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NCCIH Clinical Digest

for health professionals

Musculoskeletal Inflammation and Natural Products: What the Science Says

July 2016

Clinical Guidelines, Scientific Literature, Info for Patients: 
Musculoskeletal Inflammation and Natural Products

arthritis inflammation knee

Natural Products

Turmeric (Curcuma longa)

Turmeric has a long history of use in Ayurvedic medicine for the treatment of inflammatory disorders. Curcumin, a chemical extracted from turmeric, is often used as a remedy for the treatment and prevention of inflammatory diseases. Preliminary findings from laboratory research suggest that curcumin, a chemical found in turmeric, may have anti-inflammatory properties, but in spite of its long history of use for inflammatory disorders, there is insufficient evidence to support the use of turmeric supplementation for these disorders.

Bromelain (Pineapple Plant)

Bromelain is a mixture of enzymes found in the pineapple plant. Bromelain is often used as a dietary supplement for nasal swelling and inflammation, osteoarthritis, cancer, poor digestion, and muscle soreness. In spite of its use, the exact mechanism of action remains poorly understood. There is some evidence that bromelain may be useful as adjunctive therapy to help improve acute nasal and sinus inflammation, but there is insufficient evidence as to whether bromelain has any beneficial effects on other inflammatory conditions.

Willow Bark (Salix alba)

Willow bark has been used for centuries as a treatment for pain, headache, and inflammatory conditions such as bursitis and tendinitis. The bark of white willow contains salicin, the chemical that was used to develop aspirin. In spite of its long history of use, only a few small clinical trials have been conducted that support the use of willow bark extracts in chronic low-back pain and osteoarthritis.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

There is some evidence that omega-3 fatty acids may provide a modest benefit for symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis.

Devil’s Claw (Harpagophytum)

Devil’s claw is an herb native to Africa. Devil’s claw is sometimes used for arthritis, gout, myalgia, tendonitis, and other conditions. There is some limited evidence that devil’s claw may provide modest improvements in low-back pain over the short term. There is some moderate evidence that devil’s claw is beneficial for osteoarthritis of the spine, hip, and knee.

Ginger (Zingiber officinale)

Historically, ginger has been used in Asian medicine to treat stomach aches, nausea, and diarrhea. Today, ginger is used as a folk or traditional remedy for postsurgery nausea; nausea caused by motion, chemotherapy, and pregnancy; rheumatoid arthritis; osteoarthritis; and joint and muscle pain. Based on available evidence, it is unclear whether supplementation of ginger is beneficial in treating rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, or joint and muscle pain.

Thunder God Vine (Tripterygium wilfordii)

Thunder god vine is a perennial vine native to China, Japan, and Korea. It has been used in China for health purposes for more than 400 years. In traditional Chinese medicine, it has been used for conditions involving inflammation or overactivity of the immune system. There is some evidence that thunder god vine may reduce some symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis (RA); however, thunder god vine may be associated with some serious adverse side effects.

NCCIH Clinical Digest is a service of the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, NIH, DHHS. NCCIH Clinical Digest, a monthly e-newsletter, offers evidence-based information on complementary health approaches, including scientific literature searches, summaries of NCCIH-funded research, fact sheets for patients, and more.

The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health is dedicated to exploring complementary health products and practices in the context of rigorous science, training complementary health researchers, and disseminating authoritative information to the public and professionals. For additional information, call NCCIH’s Clearinghouse toll-free at 1-888-644-6226, or visit the NCCIH website at NCCIH is 1 of 27 institutes and centers at the National Institutes of Health, the Federal focal point for medical research in the United States.


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