such as listening to calming music, until you feel sleepy.


Lack of energy

Many women over the age of 45 say they suffer from tiredness and as you enter your 40s you may start to find your energy levels dropping. As we age, metabolic and physiological changes can impact on your body’s energy levels, causing fatigue. But this doesn’t mean you can’t do anything about it. With the right diet and exercise plan and a positive mind set, many women in their 40s – and beyond – feel more energetic than ever. Take the actress Meryl Streep, for example, anyone who saw her singing, dancing, and leaping around in the movie ‘Mama Mia’ would have found it hard to believe she is a year shy of 60.


In the next few issues I’ll be giving you more advice about natural ways to boost your energy levels, but for now the most important things you can do are to exercise more and cut down on caffeine and sugar. Regular exercise is essential for keeping your energy levels up. Caffeine and sugar may give you an instant hit but they’ll leave you feeling tired and depleted in the long run. A healthy, balanced diet is crucial as nutritional deficiencies can trigger fatigue (see also the article on ‘Eating for energy’) and you could also benefit from supplementing with a daily multivitamin and mineral, especially one that contains vitamin B12, which is known to boost energy. Choose a multivitamin and mineral that is designed for leading up to and through the menopause, the one I use in the clinic is called Menoplus. Herb wise, ginseng is the ultimate energy booster. Several trials have shown it to be effective in alleviating the symptoms of low energy but for women it is better to use Siberian ginseng rather than any other kind of ginseng, otherwise the effects can be too strong and some women found they were having palpitations. (See the Resources Page for information on the supplements and herbs).


Peri-menopause and menopause

During your 40s you are most likely to experience the symptoms of peri menopause. This occurs when your ovaries have reduced egg supply and they gradually cease to produce the female hormone oestrogen. Perimenopause can occur as early as five to ten years before the actual menopause, which is most likely to occur in your early 50s. The symptoms of perimenopause are lighter but mirror those of the menopause and include irregular periods, hot flushes, mood swings, weight gain and insomnia.


If you’re experiencing hot flushes, avoid clothes made from synthetic fabrics and wear layers instead to keep warm. Use bedclothes made from cotton and layers rather than a big duvet. Watch what you eat and drink – a hot drink before bedtime can often trigger night sweats or make them worse. Other triggers include caffeine, alcohol and spicy foods. And although it may make you feel hotter and sweatier in the short term, women who exercise regularly seem to have fewer flushes.


There are a number of natural therapies to choose from if you are in the early stages of peri-menopause. Phytoestrogens are hormone like substances that act like a weaker version of oestrogen and can help balance fluctuating hormones. They are present in foods like soya, legumes and linseeds (flaxseeds). The herb sage is known to be helpful at the menopause and black cohosh has shown to be effective for the hot flushes and night sweats. The ancient Chinese herb dong quai can also help balance hormones. (I think a combination of herbs is often more effective than single herbs so I use one called Black Cohosh Plus in the clinic. This contains black cohosh, dong quai, sage and milk thistle – see the Resources Page).


Bowel cancer

Over the age of forty your risk of bowel cancer increases. To find out how simple diet and lifestyle changes can reduce your risk of getting it, refer to the article ‘Bowel cancer: How to protect yourself’ in this issue.


Your 50s


Concentration and memory

In your 50s you may find that words and putting names to faces sometimes eludes you. Age does tend to affect our ability to store and retrieve information, but try not to panic. It’s very unlikely that this is an early sign of dementia. Doctors have recently confirmed that forgetfulness is a perfectly normal stage of ageing, just like greying hair. It may even be of benefit to avoid cluttering your mind with too much information. For example, you may forget where your spectacles are but you won’t forget what they are or what they are for! 


So instead of worrying about remembering – which just makes it harder to remember – take simple steps to help you remember things that you often forget. For example, put your keys in the same place every time and use visual association to help you remember names. For instance, if a woman you are introduced to is called Elizabeth, picture her standing beside Queen Elizabeth or Helen Mirren. It also helps to keep your mind active.


Just as your body needs regular exercise, your brain needs regular exercise too. Keep it fit by playing cards and chess games, reading books, doing crosswords, learning an instrument or new language or by pursuing a new hobby. The supplement ginkgo biloba is recommended for its memory boosting properties – studies show that taking this herb on a regular basis can improve concentration powers (see the Resources Page).


High blood pressure

High blood pressure or hypertension is becoming increasingly common with age and after the menopause women no longer have the protective effect of oestrogen. It is estimated that as many as one in four women over the age of 50 may have high blood pressure and if it is not controlled it can put incredible strain on your heart and arteries and increase your risk of stroke and diabetes. Symptoms include frequent headaches, dizziness or blurred vision, but worryingly it can often manifest without symptoms.


To reduce your risk of age related high blood pressure, cut down on your salt intake. Eating too much salt can send blood pressure soaring. The recommended maximum intake of salt per day is 6 grams so try replacing salt in cooking with herbs and spices for seasoning. And take note of hidden salt in foods – the British Heart Association estimates that three quarters of the salt we eat may come from processed foods and even basic foods such as white bread and cereals contain salt, so be sure to read food labels carefully.


