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Alternatives to Treating Joint Pain and Arthritis

It’s estimated that 50 million individuals (nearly 22 percent of adults), suffer from arthritis. Women sufferers outnumber men in every age group. Medications called non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs, are most commonly used to treat arthritis and joint pain.

But FDA recalls of several NSAIDs, including Bextra®, Celebrex®, and Vioxx® have caused many individuals to consider other alternatives.

One of the most common reasons that patients present to my office is joint pain. This can arise from injuries incurred during exercise and sports or degeneration due to osteoarthritis. Typically these symptoms are treated with either prescription or over-the-counter medications known as NSAIDs. However, due to growing safety concerns about the long-term use of this class of drugs, I’m continually asked for non-pharmaceutical alternatives.

The most commonly seen adverse effect of NSAIDs is gastrointestinal bleeding. In the U.S., NSAID use is a factor in about 107,000 hospital admittances and 16,500 deaths, making it nation’s fifteenth leading cause of death. [Am J Med. 1998;105:31S-38S, as referenced in New Engl J Med. 1999;340:1888-1899.]

Long-term use of NSAIDs has also been linked with high blood pressure, fluid retention, kidney problems, leaky gut, and congestive heart failure. Even Tylenol®, considered a safer form of NSAID, has been linked with liver damage and high blood pressure.

A number of nutritional and lifestyle-related therapies have been shown to be beneficial, with fewer and often zero side effects.

These include:

Glucosamine Sulfate

Glucosamine sulfate is one of my favorite recommendations for joint health. Glucosamine sulfate is essential to cartilage formation. Giving the body extra glucosamine helps in the building and repair of cartilage.

Herbal supplements. I find the following herbal supplements to deliver results: curcumin (1 gram per day), turmeric (1 gram per day), boswellia (1000 to 400 mg per day) and ginger (300 mg per day). Studies have shown these herbs to work similarly to NSAIDs by positively affecting the body’s inflammatory pathways. They may not work as quickly as NSAIDs but they are effective and safer for long-term use.


I often recommend vitamins to support joint health. Vitamin B3, also known as niacinamide (500 mg 6 times per day) has been shown to be effective for pain reduction in patients with osteoarthritis. In one study, 5 grams per day of a high dose Vitamin C supplement was shown to increase the time needed for joint replacement in a randomized controlled study of 100 patients. [Curr Ther Res. 2003;64:21-31]

Lifestyle Changes

Joint issues due to arthritis are much more prevalent among obese adults (29.6 percent) than normal/underweight adults (16.9 percent). Dietary and lifestyle changes resulting in even modest amounts (ten percent) of weight loss can reduce a person’s risk of developing arthritis or relieving joint-pain. (Source: US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Arthritis Data and Statistics.

Available at Retrieved 5/20/13.)

High quality supplements can be found in health food stores or through health professionals. However, as the web site has shown, up to eighty percent of nutritional supplements don’t contain what they state on the label, so be careful.

And as always, seek the advice of your physician when considering any therapy.

Here's to your health!

Dr. L

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