What can you do about unremitting osteoarthritis pain after you've tried it all—conventional specialists, assorted prescriptive and over-the-counter pharmaceutical medications, and even the much talked about natural substance glucosamine? More drugs may not be the answer. But an alternate natural remedy could be.
As a nurse, 61-year-old Betsy knew better than most people about the risks inherent in taking many OTC drugs, including the painkilling NSAIDs—non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. Betsy ached constantly from the arthritis in her knees and hips, especially since her job kept her on her feet all day. The hours she spent in bed at night had become painful as well, making it difficult for her to sleep. Painkilling drugs seemed to offer the only option for obtaining some measure of pain-free time and for several years they did help—but now they had ceased to be effective, so Betsy made an appointment with Mark Stengler, ND, at a friend's recommendation.
In their first meeting, Dr. Stengler discovered that along with the pain-killing NSAID pills, Betsy had already started to use natural substances in hopes of combating her arthritis. Several years previously she had read that glucosamine sulfate would ease arthritis pain. Consequently, in addition to the multivitamin and vitamin C she'd been taking daily for years, she had added 1,500 mg of glucosamine to her daily regimen. She continued to take the glucosamine faithfully, but she admitted to Dr. Stengler it hadn't really helped—in fact, she said, her joints were aching worse than ever. Betsy was also 30 pounds overweight, which exacerbated her joint pain. Dr. Stengler immediately put her on a weight loss program, but now he also had to find a natural substance that would address Betsy's joint stiffness and pain since the glucosamine, which he says is helpful for many people, was not working for her.
The substance Dr. Stengler determined would likely help Betsy was an oral collagen-containing hyaluronic acid supplement. Collagen-containing hyaluronic acid is less well known than glucosamine for treating osteoarthritis. Dr. Stengler says that many of his patients have found it to be extremely effective, since hyaluronic acid exists in all tissues and fluids in the body with the highest concentrations of it in connective tissues, including the collagen between bones that cushions the joints. Hyaluronic acid supplements made from animal cartilage can help with connective tissue formation and especially with production of synovial fluid in the joints, another way the body protects the joints from stiffness and pain. Dr. Stengler prescribed 500 mg of collagen-containing hyaluronic acid twice a day for Betsy.
With an aging population, osteoarthritis has become more widespread than ever. Many people reach for NSAIDs to ease their pain, but Dr. Stengler cautions that overuse of these drugs—as is frequently the case in treating a chronic problem such as arthritis—can be, as Betsy discovered, ineffective. For some patients, they're even dangerous. The drugs can be hard on the digestive system, the stomach in particular, causing bleeding and ulceration. There is also evidence that NSAIDs are associated with kidney and liver problems and possibly increased cardiovascular risk. The problems they can cause may be far worse than those people started with.
Dr. Stengler says that while many people find that glucosamine (the original supplement Betsy took) helps soothe their arthritis pain, it's not always successful—and even when it is, it sometimes stops working after a while. This is one reason it's so important to have a physician trained in natural medicine oversee your use of supplements. Dr. Stengler's prescription of collagen-containing hyaluronic acid, much less well-known than glucosamine, offers relief for many who aren't finding success with glucosamine. It should be used until symptoms subside. One product Dr. Stengler uses often is BioCell Collagen II, which is a patented form with research showing it to be well tolerated.
After just three weeks Betsy was feeling much better, says Dr. Stengler, and after eight weeks of treatment, her improvement was considerable. Betsy was also helped by losing her excess weight. Dr. Stengler recommended a daily calorie intake of 1,500 calories—moderate protein, high fiber, balanced fats and avoiding most refined carbs. She was taking a weekly aquaerobics class and biking several days a week, as well. At a follow-up visit with Dr. Stengler one year after she first saw him, she reported she was 80% better and that although she continues to take collagen-containing hyaluronic acid, she no longer has any need for pain-killing drugs.