Arthritis – Osteoarthritis

Probably the most common age-related disease, osteoarthritis affects the joints of over a million older Australians. Supplements may greatly relieve the pain and stiffness of this disorder and slow down the cartilage degeneration that causes it.

What is it?

With osteoarthritis, your joints gradually lose their cartilage – the smooth, gel-like shock absorbing material that prevent adjacent bones from touching. Most commonly affected are the fingers, knees, hips, neck and spine. As cartilage loss continues, the friction of the bone rubbing against bone can cause pain and joint instability.

What causes it?

Osteoarthritis may be the result of decades of joint wear and tear, although genetic factors, excess weight and impairment in the body's ability to repair cartilage may also play a role. Some cases are linked to a specific cause, such as a previous injury to a joint; the overuse of a joint occupationally or athletically; or a congenital defect in joint structure.

Are there any natural therapies?

There are no sure-fire cure for osteoarthritis, but glucosamine, a cartilage-building sugar compound, is helpful in relieving arthritis pain. It appears to slow joint damage over time, though whether it can reverse the disease is unknown. Allow at least a month to judge results; then, if necessary, substitute another supplement to use with glucosamine to see if it works better for you. These supplements can be used long term, as well as conventional pain relievers such as aspirin and paracetemol.

Several large studies are assessing the impact of glucosamine when it's combined with another cartilage-building compound, chondrotin. Other supplements that can be taken with glucoamine include niacinamide, especially to relieve knee pain; boswellia, a tree resin that may inhibit inflammation and build cartilage; and sea cucumber, a Chinese remedy that may, through unknown mechanisms, reduce pain and stiffness and increase grip strength.

What else can I do?

  • Take moderate low-impact exercise such as walking or swimming to strenghthen muscles and improve overall joint condition.
  • Apply heat or ice to joints for 20 minutes three times a day to help reduce pain.

Did you know?

In Australia, glucosamine supplements cost the same as some prescription drugs (about $25 for a month's supply), but glucosamine has few of the serious side effects, such as gastrointestinal bleeding, that the drugs commonly do.