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Alternative Treatments for Arthritis

Experts look at the pros and cons of alternative arthritis therapies.

Helpful, Healthy Supplements?

Glucosamine and chondroitin are popular nutritional supplements that have been widely studied for their effectiveness in treating arthritis. While many people with arthritis and doctors stand by the supplements, the studies have not been all that kind. The latest research -- an analysis of 10 studies -- showed that glucosamine and chondroitin don't do much to relieve the pain associated with hip or knee OA, or modify the disease process once it has started.

This is not the first study to cast doubt on the effectiveness of these two supplements. The Glucosamine/Chondroitin Arthritis Intervention Trial (GAIT) also showed that these supplements did not improve knee OA pain. A follow-up arm showed that they did not do any better than placebo in slowing loss of cartilage that occurs in knee OA.  That said, a smaller subset of 354 GAIT participants with moderate-to-severe OA pain did get some relief with the combined supplements. (These findings need to be confirmed in larger studies.)

Pisetsky says that it is OK to give these supplements a try.

"If you want to take them and perceive a benefit, that's fine, but tell your doctor," he says. All herbs and supplements may have unknown and potentially dangerous interactions with medication. If you're taking medication, it's best to check with your doctor before trying any supplements.

First, Do No Harm

Many alternative remedies -- such as copper bracelets or magnets -- may not have much, if any, scientific evidence to back them up or disprove them. Indeed, Kerry Ludlam, a spokeswoman for the Arthritis Foundation, reports that there is a lack of research both for and against the usefulness of alternative therapies.

"There's a void of information," she says. Since many of the alternative therapies cited for the relief of arthritis are considered harmless (other than perhaps to your pocketbook), many doctors say that if you want to try them, go ahead.

Pisetsky agrees."There is no clear evidence that copper bracelets work, so at best they are unproven remedies, but they are not that  expensive and so they can be tried," Pisetsky says.

Alternative Medicine and Arthritis: The Bottom Line

The real issue is if you turn to unproven alternative remedies for your arthritis in place conventional therapies with proven track records, Pisetsky says.

Before reaching for supplements or putting on a copper bracelet, find out what is causing your joint pain, he says. "Try conventional therapies first, but at the end of the day, if you decide to give an alternative remedy a try, do it intelligently,” he says.

"We don't want to have people go out and miss useful therapy because they think these alternatives don't have side effects."

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Reviewed on October 04, 2010

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