So -called 'worn-out' joints have reached pandemic levels in the Western world. An estimated 10 per cent of the world's population over the age of 60 currently displays osteoarthritis symptoms. According to the National Health Interview Survey in 2011, more than 50 million people in the US reported having been diagnosed with some form of arthritis, including some 300,000 children.
The situation is no better in Britain, where unofficial estimates suggest that nine out of every 10 people will suffer from it in some form before they die.
In fact, arthritis isn't an actual disease, but an umbrella term that describes a collection of symptoms—inflammation of one or more joints in the body—with many potential causes.
The typical arthritis patient is likely to be offered a giant arsenal of drugs which don't control the disease adequately in many patients and with side-effects as debilitating as the condition they purport to treat.
If you're an arthritis sufferer, you're likely to be told that nothing can be done for you other than to take a painkiller and wait until you're a candidate for joint replacement surgery.
But you don't have to suffer in silence while your arthritis gets progressively worse. WDDTY has identified 24 alternatives and supplements with very solid scientific evidence of success in reversing the symptoms—and sometimes even the cause itself—of inflamed joints.
In this traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) technique, blockages or excesses of life energy, or qi, are balanced by inserting thin needles into acupuncture points that run along meridians within the body. It is widely used for arthritis because of its known analgesic effect.
Dramatic results were reported by Danish doctors in patients whose osteoarthritis of the knee was so severe that they were scheduled for surgery. Astonishingly for such advanced cases, monthly acupuncture was found to relieve as much as 80 per cent of the pain.1
Similar benefits were found by doctors at the Princess Margaret Hospital in Swindon, Wiltshire, when they studied a group of patients with advanced osteoarthritis of the hip. Six half-hour acupuncture sessions significantly eased their pain and improved their mobility for at least eight weeks after treatment.2
One group of 90 patients suffering from knee osteoarthritis, with an average age of 71 years and all down for joint replacement surgery, was given acupuncture once a week for a month and then once every six weeks. All of them reported a dramatic reduction in pain and stiffness, and improvement in mobility—in fact, the improvements were so dramatic that none of them needed surgery after all. Of this group of people, 31 were still having regular acupuncture sessions two years later.3
Research has shown that individually prescribed homeopathic remedies can help with arthritis, and some may even enhance the effect of conventional treatments.4
A homeopathic approach to arthritis is holistic, which means that it doesn't just treat arthritis symptoms, but treats the whole person and the underlying causes of the disorder, including physical, emotional and social conditions that might be contributing to susceptibility and illness.
Homeopathic prescriptions are all natural and highly individualized for each person's given condition and set of symptoms. For such individualized treatment, you should, of course, consult a qualified homeopathic doctor, although some important general remedies are often recommended for the treatment of arthritis (see box, right).
Popular homeopathic treatments for arthritis
The following are the treatments most commonly used to treat particular forms of arthritis.
Benzoic Acid: used to treat gout-like conditions and pain from deposits of uric acid
Bryonia Alba: suitable for pain with inflammation made worse by movement, but eased by pressure and rest
Calcarea Carbonica: often prescribed for arthritic knees, especially in people who are overweight and who complain that the condition is worse when they're cold
Colchicum Autumnale: for arthritis pain made worse by exercise, or even mental effort, and made better by warmth and rest
Guaiacum: given for gout and joint abscesses when pain is eased by cold
Hypericum Perforatum: highly effective for reducing nerve pain due to rheumatoid arthritis
Ledum Palustre: often used for gout and rheumatism, and for symptoms made better by application of ice or cold packs
Rhus Tox: for conditions where initial movement is painful and made better by continuous motion
Paloondo: this plant from Mexico and Southern California was once used by the Aztecs for rheumatoid arthritis conditions, and has proved useful for RA at homeopathic potencies.
Homeopathy for gout
For natural pain relief from gout, try the following homeopathic remedies.
Aconitum Napellus: for sudden burning pain and attacks that come after shock or injury
Belladonna: for intense, throbbing pain
Bryonia Alba: for pain that's made worse by motion, but gets better with pressure and heat
Colchicum Autumnale: especially good if there's nausea associated with attacks
Ledum Palustre: for joints that are mottled, purple and swollen; the usual dose is three to five pellets of 12X to 30C potency, taken every one to four hours until symptoms improve.
