While alternative therapies offer much to a sufferer of arthritis in
any of its forms, there is a great deal that you can also do for
yourself. A radical change of diet, a low-impact exercise regime and
the introduction of vitamin and mineral supplements into your daily
regime can have an enormous benefit, as they have for many thousands of
others before you. It is advisable to work with a qualified nutritional
therapist on any major change to your diet, or before beginning
Here we look at the key supplements that need to be part of your fight against arthritis.
Glucosamine and chondroitin
These two naturally-occurring compounds are beginning to
revolutionise alternative treatments for arthritis. Sold as nutritional
supplements, both are recognised to be of major importance in the
growth of cartilage, which covers the ends of bones in the joints and
protects them from wear.
Glucosamine is the major building block of proteoglycans, large
molecules in cartilage that give it elastic and protective properties.
Chondroitin is an even larger cartilage molecule. Taken orally, they
take only four hours to be absorbed by the joints. In lab tests, they
have increased the protective effects of cartilage and may even spur
cartilage growth. One theory is that they work by improving the quality
of the synovial fluid between the joints.
The evidence for their effect in patients is impressive. So far,
there have been over 14 trials, most showing a significant reduction in
pain and joint stiffness. Virtually all the research has been done on
osteoarthitis, the most common form of the disease.
Bromelain, an enzyme obtained from the pineapple plant (Ananas
comosus), can be effective in reducing the amount of inflammation
associated with RA and the dose of steroids needed to manage it.
Twenty-five patients with stage II or III RA were able to taper their
steroid dosages down to small maintenance doses of enteric-coated
bromelain. Joint swelling was also substantially reduced in most
Cetyl myristoleate (CMO)
CMO, or cetyl myristoleate, is one of the great new hopes for most
types of arthritis, other than osteoarthritis. It is meant to be
particularly beneficial in treating cases of rheumatoid arthritis and
in the fairly rare condition, psoriatic arthritis.
CMO is made up of fatty acids and oils, which can be derived from
fish or animal fat. Some of the CMO products are derivatives of bovine
tallow. CMO is a component of the unsaturated fatty acid
cis-9-tetradecanoic acid, more commonly known as myristoleic acid. It
is a part of our bodies, present in sebum, the oily secretion of our
skin. It even covers our bodies as newborns and so eases our passage
out into the world.
Rex Newnham, a nutritionist based in North Yorkshire, has discovered
that areas with low soil boron—such as Jamaica, Mauritius and Fiji—have
levels of arthritis as high as 70 per cent. But in areas with high soil
boron, there is little or no arthritis.
Boron is a little-known trace mineral that could improve—even cure—both
rheumatoid and osteoarthritis, osteoporosis and other bone diseases, he
This controversial view is held by a small group of scientists,
mainly in Australia and America, and has been championed by Newnham, a
New Zealand-born nutritionist and naturopath.
Both B5 (pantothenic acid) and B3 (niacinamide) have been shown to
be beneficial at doses of 25 mg. They should be taken within a balanced
B complex and should not be taken at night. Niacinamide has been shown
to reduce inflammation and increase joint flexibility, and may help
sufferers reduce the amount of first-line anti-inflammatories they need
Niacinamide, taken in large doses, has long been advocated as a
treatment for osteoarthritis. In one study, 663 patients receiving
niacinamide had a greater range of movement, compared with controls. In
another, 72 patients were given either niacinamide or a placebo for 12
weeks. The niacinamide group reported a 29 per cent improvement against
a 10 per cent worsening of symptoms among the placebo group. The
supplement also reduced the use of NSAIDs by 13 per cent, and joint
mobility improved by 4.5 degrees.
Essential fatty acids (EFAs)
Top of the list are fish oil supplements such as cod liver oil, best
taken during the winter months, and fish oil during the warmer periods
of the year. Although initially sceptical about fish oils,
rheumatologists have taken the claims seriously enough to do proper
clinical trials. Pooling the data, their unequivocal conclusion was
that taking fish oil supplements for three months “significantly”
reduced joint pain and stiffness—with no side-effects. Regular
consumption of grilled or baked fish seems to have the same effects.
