Benefits, Side Effects, and Medications

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Arnica is a genus of perennial grasses belonging to the sunflower family (Compositae). Some species of arnica , primarily A. montana, contain an anti-inflammatory compound that is believed to relieve pain, aches, and bruises when applied topically.

Arnica is native to the subalpine regions of western North America, but is also found in the Arctic regions of Europe, Asia, and North America.

Arnica plants have long, pubescent leaves and bright yellow or orange chamomile-like flowers that are two to three inches wide.

Helenalin, an ingredient believed to give arnica its anti-inflammatory effects, extremely toxic when consumed and irritating to the skin if not diluted.

Arnica is most commonly sold as an over-the-counter topical ointment, gel, cream, or homeopathic preparation (topical application or oral granules) and can be found as an extract, tincture, oral supplement, powder, aromatherapy oil, and dried. wild grass.

What is arnica used for?

Arnica is commonly used in alternative medicine to treat bruising, pain, myalgia (muscle pain), and arthralgia (joint pain). Since the plant can be toxic, it is most often used in its homeopathic form.

Manufacturers of homeopathic medicines often sell arnica as an effective treatment for:

However, only limited scientific evidence supports its use in the treatment of any disease.

This does not mean that arnica has no benefits; it's just that arnica clinical trials are almost always small, poorly designed, and often conflicting in their findings.

It is important to speak with your healthcare provider to determine if arnica is a reasonable and safe option to study alone or with other pain relievers.

Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis, often called wasting arthritis, is usually treated with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) .

Arnica advocates have long suggested that arnica has anti-inflammatory properties that make it a reasonable and safe natural alternative to NSAIDs.

In a review published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews , Australian researchers analyzed seven previously published studies on the benefits of topical drugs for osteoarthritis.

Of the drugs studied, arnica gel appears to work almost as well as Advil (ibuprofen) in reducing pain and improving joint function in people with osteoarthritis of the hands.

However, people who took Arnica Gel had more side effects compared to Advil (13% vs. 8%), with some even reporting increased stiffness and pain in their joints.

Postoperative pain and bruising

Advocates of arnica believe that it can reduce bruising and swelling after surgery when applied topically or taken as an oral supplement.

A 2016 review of research in the American Journal of Internal Medicine found A. montana to be a "valid alternative" to NSAIDs for the treatment of:

  • Postoperative pain
  • Edema (swelling)
  • Ecchymosis (hematoma)

However, the reviewers stated that the results varied significantly by formulation, dose, and study .

In contrast, another review published in Dermatologic Surgery did not find sufficient evidence to support the use of oral or topical arnica for the treatment of postoperative swelling or bruising .

Muscle pains

Myalgia (muscle pain) is associated with a wide range of medical conditions, as well as the simple overuse of muscles.

Most of the research on arnica has focused on its use in the treatment of post-exercise myalgia. Arnica has long been used in sports supplements for this purpose, although there is little evidence to support such use.

A highly subjective review of studies in the International Journal of Complementary and Alternative Medicine strongly supported the combined use of oral and topical arnica for treating muscle injuries, although the four studies included in the review found no benefit over placebo.

Possible side effects.

Arnica is known to cause side effects in herbal formulations, even when used in highly diluted topical formulations. More serious side effects can occur with the oral forms.

Topical use

In non-homeopathic preparations, arnica can cause a mild allergic reaction, especially in people with pre-existing allergies to plants in the Asteraceae family, such as ragweed , marigolds, chrysanthemums, and daisies.

Arnica can also cause temporary increases in blood pressure and heart rate, especially when used excessively or if the skin is damaged. Broken skin promotes better absorption of the active ingredient and can also cause localized tingling.

Oral use

Most homeopathic arnica remedies are extremely diluted and considered safe. However, some forms may contain detectable amounts of gelenalin, which can be dangerous to health.

When taken by mouth, a detectable amount of helenalin can cause:

  • Mouth and throat irritation.
  • Abdominal pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Threw up
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Easy bruising and bleeding
  • Fast heartbeat
  • High blood pressure

Oral preparations containing pure arnica should be avoided without exception. Not only are they more likely to cause symptoms, but they can also damage the heart and increase the risk of organ failure, coma, and death .

Contraindications and interactions.

In theory, arnica can slow blood clotting, so any non-homeopathic arnica medication should be discontinued two weeks before surgery to reduce the risk of postoperative bleeding.

Similarly, you should avoid consuming arnica if you are taking any anticoagulant (blood thinning) medications, because the combination could, in theory, increase the risk of bleeding and bruising.

These medications include:

Little is known about the safety of arnica during pregnancy. If you are pregnant or nursing, consult a healthcare professional before using arnica in any form.

Get Drug Information / Anastasia Tretyak

Selection, preparation and storage

Arnica montana is the most commonly used species for medicinal purposes, although chamissonis, A. longifolia, and A. gracilis are also sometimes used.

Most over-the-counter arnica products are sold as homeopathic remedies or are re-distilled to produce gels, salves, and extracts with little or no helenalin. The same applies to arnica sublingual powders, capsules, and granules, which typically do not contain gelenalin.

When buying arnica, look for brands that have been tested by an independent certifying body, such as:

  • United States Pharmacopeia (USP)
  • ConsumerLab
  • NSF International

This way you can be sure that the ingredients on the product label are correct and find out if helenalin is included.

You should also ensure that the name of the arnica species (for example, Arnica montana ) appears on the product label, and be wary of any product that claims to contain "pure arnica."

Never buy dried wild arnica or grow fresh arnica for tea or tonic. Such medications are impossible to dose, and your exposure to helenalin is likely to be excessive, if not dangerous.

Most arnica preparations can be stored at room temperature. As a general rule, store them in their original packaging out of direct sunlight and never use the dosage indicated on the product label. Cancel any medications that have expired.

Get the word of drug information

Since herbal remedies are not subject to the same regulatory standards that apply to pharmaceuticals, be careful when using any such product and speak to your doctor first if you are considering trying it.

Remember that even natural foods can be dangerous, cause unwanted side effects, and interact negatively with other medications or supplements you are taking.

Frequently asked questions

  • There is evidence that topical arnica can treat inflammation associated with osteoarthritis and swelling from trauma.

  • Oral arnica products have potentially toxic side effects. While some highly diluted homeopathic products may be safe, it is best to check with your doctor before taking pills, tablets, tinctures, or oils.

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