3) Electromagnetic therapies
In laboratory tests, electromagnetic fields (EMFs) have been shown to stimulate the growth of both bone and cartilage.5
In one clinical study, people with osteoarthritis of the knee were given 48-minute sessions of either extremely low-frequency EMFs to the knee for two weeks or a placebo treatment. The results were very clear-cut: 46 per cent of patients receiving the real treatment found their pain levels were reduced compared with 8 per cent with the sham procedure.6
Although the evidence is still relatively sparse, a 2013 review of the available data confirmed that EMF therapy "may provide moderate benefit for osteoarthritis sufferers in terms of pain relief".7
Pulsed EMF generators—which include low-power, wearable devices designed for virtually continuous use as well as high-power machines meant to be used several times a day—may be able to help osteoarthritis sufferers by apparently increasing blood flow to areas exposed to the EMFs and also by having a positive effect on pain.8
By combining slow deliberate movements, meditation and regulated breathing, qigong supposedly enhances the flow of qi (vital energy) in the body, with
the specific goal of producing health and longevity.
In one study, 91 per cent of patients with late-stage complex regional pain syndrome type 1 reported pain relief with qigong compared with 36 per cent of patients given sham qigong.9
In fact, a review of randomized clinical trials (the 'gold standard' of tests) showed that qigong had a "significant effect" compared with conventional care in alleviating pain.10
Pineapple (Ananas comosus) has been used for centuries in Central and South America to treat indigestion and reduce inflammation. Today, its enzyme bromelain is showing promise for a range of conditions, including arthritis.11
A proteolytic enzyme (it digests protein) plus a powerful anti-inflammatory, analgesic, antimicrobial and immune-boosting agent, bromelain may work better than most non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) for reducing pain and improving joint function.
In a double-blind randomized study of 90 osteoarthritis patients, a supplement containing bromelain (90 mg), along with the pancreatic enzyme trypsin (48 mg) and the bioflavonoid rutin (100 mg), was compared with the NSAID diclofenac (50 mg). After six weeks, the results showed that the enzyme supplement was just as effective as diclofenac for improving pain, joint stiffness and physical function—while the supplement was also better tolerated.12
Other evidence suggests that bromelain may be useful for rheumatoid arthritis too. In a small, uncontrolled study, bromelain was given to 29 patients with arthritic joint swelling (25 of whom had rheumatoid arthritis) for a period of three to 13 months. When added to the patients' steroid therapy, bromelain resulted in a significant or complete reduction of soft-tissue swelling in 21 of the patients.13
Suggested daily dosage: 250-750 mg two or three times a day, although the typical dosage is 500-1,000 mg up to 2,000 mg
6) Black cumin
Constituents in the oil and seeds of black cumin (Nigella sativa)—in particular, thymoquinone—have shown potent anti-inflammatory effects in the laboratory. In one study, 40 women with rheumatoid arthritis were given a placebo for a month followed by a month of 500 mg of N. sativa oil capsules twice a day and then, again, another month's worth of a placebo. Disease activity, the number of swollen joints and morning stiffness all improved, often markedly, during the month that N. sativa was given.14
Suggested daily dosage: 1 tsp of black cumin seed oil with meals
This yellow pigment, a natural phenolic compound derived from the turmeric plant (Curcuma longa), has long been used to treat joint inflammation in Ayurvedic medicine, the traditional system of medicine in India, because of its ability to halt cartilage destruction and reduce inflammation. In fact, in more than 50 clinical studies, curcumin has been shown to have potent anti-inflammatory actions.
