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Achy, Breaky Joints
By Frances AlvesWhat Causes Osteoarthritis?
How Can Osteoarthritis Be Managed?
- Traditional self-care and home treatment
- Traditional Medical treatments
- Alternative Treatment
Osteoarthritis (OA), known as degenerative joint disease, is the most common of all arthritic conditions. This so-called "wear and tear" arthritis typically affects middle-aged and older adults. Weight-bearing joints are usually affectedthe hips, the knees, and the spine, but also the finger joints.
Little is known about the exact cause of this type of arthritis. Although it is not inevitable like death and taxes, about 85 percent of Americans have some degree of OA by age 75. The most common risks are being overweight, having a family history of OA, and having a congenital defect (e.g., hip dysplasia). People who repeatedly injure their joints, such as runners who have spent 20 or so years pounding the pavement in pursuit of healthy bodies, may begin to develop OA in their knees as they move into their 40s.
OA is a condition that affects the cartilage ("gristle") in joints. In a healthy joint, the smooth, elastic cartilage that cushions the ends of our bones does not have its own blood supply. It receives oxygen and nutrients from the synovial fluid that surrounds and bathes the joints.
Over the years, cartilage can become thin, fray, split, and wear away completely. The ends of the bones at the joints then begin to grate on each other. This causes pain, stiffness, and limited joint movement. Unlike rheumatoid arthritis, there is little inflammation (i.e., swelling, redness) in the joints.
If you have arthritis, treatment you are using or considering should be aimed at relieving your pain, maintaining or improving your joint function, preventing disability, and improving your quality of life.
The hottest and some would say most controversial treatment for OA is glucosamine. This amino sugar is a naturally occurring chemical in the body that helps stimulate the production of collagen, one of the main components of cartilage.
There is increasing evidence that glucosamine relieves the OA pain in some people. Summarizing the research on this supplement as treatment, an Arthritis Foundation publication reported that more than a dozen European studies show glucosamine provided some pain relief in about half of the participants with mild to moderate OA. Chondroitin, another nutritional supplement, was included in these studies of glucosamine [Arthritis Today, 12, no. 5 (September-October 1998): 448-451].
According to Drug Research (41 1991) glucosamine is safe and non-toxic. Stomach upset and nausea have been reported as infrequent side effects.
Although glucosamine is not a "cure" for OAand neither are more traditional drugsboth alternative and mainstream medicine acknowledge that more research is needed about the role that glucosamine has in slowing or reversing cartilage degeneration. Some researchers point out that while elsewhere in the world, glucosamine is used as front-line therapy for OA, in the United States, it is not. ("Complementary/Alternative Therapies in Select Populations: Elderly Persons," in Complementary/Alternative Medicine, An Evidence-Based Approach, edited by J. Spencer and J. Jacobs. St. Louis: Mosby, 1999, 340-348).
Read my Testimony.
Boswellian serrata (Indian Frankincense), an herb used in combination with other herbs and zinc, was also shown to significantly reduce pain and disability in a small study of OA (op. cit, 403).
While Western medicine is concerned about the unregulated potency, purity, and doses of nutritional supplements and herbs for treating OA, the literature shows enthusiasm for research into their promise, particularly glucosamine.
Frances Alves, M.P.H., is a health writer and editor who has been writing for consumers for over 20 years.
Callout: The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons met and
announced that results from several published, placebo-controlled clinical
trials indicate that glucosamine is an effective treatment for arthritis.
American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons 1999 Annual Meeting Scientific
©2000 by AIM International
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