Ms. Meenakshi Khatta is a nurse practitioner and associate professor at the University of Maryland in Baltimore. Nurse Khatta has reviewed the use of CAM to treat pain due to musculoskeletal conditions.

Here are her findings on herbal supplements used to treat fibromyalgia, osteoarthritis, and rheumatoid arthritis.

Cayenne (Capsicum frutescens)

  • In fibromyalgia, less tenderness and a significant increase in grip strength
  • No significant differences in pain scores
  • Moderately favorable results compared with placebo

Devil’s claw (Harpagophytum procumbens)

  • In osteoarthritis, a reduction in pain and increase in mobility

Phytodolor (a proprietary preparation that contains Populus tremula, Fraxinus excelsior, and Solidago virgaurea [goldenrod])

  • Patients had greater joint pain relief from either Phytodolor or piroxicam (Feldene) over 4 weeks vs placebo.
  • Positive results in people with rheumatoid arthritis too

Willow bark (Salix alba)

  • Willow bark combined with rescue medication for painful syndromes demonstrated short-term improvement in pain.

Among ayurvedic preparations…
Boswellia (Boswellia serrata)

  • One study in rheumatoid arthritis did not show positive effects.

An ayurvedic herbal mixture of Withania somnifera (winter cherry or ashwagandha), Boswelia serrata, Zingiber officinale (ginger), and Curcurma longa (turmeric)

  • In chronic rheumatoid arthritis only joint swelling showed significant improvement.

And for gamma-linolenic acid (GLA)-containing herbs?
Blackcurrant (Ribes nigrum) seeds

  • Objective signs of reduced rheumatoid arthritis disease activity were reported.
  • Overall clinical response did not change.

Boragio officinalis

  • In rheumatoid arthritis there was a statistically significant and clinically relevant reduction in signs and symptoms of disease activity.

Evening primrose (Oenothera biennis) oil capsules

  • No objective response in rheumatoid arthritis.

The bottom line?
As with any drug, side effects are possible. Many of these herbals make a positive contribution to disease control. They should be used as a complementary part of comprehensive treatment plan.

The article also covers mind-body therapy, nutritional therapy, and chiropractic.

5/30/07 20:48 JR

Hi, I’m JR

John Russo, Jr., PharmD, is president of The MedCom Resource, Inc. Previously, he was senior vice president of medical communications at, a complementary and alternative medicine website.