In one report, patients with mild-to-moderate knee osteoarthritis taking curcumin (1,500 mg/day in three divided doses) for six weeks experienced significant improvements in pain and physical mobility compared with patients given a placebo—with no major side-effects.15
Suggested daily dosage: 400-800 mg
This traditional herbal remedy, known scientifically as Zingiber officinale, has properties similar to those of NSAIDs, including the ability to inhibit several genes involved in the pathway that leads to chronic inflammation.16
Suggested daily dosage: 2-4 g of fresh ginger juice, extract or tea, or rub ginger oil directly onto a painful joint, or make a warm poultice or compress of fresh ginger root and apply it to any painful areas
In an eight-week trial, this standardized combination of reduced iso-alpha-acids from hops, rosemary extract and oleanolic acid significantly relieved pain (by 40-50 per cent) in patients with rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis or fibromyalgia.17
Suggested daily dosage: 440 mg three times a day for four weeks, followed by 880 mg twice a day for a further four weeks
An extract of French maritime pine bark, Pycnogenol reduced the pain and stiffness of mild osteoarthritis in one study. Those taking Pycnogenol were able to reduce their use of painkillers and carry out more of their everyday activities.18
Suggested daily dosage: as directed on product packaging or by a practitioner
11) Rosehip powder and frankincense
Rosehip powder, derived from the fruit of the climbing wild rose called dog-rose (Rosa canina), has been shown to reduce symptoms of knee and hip osteoarthritis, including pain, stiffness and disability, as well as the overall severity of symptoms and the need for 'rescue medicine'.19 When a herbal formula including frankincense (Boswellia serrata) was tested in osteoarthritis patients in a double-blind trial, it showed highly significant effects on pain and joint mobility.20 The most recent study showed that patients including the herb formulation in their conventional regime for 12 weeks were able to significantly extend their walking distance on a treadmill, and also reduce their need for drugs and medical attention.21
12) Devil's claw
One study in a review of five randomized controlled trials showed that devil's claw (Harpagophytum procumbens or H. radix), when used as either a powder (containing 60 mg of the active constituent harpagoside) or a liquid extract (containing 50-60 mg of harpagoside), was effective for relieving osteoarthritis of the spine, hip and knee, and chronic lower-back pain.22
Suggested daily dosage: 750 mg (at least 3 per cent harpagoside) three times a day (or 9 g of crude plant material) for at least two to three months
WARNING: Devil's claw can interfere with diabetes medications, blood thinners and other prescription drugs.
Although Ayurveda, the traditional system of healthcare in India, offers many remedies for osteoarthritis, one of the key ingredients in any arthritis medicine is guggul, a resin from the herb Commiphora wightii. According to one study, patients taking guggul significantly improved in pain and mobility after just one month.23
Suggested daily dosage: 500 mg with food
14) Traditional Chinese herbs
In a randomized clinical study, two formulas of instant herbal granules—Shu Guan Wen Jing and Shu Guan Qing Luo—were reported to 'cure' over 50 per cent of rheumatoid arthritis (RA)patients with no side-effects.24
Another herbal medicine, Lei gong teng (thunder god vine or 'three-wing nut'; Tripterygium wilfordii Hook F), works against RA by inhibiting proinflammatory agents in the body, such as tumour necrosis factor (TNF)-alpha.
Suggested daily dosage: 180-360 mg, as directed by an experienced practitioner
A herbal remedy made from Yucca schidigera, a plant native to Mexico and the American Southwest, has also been shown to be helpful in easing the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis.26
According to folk medicine, yucca extracts have anti-arthritic and anti-inflammatory effects largely because they're a potent source of steroidal saponins, which have powerful anti-parasitic actions.
Some researchers believe that the herb works by suppressing intestinal bugs that play a role in inflammation of the joints, as seen in rheumatoid arthritis. Yucca also contains polyphenols, including resveratrol, which themselves are anti-inflammatory.26
16) Cayenne cream
Also called 'capsaicin' cream, this extract of cayenne pepper can ease many types of chronic pain when regularly applied to the skin. The spice comes from dried hot peppers and alleviates pain by depleting the body's supply of substance P, a chemical component of nerve cells that transmit pain signals to the brain.
In one study, a capsaicin plaster was significantly better than a placebo in patients with chronic low-back pain.27 Research has also shown that capsaicin cream, applied four times a day, reduced pain and tenderness by up to 40 per cent in people with osteoarthritis of the hands.28
17) Willow bark
Willow bark (Salix alba), which is chemically related to aspirin, appears to provide short-term relief for patients with low-back pain at standardized daily doses of 120 mg or 240 mg of salicin.29
18) Glucosamine and chondroitin
These two naturally occurring compounds are of major importance in assisting the growth of cartilage, the spongy material that covers the ends of bones in joints and protects them from wear.
Glucosamine is the major building block of proteoglycans, the large molecules in cartilage that give it its elastic and protective properties, maintaining joint lubrication and flexibility by trapping water in the cartilage matrix. It works by stopping the breakdown of proteoglycans and by rebuilding damaged cartilage. Clinical trials show that it appears to be a natural anti-inflammatory with a genuine effect on the disease itself.