Taking regular exercise will lower your blood pressure and will also help you to lose weight but you should also be sure to eat a healthy, balanced diet. Five portions of fruit and vegetables a day are a must. You should steer clear of saturated fats, added sugar and refined foods as these can increase the amount of cholesterol in your blood; the higher your cholesterol the greater your risk of high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke.


Potassium intake can also help lower blood pressure – foods rich in this mineral include dried apricots, pulses and nuts. And the minerals magnesium (found in brazil nuts, sunflower seeds and soya beans) and calcium (found in dairy products and green leafy vegetables) have also been shown to lower blood pressure. The herb ginger has traditionally been used to help lower blood pressure. Garlic is also recommended for general heart health. You can take both ginger and garlic in supplement form if you think you can’t get enough with your food. I would recommend a specific form of garlic called Aged Garlic which is organically gown and odourless, but more importantly it is cold aged for 20 months which results in a more potent garlic. Co-enzyme Q10 is a vitamin-like substance contained in nearly every cell of your body. It is important for energy production and normal carbohydrate metabolism. Deficiency in co-enzyme Q10 can occur with ageing. In one randomised double-blind trial patients with high blood pressure who were taking blood pressure medication were given co-enzyme Q10. On the Q10 they had lower blood pressure and their HDL (‘good’ cholesterol) increased.  (See the Resources Page for information on supplements and herbs).



As many as one in two women will develop osteoporosis over the age of 50, because loss of bone density speeds up after the menopause as oestrogen levels decline. Many women aren’t aware that their bones are thinning dangerously until they get a broken bone after a minor bump or fall. But the good news is that osteoporosis can often be prevented and treated with natural therapies if detected early enough.


The first step is to give up smoking and to avoid passive smoking as both these can have a weakening effect on the bones. It is also vital to make sure that you don’t drink more than 10 units of alcohol a week, as alcohol depletes your body of bone-building nutrients. Calcium is bone food and it is found in dairy products, green leafy vegetables, sesame seeds, beans and dried fruit. You can also take it in supplement form, usually in combination with magnesium and vitamin D, which helps aid its absorption. Regular weight bearing exercise such as brisk walking, aerobics and jogging helps to strengthen bones and you should aim for at least five sessions a week for a minimum of 30 minutes. (For more detail on the prevention and treatment of Osteoporosis see my book ‘Osteoporosis – the silent epidemic’.)


Your 60s



As you age your body’s ability to deal with glucose (energy from food) declines and this decline increases your risk of diabetes. As many as eight out of ten people with diabetes are overweight, so eat a healthy diet and exercise regularly to keep your weight down. Studies have shown that women who exercise for 30 minutes a day and eat a diet low in trans fatty acids (found in hydrogenated vegetable oils and processed foods, such as biscuits and margarine) and high in fibre (found in wholegrains, fruits and vegetables), reduce their risk of diabetes by up to 90 percent. So eat a diet rich in fruit and vegetables, wholegrains, brown rice and pasta and choose monosaturated oils, such as olive oil, rather than trans fatty acids found in processed foods.


Diverticular disease and IBS

After the age of 60, diverticular disease, which is an inflammation of the intestines, is increasingly common, although many people don’t realise that they have it. Symptoms include constipation, diarrhoea, abdominal pain, fever and vomiting. IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) has similar symptoms. The exact cause isn’t known, but it is thought that stress and anxiety can be triggers.


Avoiding large meals, spicy foods, caffeine and alcohol, increasing fibre intake, and drinking plenty of water can all help. Relaxation is especially important. Certain supplements may also help keep your digestive system healthy and these include peppermint oil, which has an anti-spasmodic effect; artichoke extract which can reduce symptoms of bloating and probiotics (e.g. BioKult), which can replace healthy bacteria in the colon and ease digestive problems.


If you are experiencing any changes in your bowel motions, then it is important to see your doctor for a check up. 



Your risk of developing arthritis increases as you get older because arthritis is a wear and tear disease. Millions of people suffer from arthritis in the UK and the majority of them are over the age of 60, but it is certainly not inevitable.  


It is important to keep as flexible and mobile as possible – so gentle exercise, such as swimming, is a good idea. You should also keep pressure off your joints. As always, a healthy diet rich in fruit and vegetables and omega 3, found in oily fish, nuts and seeds, is essential for healthy joints.


Many arthritis sufferers find that the supplement bromelain eases inflammation. Bromelain is a natural enzyme found in pineapples. Omega 3 fish oils have an anti-inflammatory effect and can sometimes work as well as prescription drugs to ease pain. Make sure you get a fish oil with high levels of EPA and DHA, the one I use in the clinic (Omega 3 Plus) contains 700mg EPA and 500mg DHA from just two capsules a day. Ginger has also been found to have anti-inflammatory properties and glucosamine is an amino acid found naturally in your body’s cartilage that may help with joint repair. I find that the combination of MSM and glucosamine seems to work even better than either glucosamine on its own or combined with chondrotin (see MSM Plus on the Resources Page). 


As far as herbs go, boswellia and turmeric can also be extremely helpful for joint pains. Apple cider vinegar is also often recommended for arthritis as, contrary to what one might think, it actually helps the body to be more alkaline, so reducing inflammation.