What is the holistic treatment?
The Power of Prevention
Maintain a healthy weight to help prevent osteoarthritis of the knees. No matter what your current weight, losing just 5 kilos (10lb) and keeping it off for 10 years will halve the risk of arthritis affecting your knees.
If walking is part of your daily exercise programme, make sure you don’t cover the same ground every day. Varying the kind of terrain you walk on will prevent you from repeatedly stressing the same joints in the same way.
Invest in good walking shoes. The softer heels will lessen the impact of walking on your foot, ankle, leg and hip joints. Flat supportive shoes are generally considered best for knees.
Recent clinical studies have shown that Vitamin C and other antioxidants can help to reduce the risk of osteoarthritis and its progression. Antioxidants prevent bone breakdown by destroying free radicals – harmful oxygen molecules that cause tissue damage. Take 500mg of vitamin C every day.
Take zinc supplements. One long-term study of nearly 30,000 women found that those who took zinc supplements reduced their risk of rheumatoid arthritis. Taking too much zinc may cause other health risks, however, so limit your intake to one 15mg dose a day and take it with food.
Keep the joints moving
Whether it’s walking, swimming, cycling or yoga, begin a gentle exercise regime. The better your physical condition, the less pain and stiffness you’ll have. If you have arthritis in your ankle, knee or hip, you might need to walk with a stick – at least to begin with – to help stabilise the joints. If your joints are swollen and inflamed, don’t work through the pain. Instead take the day off.
Talk to your doctor or physiotherapist about how to start a weight training programme. Strong muscles will help to support your joints and absorb shock.
Glucosamine and Chondroitin sulphate
Take these supplements to reduce pain and slow down cartilage loss. Evidence suggests that this combination can be effective for people with mild to moderate arthritis. Follow the dosage directions on the label, and persevere: it may take a month or two before you begin to feel the benefits.
Take two 400mg doses of SAM-e a day. Supplementing with SAM-e, a chemical found naturally in all cells of the body, has been shown to help relieve arthritis pain by increasing blood levels of proteoglycans – molecules that seem to play a key role in preserving cartilage by helping to keep it ‘pumped up’ and well oxygenated. SAM-e also appears to reduce inflammation. Research has found the supplement as effective as anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen in fighting arthritis pain.
If you get good results with 800mg a day, reduce the dose to 400mg a day after two weeks. SAM-e has few side effects, although it can cause dyspepsia and nausea. It seems to be safe to take with most prescription and over the counter drugs, but if you are taking drugs prescribed for bipolar disorder (manic depression) or Parkinson’s disease, you should consult your doctor before taking SAM-e supplements.
Seek heat relief and cold comfort
Applying heat to a painful joint can provide significant relief. For heat sources you can use electric blankets and hand warmers, heating pads of hot packs. Warm the achy joint for 20 minutes. Simply taking a hot bath can also be soothing.
Cold treatments can work well when joints are inflamed. Wrap ice cubes in a towel or flannel and hold against the sore joint. Alternatively you can use a bag of frozen peas.
Oil your aching joints
Eat more oily fish. Many people who supplement their diets with omega-3 fatty acids – found in oily fish such as mackerel, pilchards, salmon and sardines – discover that pain and stiffness are lessened. These substances seem to discourage inflammation in the body.
You can also take the oils alone or in capsule form. Research at Cardiff University has shown that omega-3 fatty acids in cod liver oil can slow and may even reverse the destruction of cartilage that leads to osteoarthritis. The recommended dose is 2000mg of an omega-3 supplement three times a day, with meals. But check with your doctor first before taking fish oil supplements if you are taking blood thinning drugs, have high cholesterol or are diabetic.
Cayenne and other peppers
Peppers contain a strong analgesic and anti-inflammatory agent known as capsaicin. It is a substance that gives chilli peppers their ‘heat’ and is an active ingredient in some products designed for ongoing joint pain. This compound blocks a chemical in the body that acts as a pain signal. It acts as a counter-irritant: it irritates nerve endings, diverting the brain’s attention from arthritis pain. You can find capsaicin in many commercial creams and ointments for arthritic pain.