In one Belgian trial, patients with osteoarthritis of the knee were given either 1,500 mg/day of glucosamine or a placebo for three years. While the placebo group experienced the predictable deterioration of their joints, the glucosamine group's joints remained intact, with a corresponding improvement in pain and joint mobility, and no significant side-effects.30
In another study, patients with osteoarthritis given 500 mg three times a day of glucosamine sulphate had a significantly greater reduction in symptoms compared with those given a placebo—73 per cent vs 41 per cent, respectively. A sample of cartilage from the placebo group, looked at by electron microscopy, showed typical evidence of osteoarthritis, whereas samples from the treated patients looked more like healthy cartilage.31
Chondroitin, an even larger cartilage molecule, helps to maintain joint fluidity while slowing cartilage destruction and helping with its repair. It can help to reduce cartilage loss in as little as six months after starting supplements.32 It's often recommended that chondroitin be taken in combination with glucosamine. One theory is that both these agents work by improving the quality of the synovium (the membrane that makes synovial fluid) that lines the spaces within joints.33
When 54 trials involving more than 16,000 patients were pooled together, glucosamine and chondroitin, either alone or together, were shown to be just as effective as celecoxib, one of the major COX-2 inhibitor painkillers used by arthritis patients, although only the supplement combo significantly improved joint function, with a marked improvement in the knee joint space-narrowing commonly seen with the condition.34
Suggested daily dosages: up to 3,200 mg of glucosamine sulphate and up to 3,600 mg of chondroitin, taken for at least three months to see any improvement
19) Collagen hydrolysate
A review of seven studies of oral collagen hydrolysate, which contains all the amino acids needed to build connective tissue, showed that it was successful in the treatment of patients with osteoarthritis or other joint disorders.35 Other lab studies suggest it might also halt its progression.36
Suggested daily dosage: up to 1,200 mg
CH-Alpha is a registered product, the main active ingredients of which are hydrolyzed collagen, extracts of Zingiber officinale (ginger) root, Boswellia serrata, Rosa canina fruit (rosehip) and vitamin C. It comes in oral and gel applications. The gel contains Arnica montana and sunflower seed oil as well.
In one study, 73 competition-level athletes at Penn State University in Pennsylvania taking a liquid formulation (10 g) of CH-Alpha daily for 24 weeks showed significant improvements in joint pain and mobility.37
21) Hyaluronic acid
When given as a supplement, this fluid carbohydrate—and another of the building blocks of cartilage—can decrease the production of enzymes that damage healthy cartilage tissue and interfere with pain signals. In one study, those with osteoarthritis of the knee taking daily supplements of a natural extract (60 per cent hyaluronic acid) for eight weeks had less pain and greater overall improvement in function.38 When injected directly into the knee joint, patients reported significant improvements in pain and function.39
Suggested daily dosage: 40 mg
22) MSM (methylsulphonylmethane)
A source of bioavailable sulphur found in the tissues and fluids of all plants, animals and humans, MSM can reduce pain and swelling, and stop the destruction of joints by scavenging the free radicals that cause inflammation. It's been shown to reduce pain and improve function when taken orally for at least 12 weeks.40
Suggested daily dosage: up to 1,200 mg in divided doses
23) SAMe (S-adenosylmethionine)
This naturally occurring compound present in virtually every tissue and fluid in the body is known to be a powerful anti-inflammatory. Besides reducing pain, it can improve joint function and ease stiffness.41 Double-blind trials show that SAMe (1,200 mg/day) reduces pain, stiffness and swelling in osteoarthritis sufferers better than a placebo, and has the same effectiveness as painkilling drugs like ibuprofen and naproxen.42
SAMe appears to stimulate the production of cartilage and, although researchers don't know exactly why, it may even reduce inflammation, increase cartilage synthesis and survival, and boost the production of antioxidants.43
Suggested daily dosage: Up to 1,200 mg in divided doses
24) Avocado/soybean unsaponifiable (ASU) oils
These special oil mixtures can promote cartilage repair and reduce circulating levels of proinflammatory cytokines, so improving joint function, while reducing pain as well as the need to take NSAIDs.44
Excerpted from the WDDTY's latest book: Arthritis: Drug-Free Alternatives to Prevent and Reverse Arthritis, Lynne McTaggart, ed. (Hay House, £9.99), a complete guide to overcoming arthritis without drugs or surgery