Arthritis Pain: Which Supplement is Right for You?
“My hands and wrists thumped with pain all the time.” “I had joint inflammation so bad that I couldn’t dress myself.” “I had stiff hands, and my feet hurt, especially in the morning.”
Does this sound like you?
In our fast paced world, joint pain is more and more common. Whether it stems from arthritis, a sports injury, or wear and tear from a lifetime of use, joint pain can be debilitating. It prevents you from doing the activities you love, and even from functioning normally every day.
Many options are available for treating arthritis and joint pain. Each has pros and cons. Here are some considerations in picking the best treatment for your arthritis pain.
Options in treating arthritis pain
To alleviate arthritis pain, many people turn to drugs, either over-the-counter pain killers such as aspirin, or stronger anti-inflammatory drugs prescribed by a doctor, such as steroids.
Most of these prescription and non-prescription drugs temporarily mask the pain, and don’t treat the root causes. Many also cause side effects such as gastrointestinal bleeding or ulcers when used over time.
Web MD presents this Arthritis Drug Overview. You can click any of the links to learn more, or click here:
Other options include herbal supplements and enzymes. A benefit of supplements is that they are more natural substances with fewer side effects.
1. Over- the-counter pain relief drugs
Advil, Tylenol, Aleve, Motirin: You may have an array of these popular pain relievers stashed in your home medicine cabinet, yet be confused about the differences. Which is best for you, and are they safe to take?
Over the counter pain relief comes in two main types: NSAIDS, or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, and Tylenol (acetaminophen), an anti-inflammatory agent that eases pain in a different way from NSAIDs.
Of all the options, most people take NSAIDS for pain flares. These include Aspirin (including Bufferin, the buffered version), and Excedrin, a version that comes with caffeine. Other NSAIDS include Ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB) and Naproxen (Aleve).
NSAIDs work by blocking enzymes in the body that help make pain-signaling chemicals. When these enzymes are blocked, you feel less pain.
NSAIDS long term risks
Many people use NSAIDs on a regular basis to relieve joint and arthritis pain, because they are easy to obtain and relatively inexpensive.
However, they do have risks. While the occasional NSAID for a headache can provide quick relief without harm, “Many people assume that because these drugs are sold over the counter they are completely safe,” says Elliott Antman, MD, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Woman’s Hospital in Boston. “But they can also have consequences that are important to understand.”1
According to Harvard Health Publications, “Regular use of an NSAID has been linked to an increased risk of heart disease. All NSAIDs can be hard on the stomach, causing ulcers or gastrointestinal bleeding. These problems tend to emerge only after long-term or heavy use.” 2
Acetaminophen is easier on the stomach than NSAIDs, but there are reports of people developing liver problems even after taking small to moderate amounts of acetaminophen for long periods of time.3
The bottom line is to use NSAIDs with caution. They all increase the risk of serious side effects, including stomach ulcers, gastrointestinal bleeding, kidney failure, heart attacks, and strokes. Don’t take them for long periods of time without consulting a doctor.4
2. Glucosamine/Chondroitin Products
You’ve probably seen these popular supplements advertised on TV or in print ads, touted as the natural solution to joint pain. So what are they, and how do they work?
Glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate are part of normal cartilage, which is tissue that cushions joint spaces to absorb stress during movement.
Glucosamine is an amino sugar that the body produces and distributes in cartilage and other connective tissue, and chondroitin sulfate is a complex carbohydrate that helps cartilage retain water.
Glucosamine is a natural substance from shellfish. Chondroitin comes from natural sources such as shark or bovine cartilage, or is manufactured in synthetic forms.
Glucosamine and chondroitin are available in tablets, capsules, powders, and liquids. There are few if any side effects, but people with shellfish allergies can have allergic reactions. Check with your doctor before taking this or any other supplement.
Conflicting evidence on chondroitin/glucosamine
Major studies at the NIH, National Center for Complimentary and Integrative Health show conflicting results.
“In general, research on chondroitin has not shown it to be helpful for pain from knee or hip osteoarthritis. Some studies found evidence that chondroitin might help, but the improvements may be too small to make a difference to patients. There is little evidence that glucosamine has beneficial effects on joint structure.”4
The American College of Rheumatology (ACR) has recommended that people with knee or hip osteoarthritis not use glucosamine or chondroitin.