Typical dosage: a cream containing 0.25 % to 0.75% capsaicin applied daily
Caution: some people experience a slight burning of the skin with capsaicin use. If you do, try a cream with a lower % of capsaicin
The seed from this plant contains the essential fatty acid gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), which has an effect on inflammation. For this reason, the seed oil may significantly help arthritis pain, especially in cases of rheumatoid arthritis. One study showed that patients taking 12 capsules per day of evening primrose oil or 540 milligrams of GLA were able to reduce the amount of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs they were taking.
Typical dosage: up to 12 capsules per day; or ½ teaspoon of oil per day
The linolenic acid found in flaxseed oil may also be beneficial for arthritis because it alters how the body breaks down prostaglandins, chemical involved in inflammation.
Flax seed oil is loaded with the same type of omega-3s as fish oil.
Typical dosage: 2 tablespoons of oil per day in food
This root has traditionally been used in India to treat arthritis. Components of ginger such as gingerol can inhibit the production of prostoglandins possibly more effectively than the arthritis drug imdomethacin.
Research shows that ginger root helps relieve arthritis pain, probably because of its ability to increase blood circulation, and thus ferry inflammatory chemicals away from the joints.
Typical dosage: up to eight 500- to 600-milligram capsules per day; or ½ teaspoon fresh ground root per day; or 10 to 20 drops of tincture in water three times per day.
Doses of ginger higher than these should not be used by people with diabetes, heart problems or bleeding problems.
This herb from Africa has traditionally been used for most types of arthritis. The tubers contain a group of chemicals called iridoids that have anti-inflammatory activity. One clinical study showed patients with arthritis improved when taking one 500-milligram tablet of devil’s claw three times per day. Other studies conclude, however, that devil’ claw provides no relief for arthritis. It may be best to find out for yourself typical dosage: up to six 400- or 500-milligram capsules per day; or 30 drops of tincture three times per day.
Caution: do not take if you have a peptic ulcer
Most of the Eastern word has been drinking green tea for centuries, but only recently has it become the darling of medical research. Scientists now know that green tea contains compounds called polyphenols what may help relieve the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. A study from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, showed that mice given polyphenols isolated from green tea were protected from developing a disease similar to rheumatoid arthritis. Although this experiment was conducted on mice, similar results might be found in humans. Black tea may also be beneficial.
Several cups of green tea per day are safe. Because green tea extracts vary widely in concentration, follow manufacturer’s recommendations on dosage of extracts.
Typically thought of as a relief for headache, feverfew has also been used for arthritis. Although no conclusive human studies have been done, in some laboratory studies extracts of feverfew were able to stop certain processes involved in rheumatoid arthritis.
Typical dosage: up to three 300- or 400-milligram capsules per day; or two average-sized fresh leaves per day; or 15 to 30 drops of tincture per day
Caution: do not use if you are pregnant
A common Indian spice, turmeric has also been used as a treatment for arthritis. Its active ingredient, curcumim, inhibits the production of prostoglandins. This anti-inflammatory property has been confirmed in animal studies. Turmeric can be taken in food, or applied topically to the joint as a poultice to relieve pain.
Typical dosage: 250 to 500 milligrams of standardised capsules up to three times daily; or up to 1 teaspoon per day in food, or 10 to 30 drops of tincture up to three times a day
Many Native American tribes use yucca as a food, especially the fruits of this cactus-like plant. It has traditionally been used as an arthritis remedy and studies have confirmed its effectiveness. Human studies have shown that an extract of yucca reduces the swelling, pain and stiffness of arthritis, though the studies were controversial. Yucca can be used either internally or externally on the joint.
Typical dosage: up to four 490-milligram capsules per day
This gum resin is an Ayurvedic remedy for arthritis. Studies in India have documented its usefulness and products containing Boswellia are marketed there. Boswellia is sometimes mixed with turmeric and another Ayurvedic remedy, ashwaganda.
Typical dosage: up to three 400-milligram capsules per day
When fresh, not canned, this fruit contains bromelain, a compound with anti-inflammatory properties that many people find useful for arthritic conditions.
Typical dosage: three to four 40-milligram capsules per day; or simply enjoy eating more pineapple in your regular diet
Listen to the weather
Many people with arthritis find that their pain is triggered by changes in the weather. If you are one of them, it’s not just your imagination: a sudden increase in humidity and rapid drop in air pressure affect blood flow to arthritic joints. When storms are forecast, try turning on a dehumidifier to dry the air.