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Arthritis Fighters: Gluscosamine, Chondroitin, Boswellin and Curcumin

Millions of Americans suffer from bone and joint problems ranging from osteoporosis to arthritis, and even though they were once considered inevitable markers of old age, these disorders are now considered serious health problems. “The public has very little understanding about arthritis,” says Dr. John Klippel, medical director for the Arthritis Foundation. “Many people associate arthritis with the process of aging; they assume aches and pains are an inevitable part of aging, when in fact it is not a natural part of aging.”

A 2002 survey done by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that arthritis and other chronic joint problems are far more widespread than estimated just five years ago, affecting one in three U.S. adults, or 69.9 million people. The numbers were 63 percent higher than a 1997 estimate that showed about one in five U.S. adults were affected. There are several possible reasons for the dramatic increase: baby boomers are aging, the survey was probably more thorough, more people are seeing their doctors for chronic joint and bone problems, and doctors are becoming more acutely aware of the vast array of joint and bone problems.

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In fact, according to Ellen Kamhi, a member of the Panel of Traditional Medicine at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center in New York, and co-author of Arthritis: An Alternative Medicine Definitive Guide (Celestial Arts, 1998), doctors now recognize more than 100 types of arthritis and refer to it as an aggregate of illnesses stemming from problems that range from obesity to heredity. Added stress placed on the joints from overexertion, poor diet and lifestyle contribute to the problem, which rears its ugly head as joint pain, stiffness, and inflammation.

The good news is that unlike aspirin and other nonsteroidal, anti-inflammatory drugs commonly prescribed for arthritis, natural remedies do more than mask painful symptoms … and without any side effects. People using glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate have reported a dramatic reduction in pain and a huge increase in joint mobility, sometimes in a few weeks. Even more dramatic, X-rays show that arthritis damage can actually be reversed.1 And the scientific evidence showing that these two nutrients are effective in combating osteoarthritis continues to build. Nine medical centers around the country are currently participating in the National Institutes of Health (NIH) four-year study— the biggest study ever on glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate—that is targeted at the treatment of osteoarthritis of the knee. Results of the NIH study are expected in March 2005, and based on past studies we expect the outcome will be extremely positive.

While it’s great news that gluscosamine and chondroitin sulfate are finally receiving the attention they deserve, you should be aware of the other supplements that assist in rebuilding cartilage and have powerful anti-inflammatory effects. Dozens of scientific studies show that methyl-donors and anti-inflammatory botanicals such as Boswellin and curcumin also alleviate arthritis. This confirms what nutritional scientists and thousands of supplement users have been saying for years:

Natural supplements enable you to prevent, improve, and even reverse the debilitating effects of arthritis without dangerous drugs or surgery.

Here are the five most powerful arthritis fighters, which, when taken together, provide your best protection against arthritis and other joint problems:

Arthritis Fighter #1
Glucosamine rebuilds your body’s natural shock absorbers

First used in the United States to treat arthritis-like symptoms in horses and other animals, glucosamine continues to make headlines as scientific evidence mounts that it is a powerful anti-arthritic. New double-blind medical studies confirm that it not only reduces the symptoms of arthritis, but can also stop the disease dead in its tracks, and may even repair some of the damage that has already occurred.23

Glucosamine sulfate is the same substance that is naturally produced by your body and enables you to build new cartilage—the gel-like material that lines your joints and acts as a natural shock absorber. Unfortunately, as you age, you lose the ability to manufacture sufficient amounts of glucosamine, leading to stiffness of the joints and eventually to full-blown arthritis.

Glucosamine combats arthritis by stimulating the manufacture of glucosamino-glycans, a natural lubricant and shock absorber which enables your joints to move smoothly and painlessly.4 Glucosamine also promotes incorporation of sulfur into cartilage, increasing its strength and durability.

