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Aye, there's the rub for aching muscles

Mitchell Clute

April 24, 2008

6 Min Read
Aye, there's the rub for aching muscles

Baby boomers may be the most active generation in the history of mankind. They started the running craze in the 1970s—and spearheaded the natural foods movement. But time catches up with everyone. As boomers begin turning 60 en masse, the aches and pains of athletic endeavors are joined by the aches and pains of aging.

"I just turned 61 and I'm very active," says Ed Smith, co-owner and cofounder of Herb Pharm, based in Williams, Ore. Smith had just returned from the jungles of Cambodia and was calling from Thailand when he spoke to The Natural Foods Merchandiser. "Today, people in their 40s do what people in their 20s used to do, and people in their 60s do what people in their 40s used to do. They refuse to grow old. But when you're 60 and still climbing mountains, you tend to get sorer and get injured more easily."

Natural products for strains and soreness—whether homeopathic or herbal, whether a balm, cream or oil-based lotion—tend to share certain key ingredients. "Arnica is a key herb to use for trauma, and the sooner the better," Smith says. "When somebody twists an ankle, it's like a 50-car pileup inside the skin because the injury ruptures a lot of cells. Arnica works as a deobstruant, helping to remove debris and prevent adhesions between ligaments and tendons so they don't stick together."

Another key ingredient is St. John's wort (Hypericum perforatum), which can help quell nerve pain and inflammation. "It's great when you have a damaged nerve or for any injury where the spinal cord is stretched or tweaked, like whiplash," Smith says. Herb Pharm combines arnica (Arnica montana) with St. John's wort and calendula (Calendula officinalis)—a key herb for topical injuries such as abrasions and contusions—in a base of olive oil in its Trauma oil product. "I use more than one herb because they work together," Smith says. "I don't want Mick Jagger a capella; I want to hear the Rolling Stones."

Nelsons, based in Wilmington, Mass., takes the homeopathic route with several products based around arnica. "The aging crowd is still very athletic … so they get minor strains, bumps and bruises like anybody else," says Curt Finckler, brand manager for Nelson's. In addition to standard arnica cream, the company has recently launched Arnileve.

"Arnileve contains arnica with three other active ingredients, each one chosen to help with a different type of pain relief," Finckler says. The additional ingredients include Symphytum officinale for joint and tendon injuries and Hypericum perforatum for pain and injury, especially to the back and spine. The cream is also available packed with homeopathic pillules, containing the same ingredients as the cream plus Rhus tox, or homeopathically prepared poison ivy. "Rhus tox was added to the pills to provide powerful pain relief for arthritis, tennis elbow and other ailments common to older consumers," Finckler says. "By taking the product both internally and externally, you achieve maximum effectiveness." Like most homeopathic preparations, Arnileve has a base of moisturing oils and no strong odor.

Another approach to topical pain relief is the use of full-strength—rather than homeopathic—herbal preparations. This is the approach taken by Peaceful Mountain, of Boulder, Colo. Peaceful Mountain's products are specifically formulated to address issues with the back, joints, muscles, tendons and aches due to athletic performance. "They're a modern-day poultice," says Chris Grout, vice president of sales and marketing. "What makes these topical herbal gels unique is that they're water-based and absorb very rapidly into a specific site." Each product contains arnica and a variety of other ingredients targeted to specific symptoms. "A lot of products are [touted as] a panacea," says Grout, "but we don't necessarily believe that's possible, so we target specific conditions with each product." Some of the additional ingredients include white willow (Salix alba) for pain relief; Devil's claw (Harpagophytum procumbens) for its anti-inflammatory properties; comfrey (Symphytum officinale) for its ability to promote healing; rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) for increased circulation; St. John's wort for nerve pain and inflammation; and lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) for its antispasmodic properties.

Peaceful Mountain also takes a rigorous approach to product testing and efficacy, using randomized placebo-controlled, double-blind studies for its herbal creams and gels. "We require that the products demonstrate clinical efficacy with statistical significance," Grout says. Extensive scientific study not only makes for effective products, but is also a valuable selling tool, he says. "It can give added confidence on the store level, especially when we're dealing with pharmacists who are used to more allopathic approaches to medicine."

For consumers who like that warm, tingling sensation that suggests a product is working, there are other companies formulating products with ingredients such as capsaicin (the alkaloid that gives peppers their heat) and ginger (Zingiber officinale). This is the approach taken by W.S. Badger Co. based in Gilsum, N. H.

"When capsaicin is used topically, it penetrates right to the tissue and gets into the system at a faster rate," says Jan Murphy, sales representative for Badger. "Ginger is very beneficial for circulation, so they're working in conjunction, with the ginger helping the capsaicin's action." Badger makes both a sore muscle salve and massage oil, which Murphy recommends using before athletic events such as a long-distance run or bike ride. Other ingredients in the Badger formulations include rosemary for circulation and lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus) to heal connective tissue.

"Ingredients like clove and cayenne have been used in liniments for a long time," Herb Pharm's Smith says. "Clove is what gives red Tiger Balm its heat; heat from cayenne, clove and camphor is a result of increased blood circulation to the area, and circulation is what does the healing." Herb Pharm's Liquid Lightning uses cayenne with St. John's wort and arnica, as well as wormwood (Artemisia absinthium) and rue (Ruta graveolens)—two herbal ingredients that are anticoagulants and can help especially with bruises and hematomas.

Does the aging of the baby boom generation mean increased sales for retailers? "I don't think I'd encourage anybody to take out loans to open up a new section of balms and rubs for the elderly," says Michael McGuffin, president of the American Herbal Products Association, based in Silver Springs, Md. "But I think it's to be expected that we'd see at least a marginal increase in these products as people get more achy and painy." McGuffin also points to recent television advertising for a capsaicin-based cream as an indicator that topical herbal products are gaining a toehold in the mainstream. "It was the first time I'd ever seen an herbal topical drug advertised on TV," he says.

For retailers interested in increasing sales of these products, manufacturers have a number of specific suggestions. "Our line is generally found in the topical skin care section, but we will also cross-merchandise in products for seniors and sports products," says Grout. "We provide our retailers with tons of samples for staff, as well as tester pumps for the shelf. People can try it on arthritic knuckles, go shopping and come back 20 minutes later to make a purchase because they've found it works."

"We like to talk about giving the product visibility in the store," says Murphy. "We do paperboard boxes or the tins that are very alluring and colorful, and the products themselves have whimsical, folklore-ish art." Murphy says that a company's packaging and ingredients can also be a selling point—for example, using recycled materials in packaging and food-grade ingredients in formulations is appealing for some consumers concerned with environmental and health issues.

With so many options on the shelf, boomers and other weekend warriors should have plenty of choices when the day is over and the aches begin.

Mitchell Clute is a Crestone, Colo.-based freelance writer.

Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVII/number 3/p. 66-67

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