The key beneficial ingredient in fish is thought to be the omega-3
fatty acids. However, cod liver oil should not be taken by anyone on
blood-thinning medication such as warfarin, or by diabetics as it can
raise blood sugar levels.
Omega-3 fatty acids may help to reduce morning stiffness, as can a
diet that is high in polyunsaturated fats and low in saturated fat.
Unlike diet and vitamins, fish oil has been scientifically tested
against drug therapy. One study, carried out by L Skoldtsam at Kalmar
Hospital in Sweden, concluded that 10 g of fish oil a day had similar
anti-inflammatory qualities to NSAIDs. Another, by C S Lau of Ninewells
Hospital, Dundee, discovered in a double-blind placebo study that
patients on the fish oil could reduce their NSAID requirements without
suffering any deterioration.
Evening primose oil (gamma-linolenic acid) is another dietary oil
found by most studies to be helpful in arthritis. The optimal dose is
about 500 mg/day of GLA (equal to 6 g of evening primrose oil). There’s
evidence that olive oil, too, relieves pain. It may also prevent
arthritis if consumed regularly.
Blackcurrant seed oil, rich in gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) and
alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), can help alleviate inflammation in patients
with rheumatoid arthritis. But the problem is that sufferers need to
take several large capsules a day of whatever supplement they choose,
and this puts some off the regime.
Zinc has proven beneficial in a research trial at the Division of
Rheumatology, University of Washington. Twenty-four patients with
chronic rheumatoid arthritis were given 50 mg of zinc three times a day
or a placebo for 12 weeks. Those who took zinc had less joint swelling,
less morning stiffness and could walk further than those after placebo.
The trial was also repeated for psoriatic arthritis and again showed
positive results. The Institute for Optimum Nutrition recommends
supplementing 10 to 15 mg of zinc every day, as well as eating a
Vitamins A, C and E
The Institute of Optimum Nutrition recommends that arthritis sufferers
should consider taking combined antioxidants, vitamins C, E and
selenium. Daily doses of vitamin C can be as high as 3000 mg, and 400
IUs of Vitamin E and 200 mcg of selenium could also be taken every day
for optimum effect, the Institute recommends.
Vitamin C, which is necessary for collagen synthesis, is often
deficient in the elderly. In one study, comparing osteoarthritus
patients given vitamin C, beta carotene and vitamin E against controls,
those taking high doses of vitamin C reduced the rate in which
cartilage was lost by 70 per cent.
Vitamin E is also essential to collagen repair. Studies have
shown that vitamin E inhibits the enzymes which break down collagen; in
one clinical trial, osteoarthritis patients given 600 IU of vitamin E
For those of us living in northern Europe with its shorter summers
and grayer climes, vitamin D supplements could be an important, and
overlooked, part of the anti-arthritis regime.
Normally we would expect to get sufficient vitamin D from the sun
when it reacts with our skin. But poor weather plus scares about skin
cancer mean that many of us get too little of it.
Sometimes a vitamin D deficiency mirrors typical arthritis symptoms,
such as knee aches and pains, aching legs, bone tenderness, weakness of
muscles, and an inability to walk properly. Sometimes, believes
nutritionist Rex Newnham, a vitamin D deficiency is mistaken for
arthritis, particularly among old people in nursing homes, who see the
sun too infrequently, and among vegetarians, whose diet can be
deficient in vitamin D. Interestingly, dark-skinned people living in
northern Europe are also more likely to suffer a vitamin D deficiency.
Benefits of vitamin D include muscle strengthening, and creation of
healthy bone. Apart from sunlight, which is the best source of vitamin
D, you can also get the vitamin from oily fish, or from cod liver oil,
from eggs and dairy produce.
MSM and sulphur tablets had the late Hollywood film star James
Coburn as its greatest advocate. He claimed that his rheumatoid
arthritis, which had him crippled in pain and unable to work, was cured
by taking MSM sulphur tablets.
Methylsulphonyl-methane, or MSM, is a source of bioavailable sulphur,
which is found in the tissues and fluids of all plants, animals and
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