Arthritis means inflammation of the joints. It is a debilitating disease that results in swelling, stiffness, and pain due to the destruction of cartilage, bone, and/or synovial fluid around the joints. Causes of arthritis are varied, and can be due to wear and tear, infections, autoimmune conditions, or other conditions. There are different types of arthritis, including osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
We often think that arthritis is a symptom of us getting older, but arthritis can strike at any time. I have known people in their 20s who suffer from arthritis, although it is more typical to see arthritis in older adults.
Arthritis is not believed to be curable, and treatment is typically focused on alleviating symptoms.
Essential oils from the pine family or the Pineaceae family, can provide great support for arthritis. I will tell you about these oils, but first start by sharing some information about joint development and health.
How Our Joints Develop
The developmental changes in joints occur in parallel to the changes in bones. Joint development starts from the mesenchyme, which is a tissue that is found when we are embryos. Starting at 8 weeks old, synovial joints develop and synovial fluid secretes within them. They resemble the adult form they will take later in life. As we grow as children and become more active, our joints also activate and strengthen. This means that the more active we are as children, the thicker the capsules and ligaments and the larger the bone support we develop.
If we do not have any injuries, our joints continue to operate in a healthy fashion until middle age. As a part of aging, ligaments and tendons shorten and weaken, intervertebral discs may herniate and osteoarthritis may develop.
Problems That Affect Our Joints
Once a joint problem has taken place, such as osteoarthritis, a condition where more cartilage is destroyed than what is considered normal wear and tear of the joints, it is very hard to heal. This is because joints have very little vascularity, which limits the blood supply and nutrients to the joints and makes it harder for our bodies to repair them.
Arthritis are inflammatory or degenerative diseases in the joints. There are over 100 types of arthritis, and some can be treated, and others cannot. If they are a result of a bacterial infection, they can be treated with antibiotics. One example is Lyme disease caused by bacteria transmitted through tick bites. But with other types of arthritis, such as osteoarthritis described earlier and rheumatoid arthritis, which are chronic conditions, treatment is difficult. Treatment is focused on relieving symptoms and involves substances that provide analgesic, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant action, as well as aids to stimulate circulation and help the body eliminate toxins.
How to Keep Our Joints Healthy
Activity is the best prevention to keeping joints in a healthy state. Just like a we should keep active as children to develop stronger joints, we should keep active as adults to maintain them in a strong condition. Exercising our joints helps maintain them at their full range of motion. It keeps cartilages well-nourished and strengthens the muscles that keep the joints stable.
However, excessive or abusive exercise can cause more wear and tear than the body can handle and in fact create arthritis or other conditions. One of the best types of exercises for joint health is swimming, since water buoyancy relieves stress from the joints from day to day weight bearing activities.
Pineaceae EO’s that Support Arthritis
The Pineaceae family includes conifer plants, such as cedars, firs, hemlocks, pines, and spruces. They are most commonly found in the Northern Hemisphere, which has temperate climates.
Essential oils (EOs) extracted from the pine family are typically good for respiratory conditions, congestion, anxiety, stress, and arthritis. They have analgesic, antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, strengthening, and tonic properties.
Pine family EOs have been effective in alleviating pain caused by arthritic conditions, and in increasing circulation to arthritic areas. These EO’s include Atlas cedarwood or Cedrus atlantica; silver fir or Abies alba; balsam fir or Abies balsamea; Siberian fir or Abies siberica; Eastern hemlock or Tsuga canadensis; pine or Pinus sylvestris; black spruce or Picea mariana; white spruce or Picea alba; and Norway spruce Picea excelsa(Battaglia, 2003; Hawkins, 2000).
These EOs can be used in topical applications through skin care products, compresses, massages, and ointments. They can also be added to baths, and inhaled directly or through the help of diffusers, vaporizers, and steam inhalation.
Evidence from Extracts of Pineaceae species
Studies conducted on extracts from Pineaceae plants show evidence of their effectiveness in supporting arthritis.
In one study, flavangenol, a constituent extracted from French maritime pine bark Pinus maritime, was found to reduce swelling and improve symptoms of arthritis in rats. The rats were fed the extract over 4-weeks, and after that period, they saw a reduction in inflammation markers related to arthritis. Flavangenol is a type of polyphenol, and this, along with other extracts from French maritime pine, have anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory activity, which is believed to be useful in the alleviating arthritis symptoms (Tsubata, Takagaki, Hirano, Iwatani, & Abe, 2011).
In addition, flavangenol and other extracts obtained from French maritime pine reduced swelling caused by osteoarthritis in a study conducted on humans (Jancinová, Perecko, Nosál, Harmatha, Smidrkal, & Drábiková, 2012).
Another study looked at a type of resveratrol extracted from the leaves and needles of several Pinusand Alnusspecies. This resveratrol-like constituent called pinosylvin, was found to have antifungal, antibacterial, anticancer, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory activity, the last two of which help in symptoms of arthritis. The study used synthetic pinosylvin, which was fed to arthritic rats, as well as studied in vitro on human blood cells. The study determined pinosylvin had an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effect on the rats and on the human blood samples, and was considered as a possible support for arthritis treatment (Jancinováet al., 2012).
A fourth study looked at the constituents of three pine species, namely Pinus roxburghii, Pinus wallichiana, and Pinus gerardiana. Constituents from these species had antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antimicrobial action, and could be useful in supporting rheumatoid arthritis and other conditions that benefit from reduction of oxidative damage and inflammation (Sharma, Goyal, & Sharma, 2016).
EOs from the Pineaceae family need to be studied further in humans to determine their effectiveness in supporting arthritis and related conditions. However, evidence of the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory action of extracts from the pine family can prove to be the key to arthritis support.
Parts of this article were originally published in the December 2017 issue of AromaCulture Magazine. It has been revised and adapted for use here with permission from the publisher.
Battaglia, S. (2003). The Complete Guide to Aromatherapy (2nded.). Brisbane, Australia: The International Centre of Holistic Aromatherapy.
Hawkins, B. (2000). Aromatherapy 201, Clinical Aromatherapy.West Coast Institute of Aromatherapy.
Jancinová, V., Perecko, T., Nosál, R., Harmatha, J., Smidrkal, J., & Drábiková, K. (2012). The natural stilbenoid pinosylvin and activated neutrophils: effects on oxidative burst, protein kinase C, apoptosis and efficiency in adjuvant arthritis. Acta Pharmacologica Sinica, 33(10), 1285-1292. doi:10.1038/aps.2012.77
Marieb, E.T., & Hoehn, K. (2013). Human Anatomy & Physiology (9thed.). Glenview, IL: Pearson Education.
Sharma, A., Goyal, R., & Sharma. L. (2016). Potential biological efficacy of Pinus plant species against oxidative, inflammatory and microbial disorders. BMC Complementary Alternative Medicine, 16(35). doi:10.1186/s12906-016-1011-6
Tsubata, M., Takagaki, K., Hirano, S., Iwatani, K, & Abe, C. (2011). Effects of flavangenol, an extract of French maritime pine bark on collagen-induced arthritis in rats. Journal of Nutritional Science and Vitaminology, 57(3), 251-257.http://doi.org/10.3177/jnsv.57.251