Feeling a bit creaky, achy, or stiff in the joints? You could have rheumatism, bursitis, or tendinitis, which are often mistaken for arthritis. But if you’re over the age of 50, you may be one of the 16 million Americans (mostly women) who do indeed suffer from the pain of osteoarthritis. While new drugs such as COX-2 inhibitors are giving arthritis sufferers hope for pain relief, natural supplements continue to show results in relieving the symptoms–and possibly slowing the cartilage disintegration–at the root of this ailment.
How to Take the Supplements
Start with glucosamine. To enhance it, take it with one of the other oral supplements listed, experimenting until you find the combination that works best.
Allow at least a month to see results. These supplements can be used long-term and with conventional pain relievers.
Call the doctor if joint pain is accompanied by a fever, which may signal infectious arthritis and require immediate medical attention. If pain and stiffness develop quickly, it may be a sign of rheumatoid arthritis, a potentially more serious arthritic condition.
This cartilage-building sugar compound is one of the most helpful remedies for relieving arthritis pain. It appears to slow joint damage over time, although whether it can actually reverse the disease is unknown. One recent study showed that glucosamine may be particularly useful against arthritis of the knee. And two earlier studies found that glucosamine was as effective as or more effective than ibuprofen for relief of arthritis symptoms.
Suggested dose: 500 mg 3 times a day. May be more effective on an empty stomach; take with food if irritation occurs. Appears to have none of the serious side effects common to aspirin and other NSAIDs.
The jury is out on whether chondroitin sulfate, a cartilage-building compound, works as well as glucosamine, because it may be poorly absorbed by the body. However, the combination of glucosamine and chondroitin (sold in a patented formula as Cosamine DS) has become extremely popular, and rigorous studies to prove its effectiveness are now being financed by Nutrimax, the company that makes it.
Suggested dose: 400 mg 3 times a day. Take with food to minimize digestive upset.
Methylsulfonylmethane is a newly popular sulfur compound that appears to inhibit pain impulses along nerve fibers, acting as an analgesic and anti-inflammatory. Although few controlled studies have been done in humans, MSM has eased the pain associated with osteoarthritis in many people who use it regularly.
Is MSM safe? Few studies on the supplement have been done. We asked Ronald M. Laurence, M.D., Ph.D., assistant clinical professor at UCLA School of Medicine and author of a book on MSM (The Miracle of MSM, Putnam’s, 1999).”In the thousands of patients I have treated who took 2,000 mg and more of MSM daily for many months and years, I haven’t heard of any serious complaints to date,” Dr. Laurence says. “In fact, I feel comfortable telling people that MSM is safer than water. Remember, though, MSM is a biologically active substance and can sometimes produce side effects, such as skin rash or minor gastrointestinal upset, in some people. If you’re on anticoagulants, you should check with your doctor before taking MSM, because it can occasionally have a blood-thinning effect.”
Are some forms of MSM more effective than others? Dr. Laurence replies: “Many of my arthritic patients have found that they experienced less pain when they took MSM in combination with glucosamine, and a number of companies are now adding MSM to their glucosamine formulations. I recommend taking a combination of 500 mg of MSM and 500 mg of glucosamine three times a day. Using MSM cream in addition to the oral supplement also works well for some people. Rub MSM cream on the arthritic area four or five times a day for best results. I suggest adding 1 teaspoon of MSM powder to the cream to make it even more potent.”
Suggested dose: 750 mg 3 times a day, Take with food to minimize digestive upset. If using it with glucosamine, look for a combination MSM/glucosamine product containing 500 mg of each.
This form of vitamin B3 has been shown to be particularly effective in treating knee pain. A double-blind study confirmed that it begins to work within 12 weeks.
Suggested dose: 1,000 mg 3 times a day. Take with food to minimize digestive upset. Physician monitoring is necessary during treatment; daily doses of more than 3,000 mg can cause liver damage and other serious side effects.
Capsaicin (what makes chili peppers hot) is the key ingredient in cayenne cream. It brings pain relief by creating a temporary diversionary pain that masks the real one, and it inhibits production of substance P, a chemical involved in sending pain messages to the brain.
Suggested dose: Apply topical cream to affected joints several times a day. Don’t ingest the cream. Use it topically along with any of the oral supplements. Buy cream standardized to contain 0.025PerCent to 0.075PerCent capsaicin. Initial applications may produce a burning sensation.
Laboratory studies indicate that the herb boswellia, used in the traditional medicine of India, blocks the activity of hormonelike chemicals (such as leukotrienes) and of immune cells involved in the inflammation of arthritis.
Suggested dose: 1 pill 3 times a day. Take with food to minimize digestive upset. Buy pills standardized to contain 150 mg boswellic acid.
A form of the amino acid methionine, SAMe (S-adenosylmethionine, pronounced “sammy”) has produced anti-inflammatory effects similar to ibuprofen’s and has been shown to rebuild cartilage. It can be quite expensive, however.
Suggested dose: 400 mg twice a day for two weeks, then 200 mg twice a day as maintenance. Take one hour before meals for maximal absorption. Should not be taken by those with manic-depressive illness.
Vitamins C, D, and E
A number of studies suggest that taking at least 500 mg a day of the antioxidant vitamin C or 400 IU or more of vitamins D or E may help delay or prevent osteoarthritis. More vitamin D is not always better, however: In high doses (more than 1,000 IU a day), vitamin D can sometimes be toxic.