Are aching, swollen joints stifling your activity levels and making life a real pain? Ginger, an inexpensive, herbal wonder, can reduce pain and inflammation and allow you to do more of the activities you enjoy.
One common cause of swollen joints is rheumatoid arthritis (RA), an autoimmune disease affecting approximately 1.5 million people in the United States. RA disproportionately affects women, with nearly three times as many women afflicted as men and onset typically occurring between 30 and 60 years of age.
Autoimmune diseases occur when the body’s immune response is overactive and assaults healthy cells and tissues. In the case of RA, the immune system erroneously attacks the joints.
The tissue that lines the inside of joints, called the synovium, thickens, and synovial fluid, which lubricates and reduces friction between bones and cartilage, is impaired, resulting in inflammation and swelling of affected joints and surrounding tissues.
RA can affect specific joints, such as those of the hands and feet, and can also be systemic, affecting entire body systems, such as the cardiovascular or respiratory systems. Left untreated, RA can permanently damage cartilage, which normally protects bones, eventually causing damage to the bones themselves. This can result in severe pain, loss of mobility, and even permanent joint deformity.
Due to the severity of potential outcomes, most doctors recommend early and aggressive treatment to control RA. Fortunately, natural treatments, including ginger, can help.
Drug Treatment Poses Risks
Due to the painful symptoms and severe risks presented by RA, most individuals who receive this diagnosis will opt for medication-based treatment. Physicians typically prescribe one or a combination of three types of drugs: non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), corticosteroids, and disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDS).
Meta-analyses of data collected through studies of these drugs show that the elderly are particularly vulnerable to such adverse effects. Increased risks of cardiovascular disease, gastrointestinal problems, and liver problems are among the potentially devastating consequences of NSAID treatment.
Steroids, another common prescription for RA sufferers, provide targeted treatment since they can be shot directly into joints. However, their effectiveness diminishes over time and using steroids isn’t without risks. Side effects can include weight gain and puffiness, increased blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease.
Another common treatment, DMARDS, work by suppressing the body’s immune system response. DMARDS are taken for long periods, potentially for the duration of the disease-state, or the rest of the patient’s life. Relief doesn’t come immediately, so these drugs are often prescribed in conjunction with an NSAID for pain relief.
DMARDS are risky drugs since the suppression of the immune system increases susceptibility to opportunistic infections. They can also harm a developing fetus, so any patient who is or wishes to become pregnant should exercise extreme caution when taking DMARDS.
Ginger: A Natural Antidote to Inflammation
A focus of our research at GreenMedInfo.com is the healing effects of plant-based medicine. Ginger (Zingiber officinale Roscoe) is a medicinal plant from the Zingiberaceae family. To date, more than 40 antioxidants have been isolated from ginger rhizome. Ginger is GRAS—generally recognized as safe—and is known as a traditional treatment for relieving stiffness and pain in patients with osteoarthritis.
While the healing effects of ginger may be well known, there is little clinical evidence supporting its use as a pharmaceutical drug alternative or adjunct in the treatment of RA. A multidisciplinary team of researchers based in Tehran, Iran, aimed to add to this dearth of clinical evidence by studying the effects of ginger root on immunity and inflammatory markers in patients with active cases of RA.
In this randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial, R 70 active RA patients between 19 and 69 years of age were selected. Inclusion criteria were at least two years of disease duration, being under treatment with DMARDs (methotrexate, hydroxychloroquine and prednisolone <10 milligrams (mg) a day) and not receiving anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).
Participants were randomly allocated into two groups, ginger or control (placebo). The ginger group received two capsules daily, each containing 750 mg of powdered ginger, while the placebo group received similar, inert pills containing wheat powder that was stored in a ginger box to impart the distinctive ginger smell. The intervention was conducted for 12 weeks, with the ginger group receiving a total of 1500 mg of ginger each day.
The severity of illness and pain from RA are closely associated with inflammation and oxidative stress markers, factors that can be measured via a “disease activity score” and expression of certain genes (NF-κB, PPAR-γ, FoxP3, T-bet, GATA-3, and RORγt). The disease activity score (DAS28-ESR) was measured by a rheumatologist, with information related to swollen joints, tender joints, acute phase response, and the patient’s self-report of the general health of 28 joints.
These markers and scores were measured using quantitative, real-time PCR (polymerase chain reaction) blood analysis, before and after this clinical intervention.
After the 12-week intervention, the group receiving ginger supplementation had significant decreases in their disease activity score and inflammatory markers (RORγt and T-bet genes expression). In addition, the ginger group saw significant increases in healthy immunity markers (FoxP3) as compared to placebo.
Also, the expression of PPAR-γ gene within the ginger group increased significantly, showing increased anti-inflammatory activity. Researchers concluded that ginger can improve quality of life and decrease symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis by increasing FoxP3 gene expression and decreasing RORγt and T-bet gene expression.
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