Proven to reduce pain and inflammation

A recent study done at King’s College in London, and published in March, 2002, in the British Journal of Community Nursing, compared the effectiveness of glucosamine with ibuprofen for relief of joint pain. The study found that glucosamine can be used as an alternative to anti-inflammatory drugs and analgesics or as a useful adjunct to standard analgesic therapy. The study indicated that glucosamine’s pain-relieving effects might be due to its cartilage-rebuilding properties, which is a significant bonus you certainly don’t get with simple analgesics.5

It’s important to note that ibuprofen and other NSAIDs appear to only treat the symptoms of arthritis, not its cause. Also, NSAIDs carry an increased risk of side effects including gastrointestinal complaints and bleeding. Furthermore, there is an indication that NSAIDs may increase the progression of arthritis. In contrast, glucosamine actually repairs damaged joints, in effect reversing degenerative arthritis.23 The longer glucosamine is used, the more dramatic and long-lasting the improvement.

Glucosamine helps pain associated with sports injuries

One friend of mine, a black belt in karate, who broke several fingers when he was in his mid-twenties says that glucosamine has had a profound impact on his life. Although his fingers healed completely, by the time he was 35, he was showing early symptoms of arthritis of the fingers.

“When my fingers started getting stiffer and stiffer in my thirties, I first tried taking aspirin and Tylenol. For a few weeks it helped, but then I had to use higher and higher dosages. The stiffness still returned. Even with aspirin, the problem got so bad in colder months that I sometimes couldn’t even make a fist, which is a major problem if you practice martial arts.

“Then I heard about glucosamine and chondroitin and tried them. The improvement was dramatic and apparently permanent. So long as I keep taking my glucosamine/chondroitin, there’s no more stiffness. My hip flexibility also improved. Even though I’m now over 45, I can still do a full split. I also don’t get the stomach aches I often got from aspirin.”

Arthritis Fighter #2
Chondroitin Sulfate reduces inflammation and more

Chondroitin sulfate is a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory derived from cartilage. Chondroitin compounds are naturally manufactured by your body, and are essential for normal joint function. As you age, however, your body produces less and less. You can solve the problem with chondroitin supplements. Chondroitin sulfate improves joint function in a variety of ways, including increasing your body’s synthesis of cartilage, improving joint lubrication, reducing free radicals which can damage cartilage, and removing blockages in blood vessels that support joints.

Several new studies recently published in scientific journals confirm the effectiveness of glucosamine and chondroitin.

Patients experience less pain and discomfort

1) Probably the most important study performed on glucosamine, so far, was published in the January 2001 issue of the Lancet. According to the Lancet study, scientists at the University of Liege, Belgium, examined the effect of glucosamine on 212 people with arthritic knees over three years. Half were given glucosamine sulfate pills once a day; the other half were given a placebo.

Researchers found that patients who took glucosamine sulfate improved 20-25%, reporting much less pain and discomfort. On the other hand, the placebo group experienced a slight worsening of symptoms. The researchers also compared knee X-rays for the two groups at the beginning of the study, after one year, and then after three years. They found that glucosamine prevented knee joints from narrowing, ultimately stopping arthritis in its tracks.

Patients assigned to glucosamine experienced significant improvements in pain and disability that were sustained for three years of the study, whereas the scores among the placebo group worsened.1

Jean-Yves Reginster, M.D., Ph.D., who was a member of the scientific group that conducted the Lancet study, says, “For the first time, we have shown that a compound may be able to at least slow down the progression of osteoarthritis.”6

Counteracts spinal disc degeneration

2) Although most studies have been done on osteoarthritis of the knee, there has been little investigation into the effects of glucosamine and chondroitin on spinal disc degeneration. A two year study done at the Netherlands Cancer Institute in Amsterdam and recently published in BMC Complementary Alternative Medicine, is particularly important because it suggests that long-term glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate intake may counteract spinal disc degeneration, particularly at an early stage. The researchers found that glucosamine and chondroitin are bioavailable to cartilage chondrocytes (cartilage-building cells), and may stimulate the biosynthesis and inhibit the breakdown of proteoglycans (a building block of cartilage within the joint space).7

