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Alternative treatment options can be a good adjunct to medication when it comes to managing arthritis symptoms. Some of the options address physical causes of pain, but don’t forget that chronic pain is complicated.
In arthritis, tissue inflammation, bone erosion, and nerve impingement can combine to “rewire” your nervous system, making it hypersensitive. Not only can alternative treatment modalities ease pain, they also can alter the way you experience pain, making you more resilient and reducing the stress that accompanies chronic disease. However, you shouldn’t forgo conventional treatment in favor of alternative approaches, particularly in the case of rheumatoid arthritis.
The following are some dietary supplements that may help you manage your symptoms.
The Cochrane Database supports its use, reporting that glucosamine/chondroitin may reduce pain and improve physical function, while chondroitin may improve all pain slightly in the short term, improve knee pain by 20 percent, slightly improve quality of life, and slow down the narrowing of the joint space.
Side effects are rare with glucosamine/chondroitin, but if they occur they may include mild gastrointestinal upset. Glucosamine/chondroitin may interact with NSAIDS and blood thinners, such as warfarin (Coumadin), so check with your doctor about its safety.
Many clinicians recommend that patients try a three- to six-month trial of glucosamine/chondroitin. The suggested dosage is 1,500 mgs. per day, taken in three doses.
#2. Fish Oils
Fish oil supplements are popular in arthritis management due to claims that they reduce inflammation. Fish oil contains omega-3 fatty acids, including eicosapaentanoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), both of which have been shown to block inflammatory chemicals. They also lower harmful triglycerides and may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.
The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) concludes there is some evidence omega-3s from fish oil and seafood may be modestly helpful in relieving RA symptoms. A 2017 meta-analysis of 42 trials found considerable variation in the results, but 22 trials suggested that fish oil eased pain in RA. Only five trials looked at OA, and the improvements were not statistically significant.
Fish oils come from fatty fish, such as herring, mackerel, salmon, tuna, halibut, and cod. It is difficult to get enough omega-3 fatty acids in only three portions of fish, so it is recommended that patients with RA take fish oil capsules with at least 30 percent EPA/DHA.
Herbals for Arthritis Symptoms
There often is a lack of convincing evidence as to the efficacy of herbals. However, while scientific research may fail to prove that an herbal remedy works on a population level, it may be effective in an individual. Check with your pharmacist or doctor for possible interactions with conventional medications before starting any herbal remedy:
A plant related to ginger, turmeric contains a group of biologically active chemicals known as curcuminoids. Research suggests that curcuminoids may have anti-inflammatory effects, and preliminary studies have found that they may control knee pain from OA as well as the NSAID ibuprofen. However, the NCCIH concludes that there are no really strong study data supporting claims that turmeric helps to reduce inflammation. The herb may cause gastrointestinal issues if taken in large doses, and also may interact with blood thinners.
#4. Devil’s Claw
Derived from an African herb, devil’s claw is sometimes used for arthritis, gout, general muscle pain, tendonitis, and other musculoskeletal conditions. The NCCIH concludes that there is some limited evidence that devil’s claw may provide modest improvements for low back pain and OA of the spine, hip, and knee. Devil’s claw may lower blood pressure as well as interact with blood thinners and diabetes medications.
#5. Thunder God Vine
Thunder god vine is a perennial vine native to China, Japan, and Korea, and is not widely available in the United States. The NCCIH concludes that there is some evidence thunder god vine may reduce some RA symptoms. However, it comes with a range of gastrointestinal side effects, and can be toxic if not properly prepared.
#6. Gamma Linolenic Acid
Gamma linolenic acid (GLA) is an omega-6 fatty acid found in seed oils, including evening primrose, borage, and black currant. In the body, GLA may be converted into inflammation-reducing substances. The NCCIH concludes that there is some preliminary evidence that GLA is beneficial for RA, noting that more rigorous studies suggest it may relieve joint pain, stiffness, and tenderness. In some cases, GLA led to a decreased need for NSAID medication to manage arthritis pain. Since GLA thins the blood, it should not be used if you take blood thinners.
#7. Avocado-Soybean Unsaponifiables
Avocado-soybean unsaponifiables (ASU) is a natural vegetable extract made from one-third avocado oil and two-thirds soybean oil. The NCCIH points to preliminary evidence suggesting that ASU may have a modest beneficial effect on OA symptoms.
S-Adenosyl-L-methionine, or SAMe (pronounced sam-ee), is categorized as a dietary supplement in the United States but is considered a drug in much of Europe. The NCCIH concludes that results of research on SAMe for OA are mixed. In general, studies that compared SAMe with NSAIDs showed that each provided a similar degree of pain relief and improved joint function, with fewer side effects in people taking SAMe. However, other studies have shown no such benefits from SAMe.
For more information about alternative treatments for managing arthritis symptoms, purchase “Arthritis Guide to Diagnosis and Treatment” at www.UniversityHealthNews.com.