Herbal medicine and naturopathy have a long history. Comfrey is one of those wonderful herbs that has been in use for several generations to treat various ailments. The perennial plant is grown in several countries. Temperate climatic conditions are favorable for its rapid growth. Literary evidence of this plant indicates its association with the ancient Romans and the Greeks. The people from the past used it to treat bronchial issues, wounded and fractured bones, bruises and heavy menstrual bleeding.
Even today the topical use of the plant to heal inflammation, muscle pain, joint pain, and swellings are not unknown. Carrying this forward, we will learn briefly about the causes of joint pain and elaborate on comfrey and its use, and the side effects. Let’s find out how you can achieve better health with the help of this inexpensive yet most effective herbal medicine, comfrey.
Causes of Joint Pain
The human body structure is shaped by the bones, ligaments, muscles and the skin. The joints are the areas in our body where the bones are connected with one another, such as the elbows, ankles, shoulders, knee and the hips. Joint pain and inflammation of the surrounding areas can occur due to several reasons. Self-inflicted injuries, accidents, falling from a height, diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis are common reasons for pain the in the joints. Sprain, fracture, and twisting of bones also lead to joint pain.
Comfrey is prescribed by a physician to a patient to heal wounds and inflammation of the muscles and joints. The use of comfrey leaves and root in knee pain treatments have given optimistic results, for which the research scholars, scientists, and doctors are more inclined to use it as an alternative herbal remedy for joint pain.
Benefits of Comfrey
Comfrey leaves and the roots contain vitamin A, vitamin B12, vitamin C, calcium, potassium, phosphorus, sulfur, fibers, amino acids and other natural compounds. The plant extracts also have different forms of pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PAs). Pyrrolizidine alkaloids are responsible to naturally protect the herbs from insects and herbivores.
Other than the PAs, the main ingredients present in comfrey that have medicinal properties are allantoin, mucilages, tannins, insulin, rosmarinic acid, ascorbic acid, niacin, and the essential oils. All the organic chemical ingredients in comfrey play different roles in our health.
Common comfrey or Symphytum officinale is widely used as a herbal medicine for bone injuries. Deborah Olenev, C.C.H., RSHom (NA) recommends comfrey in Homeopathy for Health. She adds that the medicinal plant is highly beneficial for mending broken bones and to relieve the pain.
Age old herbal medicine, comfrey gives remarkable results when applied topically for healing a fractured bone and osteoarthritis. Comfrey is well known for a long period that it is used as a topical agent for treating wounds and is used by many people to help with repairing broken bones and damaged tissues in a shorter period. The University of Michigan Health System (UMHS) published an article in which the health experts recommended comfrey for healing broken bones.
Dr. Vibha Singh, Department of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery, K.G. Medical University, explains the entire process of bone healing. She adds that a fractured bone can be healed rapidly with the use of comfrey. “De Materia Medica,” a book on ancient herbs and plants, written by Pedanius Dioscorides in 50 AD (approx.), gives an account of comfrey and bone healing.
Allatonin, one of the main ingredients in comfrey, promotes cell growth and heals better. In fact, the traditional use of comfrey in the past helped to heal broken bones that were difficult to cast or set. Research conducted by Celso E. Sakakura and colleagues shows that comfrey promotes bone density.
Joint Pain and Inflammation
Traditional use of comfrey, backed by scientific studies, is widely popular among health experts and medical practitioners to reduce inflammation and joint pain. As we briefly learned why and how joint pain may occur, we will also find out how comfrey can help you heal. Laslett and colleagues‘ research proved how comfrey could easily heal knee pain and inflammation.
Rosemary Gladstar, the author of a book which indicated that allatonin and mucilage in comfrey have powerful healing properties. It is used for relieving joint pain, sprain, inflammation of the muscles and ligaments.
Both allatonin and mucilage are anti-inflammatory products that reduce pain and swellings caused by an injury, accident or health problems such as degenerative arthritis and myalgia. Additionally, rosmarinic acid, another medicinal ingredient in comfrey also helps to reduce inflammation. Gracza et al. in their research article explain the benefits of rosmarinic acid.
Menopause and Vaginal Health
Dryness and irritation are two major symptoms of menopause. The vaginal walls become dry after menopause and may cause pain. To prevent vaginal dryness, external use of comfrey is recommended by the experts.
The researchers from the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Heilongjiang University of Chinese Medicine and Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine jointly worked on vaginal health in women and the role of comfrey. In their article, the researchers discussed how genital infections could be easily treated with this plant.
Application of comfrey oil to treat the patients with candida vaginitis and chronic cervicitis is considered as one of the best traditional Chinese treatment methods. The research results are also evident to prove its efficacy and lower recurrence rate.
Giannetti BM, CRM Pharmaberatung GmbH, Rheinbach, Germany and coauthors in their research article shows the results of the application of ointment with comfrey extract on 120 patients.
The study was conducted for 5 days. The patients who were suffering from acute back pain (both upper and lower back) were administered with the ointment. The result was consistent with the hypothesis and showed a significant reduction in back pain.
The lesser known benefits of comfrey have been mentioned by the University of Michigan Health System (UMHS). According to scholars from UMHS, along with other herbs marigold and chickweed, comfrey help to heal sore breast among women. Symphytum officinale is traditionally used for gastrointestinal diseases, skin ulcers, bruises, cough and conjunctivitis, and blepharitis.
Are There Any Side Effects?
Not too long ago, comfrey consumption was considered largely beneficial for gastric ulcers and all other health issues mentioned above, but several scholars have proved with the help of their studies that overuse and internal use may cause significant damage to the health.
Mei and colleagues have pointed out that comfrey can cause mutation of the cells becoming a precursor of tumors. The pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PAs), which are otherwise a result of natural defense mechanism in various plants including comfrey, are hepatotoxic.
The roots contain a higher level of PAs than the leaves. It is now well-established that use of comfrey oil, ointment, and extracts in open wounds can react with the bodily fluids and cause liver problems and liver damage.
Consolidine, intermediate, lycopsamine, echimidine, symphytine and lasiocarpine are some of the toxic PAs present in comfrey which may show adverse effects on health. Most of the herbal teas and edible products that contain should be avoided. Due to its carcinogenicity, the US Food and Drug Administration have unauthorized the edible products containing comfrey and advised the people to avoid such products.
Use of comfrey is now limited to topical use for safety reasons. The University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC) has suggested ointments, creams, and liquid with 5%-20% comfrey extracts for external use among the patients. Whereas, The University of Michigan Health System (UMHS) has strictly instructed to avoid any product for the external use that has more than 35% of comfrey extracts. The doctors have also advised avoiding application of comfrey on broken skin, and also a small amount of ointment should be used for best results.
Pain in the shoulders, knees, lower back, feet and ankle are the symptoms of an injury in the respective joints. The first step is to visit a physician and get yourself checked in the case of an injury or an accident and if you experience pain for more than two days. After the doctor finds out the actual reason for pain, you will be administered with medicine. You can also ask your physician if it is safe to use comfrey, given its vast health benefits. Combined with medical supervision backed by excellent drugs and therapies, comfrey can do wonders to heal a patient. The key to good health is following the instructions and avoid overuse.