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A joint effort


Maintaining healthy joints is essential for free mobility, but with increasing age joint problems often become unavoidable. Arthritis, also called degenerative joint disease, is one of the most common chronic diseases in Australia, affecting 3.5 million people, or 15.3 per cent of the population, in 2014-15. Amazingly, there are over 100 different types of arthritis, among which osteoarthritis is most common, followed by rheumatoid arthritis and gout. It is also possible to have more than one type of arthritis at the same time, writes naturopath Miho Kikuchi.

With an ageing population and an increasing prevalence of chronic illness, together with a growing awareness of the importance of preventive health for wellbeing, many Australians use complementary medicines for treatment and prevention of joint disease, often alongside conventional medical treatments. This popularity is backed by science, with numerous studies indicating the effectiveness of complementary medicines in the treatment of arthritis. Here, we discuss a few of the most popular complementary medicines that you’re likely to spot in your local pharmacy.

Glucosamine and chondroitin are both naturally occurring building blocks of joint tissue and cartilage and are used to enhance joint integrity and repair damage. Glucosamine supplements are made from oysters and crab shells, and chondroitin supplements from shark or bovine cartilage. These combinations are effective in treating the pain and joint disability of osteoarthritis and may act to slow the progress of the disease. Symptomatic relief may take several weeks, while protective effects on the joints can occur only with long-term use over several years. Many studies provide good evidence that combined treatment with glucosamine and chondroitin is more effective than when either substance is used alone. These supplements may help to reduce the need for nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).

Fish oil has been linked to a range of health benefits. The use of fish oil for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis is supported by numerous clinical trials looking at the treatment of inflammatory and autoimmune diseases. Fish oil supplements have been consistently shown to reduce symptoms in rheumatoid arthritis, such as the number of tender joints, pain intensity and morning stiffness. Deep sea cold water fish, including salmon, mackerel and sardines are rich in beneficial omega 3 (EPA/ DHA). Considering that only 20 per cent of Australians currently meet the recommended intake of natural sources of beneficial omega 3, fish oil supplementation can be advantageous for the management of joint health.

Devil’s claw has been used traditionally to relieve pain and has been used in Europe for over 50 years for the treatment of rheumatic conditions. There is increasing scientific evidence suggesting that devil’s claw reduces pain as well as inflammation, and improves physical functioning in people with osteoarthritis. Studies have demonstrated significant improvements for patients in stiffness and function and also considerable reductions in pain, resulting in 60 per cent of patients either reducing or stopping concomitant pain medication. Due to its significant anti-inflammatory and analgesic activity, devil’s claw is also used for pain and inflammation associated with gout and rheumatoid arthritis.

Turmeric has been used for 4000 years to treat a variety of conditions such as inflammatory and digestive disorders. Due to its powerful anti-inflammatory effects, turmeric has also been used to improve symptoms of osteoarthritis. Studies showed that taking turmeric extract results in reduced pain and improved functionality in patients with osteoarthritis of the knee after two-to-three months of treatment. Moreover, patients taking turmeric extracts show significantly reduced usage of analgesics and NSAIDs. Other research also indicates that turmeric is effective in improving morning stiffness and joint swelling for rheumatoid arthritis.

SAM-E (S-adenosyl-L- methionine)
SAM-e is a naturally occurring molecule that is found in humans and is present in almost every tissue and fluid in the body. SAM-e has antiinflammatory and analgesic actions. Some studies concluded that SAM-e is as effective as NSAIDs in reducing pain and improving functional limitation in patients with osteoarthritis without the adverse effects associated with NSAIDs. Usually, beneficial effects are seen within four-to-five weeks for osteoarthritis treatment.

Willow bark has been used since ancient times as a treatment for pain and fever. Willow bark that contains salicin has shown anti-inflammatory and analgesic (pain relieving) actions. Thus, it can be used to treat the pain and inflammation associated with osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Studies on willow bark in treating diseases characterised by joint pain have found that effects start within one week of use, and patients using willow bark may find they have lowered requirements for anti-inflammatory medications.

Calcium is commonly known as an essential mineral required for optimal bone health and can be used to prevent bone mineral deficiency. Given vitamin D has a critical role in bone growth and development through regulating and increasing the absorption of calcium, calcium in combination with vitamin D supplementation is most commonly seen as a prevention or treatment of osteoporosis. Lately, there has been research on vitamin K related to bone health which demonstrates that vitamin K2 plays an important role in bone mineralisation and increasing bone mineral density. Vitamin K supplementation is therefore also becoming popular for maintaining joint health.

“Turmeric has been used for 4000 years to treat a variety of conditions such as inflammatory and digestive disorders.”

Miho Kikuchi
Miho Kikuchi is a qualified naturopath and works as an industry development associate at Complementary Medicines Australia (CMA), the leading expert association exclusively committed to a vital and sustainable complementary medicines industry. CMA works to ensure consumers have access to complementary medicines of the highest quality and supports a healthcare model based on promoting long-term wellness of the community.


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Alana Lowes

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  • Maintaining healthy joints particularly as you get older, also means staying strong and maintaining a healtby weight within the body mass index. (BMI)
    So resistance exercise is very important as well as a healthy diet.
    Two very important points to remember:
    1. You are what you eat; and
    2. Your body was meant for a lifetime of activity.