Efficacious and safe in animal and human clinical trials

3) An article written by researchers at the Division of Arthritis Surgery, Department of Orthopedic Surgery, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, and published in the Journal of Arthroplasty, April 2003, reported that because of the abundant clinical evidence showing the efficacy and safety of glucosamine and chondroitin in both animal and human clinical trials, they deserve prominent recognition as a nonsurgical treatment of osteoarthritis.8

Highly effective for osteoarthritis of the knee

4) Members of the faculty of Medicine, at the University of Liege, Liege, Belgium, did exhaustive research of randomized, placebo-controlled clinical trials published or performed between January 1980 and March 2002 that assessed the efficacy of oral glucosamine or chondroitin on knee osteoarthrtis. Their results showed that glucosamine and chondroitin were highly effective and safe in ameliorating joint space narrowing, and pain and mobility.9

Make sure you’re getting the best product available

5) Researchers at Johns Hopkins University recently published an article in Foot and Ankle Clinics discussing the compelling evidence of the near universal finding of safety and efficacy of glucosamine and chondroitin. They also emphasized that when looking for a glucosamine/chondroitin supplement, it’s important to take into account the reputation of the manufacturer to make sure you’re getting the best product available.10

Arthritis Fighter #3
Boswellin

Used for centuries as a powerful anti-inflammatory

Boswellin is a derivative of the Boswellia serrata tree that grows in India. It’s also known as Boswellia or “Indian frankincense,” and has been used for centuries to combat joint inflammation and pain in India, North Africa, and China. Unlike modern NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) like ibuprofen and aspirin, Boswellin doesn’t cause stomach irritation or other harmful side effects. In its cream form, Boswellin can be applied directly to the skin to reduce inflammation.

A number of scientific studies have confirmed the effectiveness of Boswellin. This ayurvedic herb contains a compound known as beta boswellic acid, which is anti-inflammatory and analgesic. It has been shown in animal and test-tube studies to inhibit the production of leukotriens (biologically active compounds formed from arachidonic acid and other polyunsaturated fatty acids that cause inflammation and allergic reactions).

An important recent study of 175 patients with rheumatic and arthritic symptoms showed promising results. Within four weeks of taking Boswellin, 122 patients reported reduced stiffness and inflammation. Boswellin also appeared to be particularly effective in alleviating lower back pain.11

Mickey S., a 55-year-old back patient in Illinois reports: “I’ve been hospitalized three times with back pain so intense I couldn’t even sit up. The drugs and injections they gave me in the hospital helped while I was there, but they also made me so groggy, I couldn’t think straight much less work. So they weren’t the answer.”

“Since being hospitalized, I’ve tried a half-dozen different supplements, and found Boswellin to be the most effective. Most of the time, the pain is simply gone. For the first time in five years, I can forget about my back and get on with my life.”

Arthritis Fighter #4:
Betaine (trimethylglycine)

Essential for rebuilding connective tissue

Betaine—also known as trimethylglycine—is essential for rebuilding connective tissue and manufacturing cartilage components. Betaine works with folic acid, Vitamins B-6 and B-12, and methionine to form SAMe (S-adenosylmethionine), and to donate methyl molecules, which are vital for proper liver function and cellular replication. SAMe protects and repairs joints by (1) increasing the number of cartilage cells, (2) stimulating the synthesis of proteoglycans, and (3) decreasing cartilage loss.1213

SAMe is available commercially, but is extremely expensive, and can cost $200-$350 a month. SAMe is also chemically unstable. The preferable alternative for most people is to take betaine and B-supplements, including B-6, B-12, and folic acid.

