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Altering Pain Signals Naturally To Improve Performance


While building a strong, sound, muscular body requires hard work, the down time due to sore, inflamed joints and muscle tissue can be frustrating. However, long term use of the wrong analgesics to get back in the game can have severe consequences. While pain can be a inevitable problem after months of hard work, there are safer and more viable alternatives to there drug counterparts. One such supplement is devil’s claw, originating from South Africa.

Also known as harpagophytum procumbens, devils claw is mainly used to treat a variety of rheumatic and arthritic disturbances.  In fact, analysis of recent animal and human studies indicates that devils claw can significantly reduce the effects of several different pro-inflammatory markers. While researchers aren’t completely sure how this herb works, current data indicates that a number of natural chemicals known as iridoid glycosides are responsible for it’s mode of action. Extensively researched in Germany, data indicates that devils claw’s capabilities are comparable to cortisone and phenylbutazone, two widely used anti-inflammatory drugs. Recent studies comparing devils claw (standardized to 60mg harpagusides) to 12.5 mg a day of Vioxx for six weeks, revealed that it was as effective as Vioxx (recently removed from the market place) in reducing pain. 

The COX Story

The prefix COX is short for cyclooxygenase, a pro-inflammatory agent. Cyclooxygenase  produces of a number of different compounds known as prostanoids (prostaglandins, prostacyclin and thromboxanes).  Research has shown that by inhibiting the physiological actions of these enzymes, pain and the production of various chemicals that heighten the inflammatory response can be down-regulated.

There are currently two well known COX enzymes, COX-1, and COX-2.  Physiologically, COX-1 preserves the lining of the stomach.  However, when inflammation and pain intensifies COX-2 enzyme production increases, eating away the stomach lining.  This can increase bleeding and the development of ulcers.  While NSAIDS (aspirin, ibuprofen, etc.) turn off COX-2’s they also turn off COX-1 enzymes.

This directly relates to warnings placed on NSAIDS that they can cause unforeseen internal bleeding. The ideal situation is to turn of COX2 enzymes without interfering with the action of COX-1 enzymes to preserve the integrity of the stomach lining. Other concerns about the safety of these COX-2 inhibitors and NSAIDS center on the increased risk of heart related events such as, myocardial infraction, unstable angina, ischemic stroke, cardiac arrest and or sudden death. This is based on observational studies which examine the use of drugs in much larger populations and in different subgroups. Current studies have shown that the COX-2 inhibitor rofecoxib is associated with increasing the risk of cardiovascular events as described above occurring in less than 18 months. NSAID drugs  like ibuprofen, motrin, aleve and aspirin , also  accelerate cartilage damage, as well as pose many of the cited problems.

A Safer Alternative

Devils claw like the new COX2 drug inhibitors selectively inhibit the COX2 enzyme  without causing damage to the gastrointestinal tract. This fact was collaborated by investigators at the University of Freiburs in Germany.  Based on their study results, devils claw extract was associated with a lower risk of adverse events than treatment with synthetic analgesics. Additionally, to assess the effectiveness , safety, and tolerability of devils claw in the treatment of arthritis and other rheumatic conditions , in a single group open study of 259 patients for eight weeks , researchers at Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh, Scotland reported:

  1. That there were statistically significant improvements in patients overall pain tolerance, reduced stiffness and function of joints.
  2. A dramatic reduction in pain scores for hands, wrist, elbow, shoulder, hip, knee and back bone.
  3. That quality of  life measurements had greatly improved from original baseline scores with 60% of the patients in this study being able to either reduce and or eliminate conventional pain medications.

Based on these findings the researchers in this study concluded that devils claw is an effective and well tolerated treatment option for mild to moderate degenerative rheumatic and inflammatory conditions. Additionally, German researchers reporting in Phytotherpy Research administered 2400 mg a day of devils claw standardized to 50mg harpagoside to 75 patients with arthritis of the hip or knee. Percentages taken from the Western Ontario McMaster Universities (WOMAC) osteoarthritis index showed statistical improvements, 23.8% in pain tolerance, 22.2% for stiffness, and 23.1% improvement in physical functions.  Furthermore, percentages from a similar numerical ratings know as the Visual Analog Scale (VAS) also showed substantial reductions in pain, 25.8% decrease in actual pain, 25.2 % for average pain, 22.6% for severe pain and 24.5% score for the total pain score.

Suggested dose: 2,400 to 2,900 mgs standardized to 50-60 mgs of harpagosides divided into 2-3 equal doses daily. 

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