Despite the skepticism by allopathic practitioners some modern researchers, arnica continues to be popular, especially with athletes who depend on it to get pain relief and fast recovery from sports-related strains and sprains. Mothers often keep it handy to treat their children’s minor injuries. Their trust in the benefits of this herb is backed by the ancient traditional remedies independently developed in Germany, Russia and North America.
There are several records of its use for treating wounds, fever, and various other conditions from as early as the 16th century. The Russians used it for gynecological problems and certain heart conditions. An herbal tea of arnica to ease back pain was used by the North American Cataula tribe.
Although herbal preparations of arnica for oral use had been prevalent earlier, it is now mainly used for topical applications, except in homeopathy. The main active agent helenalin in arnica has a toxic effect at higher concentrations, but it should be harmless at the infinitesimally small amount contained in homeopathic preparations. The arnica pellets may actually work like vaccines, triggering a self-healing reaction in the body.
The bioactive compound helenalin is mainly responsible for the therapeutic effect of arnica preparations. Chamissonolid and 11,13- dihydrohelenaline are two other active agents belonging to a group of biochemicals known as sesquiterpene lactones (STLs) which have specific actions at cellular level. These three STLs in arnica have been shown to have strong anti-inflammatory properties in lab studies.
Other constituents include several types of lignans and flavonoids such as astragalin, luteolin-7-glucoside, and isoquercitrin. Thymol and other thymol derivatives constitute the volatile oil component. Phenolic acids include caffeic acid, chlorogenic acid and cynarin. Coumarins such as scopoletin and umbelliferone are also present.
Anti-inflammatory– Treatment with arnica before and after a surgery or other injuries significantly reduces the inflammation that invariably follows. The STLs helenalin and dihydrohelenalin inhibits several biochemical reactions involved in the inflammatory process such as lysosomal rupture, neutrophil migration and prostaglandin synthesis.
Anticoagulant – Helenalin and, to a lesser extent, 11,13-dihydro helenalin inhibit platelet aggregation and thromboxane formation. These reactions reduce clot formation following an injury to the blood vessels and help resolve bruises faster.
Analgesic – Topical application arnica extract relieves pain due to inflammation, such as following injuries, insect bites, sprains, arthritis, and phlebitis. Helenalin and other STLs may be having an analgesic effect similar to salicylic acid besides their anti-inflammatory action.
Cholesterol lowering – Laboratory experiments in mice have shown that the STLs in Arnica can lower serum cholesterol by inhibiting lipogenesis. However, on account of the toxicity of helenalin at higher doses, oral intake of arnica extract for cholesterol control is not recommended.
Cutaneous absorption – The sesquiterpene lactones from the tincture of arnica has been found to be easily absorbed into the body within 3 three hours of topical application.
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