7 best supplements to beat arthritis
The word arthritis comes from the Greek arthro meaning ‘joint’ and itis meaning ‘inflammation’. Arthritis affects about 3.1 million Australians, and its incidence is increasing at around 15 percent each year. The official explanation for this is that the population is getting older and arthritis is an age-related disease. However, Stephen Eddey, Principal of Health Schools Australia, disagrees. “Not all old people get arthritis and children also get it, so it is not necessarily an ageing disease,” he explains. “I no longer have arthritis – and I have seen this occur many times.”
Conventional medical management of arthritis involves non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as aspirin, ibuprofen, and indomethacin, or COX-2 inhibitors, which are selective NSAIDs. If they don’t work, steroids or disease-modifying drugs that suppress the immune system may be used. There are also natural remedies that are excellent alternatives, with the bonus that they have fewer side effects.
This is an amino sugar found naturally in the body which plays a vital role in the formation and repair of cartilage and other connective tissue. It has been studied extensively, with over 20 randomised controlled trials involving 2,500-plus people showing it is of benefit. One of the largest, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, proved that the combination of glucosamine and chondroitin is more effective in treating moderate to severe osteoarthritis (OA) knee pain than Celebrex, a COX-2 NSAID.
Note: The glucosamine in supplements is usually derived from prawn shells, so anyone with a seafood allergy should investigate vegetarian glucosamine, which is made from maize starch.
Another natural substance found in the body, this draws water and nutrients into cartilage, keeping it spongy and healthy. Chondroitin supplements are made from cow or shark cartilage. According to a study in the Journal of Arthroscopic and Related Surgery, while the three supplements glucosamine sulphate, glucosamine hydrochloride and chondroitin sulphate have, individually, been inconsistent in decreasing OA pain and improving joint function, when glucosamine and chondroitin are combined, they are significantly more effective. As a bonus, the two have an excellent safety profile, with the study authors recommending that they “serve a role as an initial treatment modality for OA patients.”
3. Fish oil
Its omega-3 fatty acids encourage the body to produce natural inflammation-suppressing compounds. Many scholarly papers back up its benefits, so why isn’t it more widely used? Researchers from the Royal Adelaide Hospital’s Rheumatology Unit, writing in the Proceedings of the Nutrition Society, comment, “Barriers to fish oil’s use include the pharmaceutical dominance of RA therapies and the perception that fish oil has relatively modest effects. However, when collateral benefits of fish oil are included within efficacy, the argument for its adjunctive use in RA is strong.” In plain language – it works!
This powdered spice is made from the root of the plant Curcuma longa, and its distinctive yellow pigment, called curcumin, is a powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant. Clinical research published in American Family Physician shows that curcumin improves symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis (RA).
S-adenosylmethionine (SAMe, for short), is made in the liver from methionine, an amino acid found in protein-rich foods. Research into its use for OA has been consistently positive, with a review and meta-analysis conducted by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, as well as several clinical trials, showing it is comparable to NSAIDs in reducing OA pain.
Better known as Indian frankincense, a herb used medicinally for centuries, this contains boswellic acids which interfere with the production of inflammatory leukotrienes (hormone-like compounds that cause pain). A review in the British Medical Journal has found that boswellia extracts are effective for a range of inflammatory conditions, including arthritis, asthma, and Crohn’s disease.
The hip, or fruit, of a rose forms once the petals drop; it is extremely high in vitamin C and has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. One product, Rosehip Vital, contains a patented galactolipid compound that works as a natural anti-inflammatory by modifying the immune system. Many peer-reviewed scientific article support the effectiveness of rosehip for arthritis pain – read more at www.rosehipvital.com.au.
Since arthritis in all its forms is an autoimmune disease, it’s important to avoid foods that react negatively on the immune system. Eddey’s philosophy is simple: “We should think of ourselves as hunter-gatherers and eat what our bodies are designed to eat. Hunter-gatherers would be able to find fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds, meat, and fish – there were no pasta plants or bread trees back then, so stick to the basics.”
Therapies to try
Acupuncture relieves symptoms and improves physical function and quality of life in RA patients, says a study in the Annals of Nuclear Medicine. And, according to Dr Billy Chow, head of the Chiropractors Association of Australia’s national public education committee, chiropractic care can improve joint mobility, which in turn delays the onset of degenerative conditions like OA. Studies also reinforce the benefits of chiropractic care in the ongoing management of osteoarthritis, assisting mobility and easing pain.
Note: Seek professional advice; some remedies are not suitable for pregnant women, while others have blood-thinning properties.