Arthritis – should I take a supplement?
Arthritis is a name given to a range of conditions that affect the bones. The arthritis that you get as you age: aches and pains and creaking bones is called osteoarthritis. Most people over the age of 70 suffer from this to a degree, depending on the wear and tear on their bones from their work, lifestyle or sporting activities.
When a bone meets another bone, such as in a joint, friction and rubbing can wear away the cartilage that acts as a cushion to prevent the bones grating against each other. When the cartilage is worn away the bones start wearing away each other, causing pain, swelling and further joint damage. This often causes the affected joints to become enlarged or swollen, hot and inflamed.
Most people take painkillers called anti-inflammatories which help to relieve the swelling and pain of this joint disease. Many are available over the counter, as well as on prescription from your doctor, but need to be taken regularly to have an effect. They do not affect the condition or prevent it developing, but can help to prevent the joints becoming more damaged and painful.
Recently, more people have been taking supplements to help treat and prevent the pain and joint damage of osteoarthritis. Their use is still not proven in all cases, but many patients say they feel a difference when they stop taking the supplements.
Fish oils that contain omega-3 fatty acids have been said to be helpful in reducing inflammation in inflamed joints, decreasing the need for pain relieving medicines.
Capsaicin containing creams and ointments can be applied to relieve the pain and swelling of osteoarthritis affected joints. This is the substance that occurs in capsicum, or bell peppers, and is reported to have a direct effect on joint swelling, as well as soothing by heating the joint, as it is related to the chilli.
Glucosamine is a naturally occurring substance found in some shellfish, so should definitely not be taken by those that have an allergy to shellfish. Clinical trials have shown that glucosamine is helpful in regenerating cartilage in knee joints if taken in the right dose for a reasonable period of time. If after three months of 1500mg per day there has been no improvement then it is unlikely to improve joint function, and should be discontinued.
Chondroitin and glucosamine are often combined together in supplements for joint conditions. Chondroitin is poorly absorbed compared to glucosamine and the evidence for this supplement is not yet as clear as the evidence for glucosamine, but reports of the combination being helpful remain in the literature.
There are many supplements available that are reported to help with osteoarthritis and painful joints. You community pharmacist will be able to advise you as to the supplements that you could try to see if your pain and inflammation could be relieved. Always seek advice before starting on any dietary supplement, and ensure that you continue to take any medications that your doctor has prescribed. If you have doubts and concerns about arthritis, talk to your local pharmacist.
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