Q. I recently stopped taking Vioxx because of the increased risks of heart attacks and strokes associated with the drug. Are there any natural alternatives that can help with my arthritis?
A. Yes. There are numerous natural alternatives to Vioxx, as well as to other pain medications for treating arthritis. In recent months, many people have become concerned about the cardiovascular risks associated with some commonly-prescribed anti-inflammatory drugs; Vioxx has been taken off the market. Although Celebrex has not yet been pulled from the shelves, a National Cancer Institute study suggested the drug may also increase the risks for heart attacks and strokes. According to an article published on cnn.com in December, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has warned doctors to consider “alternative therapy” for patients taking Celebrex. Serious concerns have also been raised about some over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs, like naproxen (sold as Aleve).
Natural alternatives to anti-inflammatory drugs include acupuncture and herbal and nutritional therapies. A very timely study published in December 2004 in the Annals of Internal Medicine, funded by the National Institutes of Health, found that patients with osteoarthritis of the knee who received acupuncture treatments over a 14-week period had a 40 percent decrease in pain and a nearly 40 percent improvement in function. In Chinese medicine, acupuncture is used to help increase the flow of qi, thereby reducing pain and inflammation.
Many herbal medicines can help reduce the pain of osteoarthritis. Herbs that decrease the formation of inflammatory compounds, such as eicosanoids, include ginger, curcumin (derived from turmeric), and boswellia (a plant of India). Herbs that help reduce the generation of inflammatory proteins, known as cytokines, include bupleurum and rehmannia, both of which have been used for thousands of years in traditional Chinese medicine. In addition, herbs such as horsechestnut and butcher’s broom can help decrease the edema associated with inflammation. You can purchase all these herbs at your local health food store.
Nutritional supplements that can help with arthritis include fish oil and flax oil. Their omega-3 essential fatty acids help reduce pain in arthritis sufferers. When you take fish-oil or flax-oil supplements, look for cold-pressed oils, and make sure that fish oils have been assayed for heavy metals and other contaminants. The recommended daily dose is 2.6 grams of fish oil or 1 tablespoon of flax oil.
Article was originally printed in the Honolulu Advertiser, honoluluadvertiser.com