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Coping with Arthritis in Its Many Forms

Avoiding Fraud

Learning to understand their disease can also help make people less likely to fall victim to fraud. Because they have a painful, incurable condition, people with arthritis are among the prime targets for fraud and spend nearly a billion dollars annually on unproved remedies, largely diets and supplements.

A claim describing the relationship between a nutrient or dietary ingredient and a disease, such as arthritis, cannot be made on the label or in labeling of a food or dietary supplement unless the claim is authorized by FDA. In order for FDA to consider authorizing the use of a health claim, there must be significant agreement among qualified experts that the health claim is scientifically valid. As of December 1996, FDA had not authorized any health claims for a relationship between any food or dietary supplement ingredient and arthritis. Sometimes, however, food or dietary supplement products are found on the market with unauthorized claims.

"If the claim sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Talk to your doctor or other health professional," says Peggy Binzer, a consumer safety officer in FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition.

Consumers who have questions or wish to report a company for falsely labeling its products should call FDA's Office of Consumer Affairs at (301) 443-3170 from 1 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. Eastern time. Consumers who have suffered from a serious adverse effect associated with the use of a dietary supplement should report the effect to their health-care professional or to MedWatch at (1-800) FDA-1088.

Some remedies, such as vinegar and honey or copper bracelets, seem harmless. But they can become harmful if they cause people to abandon conventional therapy. Others, such as the solvent dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO), can be outright dangerous. (See "An FDA Guide to Choosing Medical Treatments," FDA Consumer, June 1995.)

It's tempting to conclude that arthritis pain gets better or worse because of what was added or eliminated from the diet the day or week before. However, gout is the only rheumatic disease known to be helped by avoiding certain foods. The unpredictable ups and downs of arthritis make it hard to establish a relationship between diet and disease. Scientists have only recently begun to study nutritional therapy for arthritis, and the American College of Rheumatology (ACR) urges continued research.

The ACR Position Statement on Diet and Arthritis advises, "Until more data are available, patients should continue to follow balanced and healthy diets, be skeptical of 'miraculous' claims and avoid elimination diets and fad nutritional practices."

Research Under Way

New treatments are likely to stem from better understanding of the underlying causes and destructive processes of the disease. Overuse, injury and obesity are contributing factors in osteoarthritis, and researchers have implicated a faulty gene in the breakdown of cartilage. Heredity plays a role in other forms of arthritis, too, increasing susceptibility in some people. Potential genetic therapy approaches are still far off, however.

WebMD Public Information from the FDA

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