Healthspan staff September 10, 2018

It’s been confirmed that arthritis currently affects around 10 million people in the UK alone. Even the Queen has spoken about how her knees have given her problems and is simply too busy to take time off to get treatment. No matter who you are, the symptoms presented by arthritis are a constant challenge.

Now, while there are different forms of arthritis with a wide range of symptoms, the condition most commonly manifests itself as sore and inflamed joints and muscles. They become stiff, painful, and can make doing even the simplest tasks uncomfortable and difficult. Things most of us take completely for granted like walking, kneeling, going up stairs, opening a jar, peeling vegetables, even holding a pen or a knife and fork can become problematic or painful.

This can seriously impact day to day life, affecting the quality of your sleep and, unsurprisingly, more than doubles your risk of depression according to the charity Arthritis Research UK. However, more and more people are finding ways to manage their symptoms with every day. One such way we’re going to talk about is rosehip.

Nipping pain in the bud

The two most common types of arthritis are osteoarthritis (OA) and rheumatoid arthritis (RA). OA is considered a ‘wear and repair’ condition, because it is caused by a combination of inflammation within the joints and over-zealous healing. This predominantly affects the cartilage in the joints, the tough connective tissue that cushions the ends of the bones within the joints and acts as the body’s natural shock absorbed. Although it can occur at any age, it’s more common in older people, typically affecting weight bearing joints and those that get a lot of use.

RA can occur for no obvious reason and is referred to as an autoimmune condition, meaning the immune system is attacking your joints. As well as joint pain and swelling, RA is characterised by pain that is worse in the mornings and then eases throughout the day. However, the effects of RA can be halted if treated early. OA can’t be cured, though it can be managed. What’s more, ignoring the pain can worsen the problem as the affected cartilage breaks down further. OA pain can be treated with painkillers like paracetamol or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and lifestyle changes.

Pain-relieving plants

There are risks involved with taking pain-killing medication like NSAIDs long term. Many people just generally prefer the idea of relying on a more natural or herbal remedy; consequently, more of these are being put to the test in rigorous and well-designed clinical trials. Which brings us to rosehip extract.

Used therapeutically for thousands of years, science is now showing how these little scarlet fruits from the Rosa canina or dog rose plant appear to have anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving actions that can help ease OA and RA. The evidence is stacking up: a 2008 meta-analysis of three short trials published in Osteoarthritis and Cartilage compared the use of rose hip powder with a placebo in the treatment of OA.2 Those given the rose-hip extract over a three-month period experienced a notable improvement in pain compared to those given the placebo and were also less likely to use standard pain-relieving drugs.

Another randomised controlled trial involving 89 people with RA who were given 5g of rosehip powder daily for six months said their pain had improved, while those in the placebo group complained theirs had worsened.3 There is also evidence to show how rosehip extract could potentially delay the onset and development of OA by exerting a protective effect on cartilage.4 Significantly, the research shows taking a rosehip supplement regularly does not cause any of the gastrointestinal problems associated with long-term use of pain-relieving medications like NSAIDs, including ulcers and gastric bleeding. That’s another victory for this naturally occurring treatment option.

Growing evidence

While rosehip extract is not a cure for arthritic pain, this vitamin C-packed plant does appear to effectively reduce the nagging pain and tender joints that characterise it. Importantly, it also seems safe and well-tolerated with any recorded side effects being minor like:

  • Constipation
  • Diarrhoea
  • Heartburn
  • Allergic reactions5

More research into whether the plant could potentially interact with other medications or supplements would be helpful – as would additional extensive and long-term studies. But it seems from the evidence that rosehip is safe to take with traditional painkillers and that rosehip’s therapeutic effects also kick in pretty quickly. A daily supplement appears to offer enough of an anti-inflammatory effect leading to notable improvements in joint health in a matter of weeks.

A 2006 Danish study involving 94 adults with arthritis in their hips, knees or hands found that eight out of 10 of participants reported a ‘significant’ reduction in pain after taking a rosehip supplement daily for just three weeks. After 15 weeks of taking it, they reported not just less pain but also a reduction in joint stiffness which meant they were also less likely to reach for other painkillers.

Coming up roses

While rosehip does appear to be a low risk natural ingredient, it should be seen as part of a wider pain-relief package. It provides the perfect adjunct to other ways of managing arthritic pain: taking long soothing showers and baths, regular exercise, keeping your weight down, getting enough vitamin D and calcium. Find out more about how vitamin D can help to manage arthritis pain here.

In particular, eating a diet rich in fruit and vegetables, pulses, and anti-inflammatory nuts, seeds, olive oil and oily fish like salmon and mackerel make a big difference. The omega 3 fatty acids found in fish oils have been shown to reduce the inflammation that can lead to swelling and pain.

Not everyone is a fan of fish oils though and if you are looking for a similar anti-inflammatory effect from a plant-based source this is where rosehip comes into its own. Alternatively, you could try turmeric or the pineapple-derived bromelain. Glucosamine also remains one of the most popular joint pain supplements for its cartilage-bolstering effects and is perfect when partnered with rosehip extract

Nobody wants to be in discomfort, put up with sore joints, or have difficulty moving about freely. Fortunately, rosehip has proven to be one more weapon in the fight to reduce and manage arthritic pain.

If you’re interested in learning more about how to keep your joints healthy, head over to our advice centre for more information.

Nothing beats a healthy, balanced diet to provide all the nutrients we need. But when this isn't possible, supplements can help. This article isn't intended to replace medical advice. Please consult your healthcare professional before trying supplements or herbal medicines.

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