Arthritis Fighter #5:
Curcumin: a powerful anti-inflammatory

Curcumin is an extract of the spice turmeric that provides a huge number of health benefits. In fact, the potential benefits of curcumin are so comprehensive and extensive, that we should all be taking it. A recent search of the Excerpta Medica database found no less than 149 citations referring to the medical benefits of curcumin. Studies show it inhibits prostaglandin production and stimulates the creation of cortisol which relieves inflammation.141516

A 1991 study conducted in India looked at a combination arthritis formula that included curcumin and Boswellia. In a double-blinded, placebo-controlled trial of 42 patients with osteoarthritis, those receiving the test formula showed a significant drop in pain and disability.17

Conclusion

It’s a relief to know that you don’t have to rely on pain-reducing drugs that are irritating to the stomach, and may have other side effects. These natural supplements have been proven safe and effective for alleviating pain and inflammation … and the best news is that they offer the long term benefits of helping restore and repair damaged tissues, and support healthy joints and cartilage.

References

  1. J Y Reginster et al, Long-term effects of glucosamine sulphate on osteoarthritis progression: a randomized, placebo-controlled clinical trial, The Lancet, 357: 9252, 1-27-01
  2. A L Vaz, Double-blind clinical evaluation of the relative efficacy of ibuprofen and glucosamine sulfate in the management of osteoarthrosis of the knee in out-patients, Curr Med Res Opin 8 (1982) 145-9. 3.
  3. H Muller-Fassbender et al, Glucosamine sulfate compared to ibuprofen in osteoarthritis of the knee, Osteoarthris Cartilage 2 (1994), 61-9.
  4. K Karzel and R Domenjoz, Effect of hexosamine derivatives and uronic acid derivatives on glycosaminoglycan metabolism of fibroblast cultures, Pharmacology 5 (1971); 337-45.
  5. Ruane R, Griffiths P. Glucosamine therapy compared to ibuprofen for joint pain. Br J Community Nurs 2002 Mar;7(3):148-52
  6. Arthritis-fighting glucosamine, News & perspectives,http://www.Wholehealthmd.com, 1-30-01.
  7. Van Blitterswijk WJ, Van De Nes JC, Wuisman PI. Glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate supplementation to treat symptomatic disc degeneration: Biochemical rationale and case report. BMC Complement Altern Med. 2003 Jun 10;3(1):2
  8. Hungerford DS, Jones LC. Glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate are effective in the management of osteoarthritis. J Arthroplasty. 2003 Apr;18(3 Suppl 1):5-9
  9. Richy F, Bruyere O, Ethgen O, Cucherat M, Henrotin Y, Reginster JY. Structural and symptomatic efficacy of glucosamine and chondroitin in knee osteoarthritis: a comprehensive meta-analysis.Arch Intern Med. 2003 Jul 14;163(13):1514-22
  10. Hungerford MW, Valaik D. Chondroprotective agents: glucosamine and chondroitin. Foot and Ankle Clinics 2003 Jun;8(2):201-19.
  11. Boswellia, http://www.Wholehealthmd.com, 1-30-01.
  12. Cox, M J, McDevitt, C A, et al. Changes in chondroitin sulfate-rich region of articular cartilage proteoglycans in experimental osteoarthritis, Biochemica et Biophysica Acta, 6-18-85, 840/2, 228-34.
  13. Brandt K D, Effects of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs on chondrocyte metabolism in vitro and in vivo. Am J Med 83 (Suppl. GA), 1987, 29-34.
  14. Curcumin, Viable Herbal Solutions,http://www.metromkt.net/viable/1curcumi.shtml, 1-31-01.
  15. Inhibitory effect of curcumin, an anti-inflammatory agent, on vascular smooth muscle cell proliferation, Eur. J. Pharmacol. (Netherlands), 1992, 221/2-3, 381-384.
  16. Mechanism of anti-inflammatory actions of curcumin and boswellic acids, J Ethnopharmacol (Ireland) 1993 38/2-3, 113-119.
  17. Kulkarni RR, Patki PS, Jog VP, Gandage SG, Patwardhan B. Treatment of osteoarthritis with a herbomineral formulation: a double-blind, placebo-controlled, cross-over study. J Ethnopharmacol 1991 May-Jun;33(1-2):91-5

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