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Originally published in July-August 1999

Most folks with arthritis are overwhelmed by one prescribed medication after another: from NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, like ibuprofen), corticosteroids, and gold salts to one of the hundreds of anti-arthritis drugs currently being tested.  The list of adverse effects from NSAIDs is long, and in some cases, includes those that are very severe; the most common side effects are: nausea, indigestion, diarrhea, and peptic ulcer.

This is where nutritional arthritis therapy comes in.  Natural therapies sometimes take longer to show results, but, in the long run, they may be just as effective as conventional treatment – without the side effects.

GLUCOSAMINE SULFATE FOR SMOOTH JOINT FUNCTION

Glucosamine sulfate, along with a related compound called chondroitin sulfate, belongs to a class of compounds called glycosaminoglycans.

Glucosamine sulfate is an amino sugar that helps build more complex gel-like sugars that, in trun, are used by the body to construct connective tissue and synovial fluid (the fluid that helps joints operate smoothly).  Glucosamine sulfate may even help restore the health of joint tissues after injury, inflammation, or degeneration, according to research by G. Crolle and E. D’Este, which was published in t. e journal Current Medical Research and Opinion.  Another research, published in Current Therapeutic Research, revealed that, when 226 adults with thinning cartilage were administered oral doses of chondroitin sulfate or a placebo every day for one year, those taking the chondroitin sulfate experienced a halt in the thinning in the cartilage, and some even showed improvements in thickness compared to the placebo group.

MSM AND RELATED COMPOUNDS

MSM (methylsulfonylmethane) has recently become popular as a pain reliever for those suffering with arthritis.  MSM is related to DMSO — the topically applied substance that saw its heyday in the 1960s and 1970s.  In contrast, MSM, which is taken orally, has been shown in some research to ease the pain and inflammation of joints, yet without the reputed side effects of DMSO.

VITAMINS AND MINERALS

Optimal levels of all the essential vitamins and minerals ensure that the body has the building blocks it needs to rebuild joints and connective tissue after degeneration or injury.  Having said that, however, there are certain nutrients that are “stand-outs.”

Of the 640 osteoarthritis (of the knee) patients in one study, a higher intake of vitamin C was related to a three-fold decrease in risk of disease progression.  The benefits of vitamin C seen in both men and women, at various stages of disease severity, and in both users and non-users of supplements.

 SOOTHING ESSENTIAL FATTY ACIDS

NSAIDs work by blocking the production of inflammatory prostaglandins (hormone-like substances).  However, there are natural and side effect-free ways to favourably alter prostaglandin ratios.  Essential fatty acids (EFAs), such as EPA (from fish oil) and GLA (from evening primrose, black currant, and borage oil), increase the body’s production of the prostaglandins but suppress inflammation.

 

A review of EFAs in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis found that fish oil supplements (at doses of 2.7-3.6 g daily) lessened joint tenderness, swelling, and stiffness, according to the journal Rheumatic Diseases Clinics of North America.  Interestingly, both GLA and fish oils were reported to reduce the requirements for NSAIDs.

 EATING TO FEEL YOUR BEST

The following diet tips are useful for a broad range of arthritis patients:

  • Choose from a variety of low-fat, high-fibre wholesome foods, including whole gains, vegetables, fruits, and low-fat sources of protein.
  • Eat a balanced number of calories to maintain a healthy weight.
  • Drink plenty of water.
  • Consume saturated fats sparingly in red meat, dairy products, etc.
  • Identify and avoid foods that might cause allergic reactions (such as milk, wheat, oats, rye, corn, yeast, soy, grapefruits, shellfish, or eggs).