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Released: May 05, 2003

May is National Arthritis Month
Supplements May Ease Arthritis Pain: Ancient Remedies -- Modern Relief?

MANHATTAN, Kan. – More than 100 different types of arthritis have been identified. People who suffer from different forms of the disease may, however, experience similar symptoms, such as stiffness in the joints and reduced mobility, said Doris Newman, president of the Kansas Chapter of the Arthritis Foundation.

One in three Kansans suffer from the chronic disease, she said.

Arthritis has been associated with aging, yet no one is immune – even children can suffer from it, Newman said.

Is a Supplement For You?

MANHATTAN, Kan. – Dietary supplements accounted for $17.74 billion in sales during the year 2000, said Barbara Lohse Knous, K-State Research and Extension nutrition specialist. More than $6 billion were spent on vitamins; $1.73 billion on mineral supplements; and $2.13 billion for specialty and other supplements.

Remember, however, that nutritional supplements should complement a healthy diet, and not be considered a replacement for eating a variety of healthy foods, including fruits and vegetables.

Remember also to discuss the use of supplements with your health care professional, Knous said.

“And, don’t assume that a supplement is safe. View new products with caution and learn as much as you can about them,” she said.

There is no cure, although research is ongoing. And, while arthritis sufferers are encouraged to work with health-care professionals in managing the disease, some dietary supplements can ease the symptoms and complement prescribed health care measures, said Barbara Lohse Knous, K-State Research and Extension nutrition specialist.

One supplement – glucosamine – is thought to be particularly helpful for many who suffer from osteoarthritis, one of the most common forms of the illness, she said.

“Clinical trials with glucosamine show subjective improvement. Glucosamine, which is naturally found in almost all tissue, is a building block of cartilage. When used as a supplement, it stimulates cartilage cells to produce glycosaminoglycans and proteoglycans that are important to building cartilage,” Knous said.

While it is too soon to know the effects of long-term use, researchers do know that using glucosamine can ease joint pain, she said.

Using a supplement without first discussing it with a health-care professional who is managing disease is not advisable. Glucosamine is made from shellfish and not recommended for people allergic to seafood. People with diabetes also are cautioned about glucosamine – animal research shows that it may worsen insulin resistance, she said.

Chondroitin, another supplement that is available, is a major component of cartilage. It can inhibit the enzymes that break down cartilage. The supplement, which is derived from a cow’s tracheal cartilage, can cause bleeding in patients who are taking blood-thinning medications. There also is some concern about chondroitin’s affect on atherosclerosis, the nutrition specialist said.

People who suffer from rheumatoid arthritis can benefit from fish and plant oils containing fats that decrease inflammation. Examples include black currant or evening primrose oil, she said.

Treatments drawn from folk medicine and other cultures also can be beneficial. Research trials using extracts from the Chinese Thunder God Vine, for example, suggest that the supplement yielded an 80 percent improvement, said Knous who explained that it has been used successfully in China for centuries.

Evaluating supplements on a case-by-case basis is imperative, she said.

“As an example, SAMe, a supplement that can be helpful in joint repair and mobility, is not recommended for people who suffer from bipolar disorders because it can aggravate manic cycles.

Methotrexate, a drug that may be used in treating some forms of arthritis, inhibits the enzyme DHFR, which is needed to convert folate into an active form. That means that it may be necessary to supplement folate when using methotrexate.”

Choosing to use a supplement or other complementary medicine need not be thought of as a vote against medicine, Knous said. Alternative therapies may be appealing for a variety of reasons, including cost, convenience and fewer or less invasive side effects.

Consumers should not, however, assume that alternative medicines are safe. Complementary and alternative medicines currently are not subjected to testing in the manner that prescription drugs are, she said.


K-State Research and Extension is a short name for the Kansas State University Agricultural Experiment Station and Cooperative Extension Service, a program designed to generate and distribute useful knowledge for the well-being of Kansans. Supported by county, state, federal and private funds, the program has county Extension offices, experiment fields, area Extension offices and regional research centers statewide. Its headquarters is on the K-State campus, Manhattan.

Story by:
Nancy Peterson, Communications Specialist
K-State Research& Extension News

Additional Information:
Barbara Lohse Knous is at 785-532-0154

Other current news articles available on arthritis:

Arthritis Increasing; Learn to Reduce Risks, Pain 5/05/03

          Exercise Helps to Manage Arthritis Pain 5/05/03

Ease Arthritis Pain, Caregiving 5/05/03

          Arthritis Sufferers Can Simplify Cooking 5/05/03

          Kitchen Tools Simplify Cooking for Those With Arthritis 5/05/03

          Adapt Living Space to Ease Arthritis Pain 5/05/03

          State Plan Targets Arthritis Awareness 5/05/03

We hope these stories will be useful to you.

K-State Research & Extension News