Article examines the herb Arnica including effectiveness of its healing properties as an alternative herbal medicine.
Arnica - A genus with about 30 perennial, herbaceous species, belonging to the sunflower family (Asteraceae). Applied to the skin as a cream, ointment, liniment, salve, or tincture, arnica has been used to soothe muscle aches, reduce inflammation, and heal wounds. Several species, such as Arnica montana and Arnica chamissonis, contain helenalin, a sesquiterpene lactone that is a major ingredient in anti-inflammatory preparations (used mostly for bruises). According to The Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, clinical trials "suggest benefits of arnica for osteoarthritis and reduction in postoperative swelling and pain." Arnica is available in topical creams and ointments. It is most commonly found as a tincture, which can also be used as the base for compresses and poultices. Arnica oil may also be used in topical preparations. A number of homeopathic remedies are available in pill, topical, or injectable forms.
The scientific or medical name for arnica is, 'Arnica Montana.' If taken by mouth, the herb has the potential to be poisonous and has caused a number of serious reactions, to include allergies and at least one death.
Arnica contains organic chemicals including flavonoid glycosides and sesquiterpene lactones that are claimed to reduce redness, swelling, and pain associated with inflammation. The herb is also believed to assist with healing bacterial infections. Arnica is promoted for use on a person's skin to help heal and soothe:
Arnica is not commonly recommended for use internally because it may irritate a person's stomach and might cause vomiting, nosebleeds, and diarrhea. Some homeopathic practitioners claim that a highly diluted solution may be taken by mouth to treat colds, low-grade fevers, seasickness, bronchitis, epilepsy, and throat or mouth inflammation. Germany has apparently approved arnica only for use on a person's skin to treat injury and effects of accidents, insect bites, and inflammation of the throat or mouth. It is considered to be unsafe for internal use. Arnica is also an ingredient in some shampoos and herbal skin care products. Arnica is used in the following forms:
Arnica may be soaked with water in order to make it into a, 'poultice,' or soft and moist mass of herbs that is placed directly on a person's skin. Ointments made of arnica commonly contain up to 15% arnica oil or 25% of a, 'tincture,' or arnica. Inflammation and blistering might be more likely if very strong solutions are used on a person's skin. Homeopathic liquids often contain little or no actual arnica and are placed under the tongue. Homeopathic tablets also reportedly contain little or no detectable amounts of arnica, although the amount might vary.
Herbal medicines made from the roots and flowers of arnica have been popular for hundreds of years. It has been said that Goethe, the German philosopher and poet, drank arnica tea in order to relieve chest pains. In some instances, people may have smoked arnica like tobacco. In more recent times, homeopathic and topical uses have been emphasized, largely due to the potential for harm if arnica is taken by mouth.
The Evidence Behind Arnica
The scientific evidence available does not support the majority of claims made about the effectiveness of arnica. A review in the Archives of Surgery from 1998 examined eight controlled human trials of arnica, finding that arnica did not work any better at treating injuries than a placebo used for comparison. The authors found the studies they reviewed had serious flaws in the methods used to evaluate the effectiveness of arnica as well. They concluded that the human trials did not reveal whether arnica was helpful or beneficial. One randomized clinical trial actually discovered that arnica seemed to increase pain while causing more swelling than the placebo in people who had their wisdom teeth removed.
A small study in Miami in 2002 looked at arnica gel to find out if it would reduce bruising after laser surgery to the face. No difference in bruising was noticed between people who used plain gel and people who used arnica gel.
A study performed in the year 2003 involving sixty-two people tested homeopathic arnica with the goal of finding out whether it reduced bruising and pain in those having surgery for carpal tunnel syndrome. There were no differences in bruising or pain between people in the group who used arnica and those who received a placebo.
In a double-blind and randomized study in Britain involving thirty-seven people, the study examined homeopathic arnica in ointment and tablet form to find out whether it helped people having surgery for carpal tunnel syndrome. A week after surgery there were no differences in wrist swelling, pain, or grip strength between the group that received arnica and the one that received a placebo. Two weeks after surgery, the group that received arnica reported somewhat less pain than the other group, yet there was still no difference in swelling or grip strength. Additional studies are required to discover whether this one difference is due to chance, or whether it is due to the effects of arnica use.
The year 2006 found German researchers analyzing three studies on the use of arnica after knee surgery. Homeopathic arnica was administered before and after surgery in all of the studies. There were no significant differences in swelling after surgery between those who received arnica and those who received a placebo in two out of three of the studies.
In 2007, a controlled study examined homeopathic arnica in people who had their tonsils removed. One group received arnica while the other received a placebo. The people involved were surveyed afterward and 111 out of 190 people returned their questionnaires. Those who received arnica reported slightly lower pain levels than those who received placebo's. Yet there was no difference in the amount of pain medication they required, the amount of time before they returned to work, or the number of visits they made to their doctors afterward. There was also no difference between the groups in regards to infection or bleeding. A similar outcome was presented in 2010 involving people who received a mixture of arnica along with another homeopathic remedy after heart valve surgery. There was no difference between those who received a placebo and those who received homeopathic arnica in relation to pain, fever, blood loss, or lab results.
An assessment of toxicology completed in the year 2001 concluded that there was not enough safety information concerning arnica to support its use in cosmetic products. One study in 1994 discovered that some of the chemicals extracted from arnica has the ability to kill lung and colon cancer cells growing in laboratory dishes. No follow-up studies in animals or humans have since been published, potentially due to the side effects that may happen if arnica is taken internally.
A number of laboratory studies have suggested that arnica might reduce the activity of specific types of immune system cells. It is important to note that more research in animals and humans would be needed to discover whether the effect is helpful or harmful to people with cancer or other forms of diseases.
Potential Complications or Problems with Arnica Use
Small and single doses of arnica are considered to be safe to use on a person's skin. Repeated use of arnica on the skin may cause:
Use of highly concentrated arnica on a person's skin may increase the risk of irritation. Using the herb on skin that is broken or on mucous membranes can irritate and increase the risk of reactions that are more serious.
Internal use of arnica is not recommended because it might cause diarrhea, vomiting, rapid heartbeat, internal bleeding, nervousness, muscle weakness, or even coma. At least one death due to arnica use has been reported. Arnica may reduce the effectiveness of medications for high blood pressure while increasing the risk of bleeding in those who take blood-thinning medications. People who take medication that affects their heart's rhythm or function might experience more serious effects from using arnica.
People who are allergic to arnica might experience itching, a runny nose, shortness of breath or even shock. Those who have allergies to other members of the plant family, 'Asteraceae,' such as echinacea, sunflowers, chamomile, marigolds, or ragweed might be more likely to be allergic to arnica. The effects of arnica on women who are pregnant are not well known. Women who are pregnant or breast-feeding should not use arnica. Depending upon this type of treatment alone and delaying or avoiding conventional medical care for cancer can have serious health consequences.
Arnica flowers have been used for reducing the swelling and pain of bruises, sprains, muscle/joint problems, and insect bites. I
Arnica was used extensively in European folk medicine and alcoholic tinctures were produced by early North American settlers to treat sore throats, as a febrifuge, and to improve circulation.
Applied to the skin as a cream, ointment, liniment, salve, or tincture, arnica has been used to soothe muscle aches, reduce inflammation, and heal wounds.