3. Wobenzym ®
Wobenzym ® is a concentrated enzyme compound. These proteolytic enzymes are biological catalysts that support the body’s metabolic processes, including immunity and healing.
Wobenzym ® is said to help inflammation from arthritis, and swelling and pain in the joints after sports injuries, as well as support joint flexibility and mobility.
“The results of various studies (placebo-controlled and comparisons with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) in patients with rheumatic diseases suggest that oral therapy with proteolytic enzymes produces certain analgesic and anti-inflammatory effects. However, the results are often inconsistent. Nevertheless, in the light of preclinical and experimental data as well as therapeutic experience, the application of enzyme therapy seems plausible in carefully chosen patients with rheumatic disorders.”5
4. Turmeric /Curcumin Products
Turmeric comes from the root of the Curcuma longa plant, in the ginger family. It has been used in both Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine as an anti-inflammatory and to treat a wide variety of aches and pains.
Curcumin is the primary pharmacological agent in turmeric. It is known for its ability to reduce pain and inflammation, and has proven health effects comparable to over-the-counter anti-inflammatory agents as well as some prescription medications, without the side effects of many synthetic drugs. However, absorption is a problem. Evidence from numerous studies reveals that curcumin has poor absorption, biodistribution, metabolism, and bioavailability. 7 In animal studies the anti-inflammatory effect takes 7-21 days, so this is not something to be used for occasional pain.
In Vitro (ie, in a cell culture), the most powerful aspect of curcumin may be its ability to control inflammation. “A 2004 study published in the journal Oncogene found that curcumins were effective alternatives to the drugs aspirin, ibuprofen, sulindac, phenylbutazone, naproxen, indomethacin, diclofenac, dexamethasone, celecoxib, and tamoxifen in exerting anti-inflammatory and anti-proliferative activity against tumor cells.”6 However, in vivo (in humans) manufacturers have trouble creating Curcumin products that are absorbed well. With animal studies, curcumin that is injected or given through IV still take 7-21 days to reduce inflammation.
As well, “taking large amounts of turmeric for long periods of time may cause stomach upset and, in extreme cases, ulcers. People who have gallstones or obstruction of the bile passages should talk to their doctor before taking turmeric.” 8
5. Dr H REJOINTTM
Dr H REJOINTTM is a blend of 5 traditional herbs that work synergistically. The active ingredients are Boswellia Serrata, Horsetail, Stinging Nettle, Garlic, Celery, as well as Vitamin B1.
The blend is formulated to target a sequence of steps to reduce inflammation before it causes damage. Because of the source of the ingredients, as well as the balanced & synergy of the combination, the formula targets two critical steps in normalizing inflammation—TNF-alpha, and NF-Kappa B. As a result, there is a downstream reduction of signal molecules (e.g., IL-1-beta, iNOS, LOX and COX enzymes, etc.) that damage joints, connective tissue, and cause pain, swelling, reduced mobility, redness, etc. The formula is absorbed well, acts quickly and the effect lasts a long time because of the nature of these herbs.
Here is an overview of the ingredients:
Boswellia, also known as Frankincense, is an herbal extract from the Boswellia serrata tree. Resin made from boswellia extract has been used for centuries in Asian and African medicine to treat chronic inflammatory illnesses. Studies show that boswellia reduces inflammation and may be useful in treating osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis (RA).9
Horsetail is a plant that goes back three hundred million years. Its name arose from the resemblance to a horse’s tail. Horsetail is high in silica, which helps the body store more calcium so that it is available to repair bones, collagen and other body tissues.10 The chemicals in horsetail may have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. 11
Stinging Nettle has a long medicinal history. It has been used for hundreds of years to treat painful muscles and joints, eczema, arthritis, gout, and anemia.
In medieval Europe, it was used as a diuretic and to treat joint pain. 12
Garlic, from the allium family, contains a compound that may help with arthritis. “This compound may have some effect in limiting cartilage-damaging enzymes,” says rheumatologist Scott Zashin, MD, clinical professor at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School in Dallas, and author of Natural Arthritis Treatment.