Report: Herbal Medicines Not Effective as Painkillers

Report: Herbal Medicines Not Effective as Painkillers

Cat’s claw and other herbal medicines have long been used to treat the painful symptoms of osteoarthritis. Photo by Nathan Johnson

There is little evidence to justify the use of herbal medicine to relieve the painful symptoms of osteoarthritis, according to a new British report.

Herbal remedies such as cat’s claw, devil’s claw, turmeric and ginger have long been used to treat the painful joint condition, but the report published in the journal Drug and Therapeutics Bulletin warns that few studies have been made on their effectiveness. Those studies that have been done were small, did not last long and often contained design flaws, which compromised the validity of their findings.

Osteoarthritis is a painful joint condition that involves damage to cartilage and other structures in and around the joints, usually the fingers, hips and knees. It differs from rheumatoid arthritis, which is an immune-based disorder.

Clinical trials indicate that some natural pain remedies, such as soybean oil, avocado oil, rosehip and frankincense may work and produce few unwanted side effects. “But more robust data are needed,” according to the report, which said the evidence about other herbs was unconvincing.

The bulletin warns that some herbal medicines can interfere with other medicinal products and prescription drugs – or even worsen the symptoms of the underlying condition.

“Herbal medicines can have significant pharmacological actions, and so can cause unwanted effects and have potentially dangerous interactions with other medicines,” the report said. Extensive use of nettle, for example, can interfere with drugs used to treat diabetes and high blood pressure, while willow bark can cause digestive and renal problems.

“Herbal medicines have traditionally been used for the relief of osteoarthritis symptoms. However, there is a lack of licensed herbal medicinal products on the market for such symptoms, and none specifically licensed for osteoarthritis,” the bulletin warned. “Also the efficacy and safety of such products is generally under researched and information on potentially significant herb-drug interactions is limited.”

The report urges doctors to ask patients with osteoarthritis if they are taking any herbal products.

Authored by: Pat Anson, Editor