Susan, my 63-year-old patient from Honolulu, came to see me for pain and swelling in her knees that had become progressively worse over the past year. She experienced a grinding sensation when she bent and straightened her knees. She could no longer climb stairs or dance hula without pain.
Susan’s condition is called osteoarthritis, or degenerative arthritis. It is an inflammatory condition that affects the joints and causes erosion of the cartilage. Cartilage is essential for the smooth-gliding action of a joint as it moves through its range of motion. Osteoarthritis usually affects the knees, hips, spine, and hands. Typically, a person with osteoarthritis has inflammation due to excessive “wear and tear” of the joint.
Conventional therapy for the treatment of osteoarthritis consists primarily of analgesics and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen. These drugs decrease pain and inflammation but do not delay the progression of the disorder and can have multiple side effects when used long-term.
Glucosamine sulfate and chondroitin sulfate are very effective nutritional supplements used in the treatment of osteoarthritis. Studies indicate that these supplements are capable of decreasing inflammation and promoting formation of healthy cartilage. They also increase proteoglycan synthesis in joint cartilage; proteoglycans give cartilage its resiliency. Most preparations combine the two. Research shows that 500 mg of glucosamine sulfate three times a day and 400 mg of chondroitin sulfate three times a day are sufficient to promote the formation of healthy cartilage.
SAM-e (S-Adenosylmethionine) has recently been introduced into the United States for treating osteoarthritis and depression. Used in Europe for decades in the treatment of depression, it was found during clinical trials that patients also had a decrease in their joint inflammation and pain. A two-year study, published in the American Journal of Medicine in 1987, showed a favorable response to 400 mg of SAM-e per day for the treatment of osteoarthritis. Side effects can be gas and bloating. The most unfavorable side effect, however, is the cost – up to $2 per pill, or $4 to $6 a day.
Diet may play a role in osteoarthritis. It is recommended that patients with osteoarthritis avoid eating foods from the nightshade family – tomatoes, white potatoes, eggplant, and peppers. According to Dr. Norman Childers of Rutgers University, “people who are sensitive to the nightshade group of foods may react with painful joints or muscles or even outright arthritis.” He states that omitting these foods may bring total or partial relief of symptoms. “The person must be strict in the diet, and it may require several months of total abstinence before the benefits of the diet become apparent.” Niacinamide, vitamin C, manganese, boron, vitamin E, and vitamin D have also been reported to help decrease inflammation and promote normal joint function.
In traditional Chinese medicine, osteoarthritis is considered a condition in which there is too much cold and dampness in the joints; that is why people with arthritis have an aggravation of their symptoms when the weather turns cold and damp. Acupuncture is very effective in reducing pain and swelling in the joints. Acupuncture is usually prescribed – along with a diet consisting of cooked foods, avoidance of raw and cold foods, and the consumption of ginger (which has also been reported to contain anti-inflammatory properties) to warm up the joints.
Susan takes glucosamine sulfate and chondroitin sulfate, avoids the nightshade family, has eliminated raw and cold foods from her diet, drinks lots of ginger tea, and has done a series of acupuncture treatments to treat her osteoarthritis. After eight weeks, she experienced some improvement. After 16 weeks, she had significant improvement in the pain and swelling in her knees. She resumed her hula classes and is pain-free!
Article was originally printed in the Honolulu Advertiser, honoluluadvertiser.com.