Treating arthritis with supplements: will it help?

If you notice simple tasks — anything from housework to walking to typing — starting to cause pain in your joints, it could be a sign of an arthritis health problem.

Arthritis, or joint inflammation, refers to a variety of ailments affecting the musculoskeletal system of the human body. Nearly four million Australians suffer from some degree of the condition, with some of the most common types being osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.

“Most commonly, arthritis occurs in the hips and knees, but it can really occur anywhere. If you use your hands a lot, you may get osteoarthritis of the hands and fingers, and so on,” explains Gerald Quigley, a Pharmacist and Master Herbalist who has practiced for over 35 years.

Age is a significant risk factor for arthritis — but it is not inevitable as you grow old. Nearly two and a half million sufferers of the disease are not frail and elderly, but in fact of working age, according to Arthritis Australia.

Chronic pain in the joints is the primary consequence of the condition and there isn’t a single cure for this pain, but rather a variety of treatments that work to varying degrees for different individuals.

“We’re not trying to fix things — if you’ve got a joint that’s falling apart, we’re kidding ourselves if we think that we can fix that straight away. That’s what a knee replacement does,” says Quigley.

Instead, treating this pain involves dampening the levels of inflammation. Research shows that Omega-3 fatty acids may have an impact in this reduction.

It is important to note that inflammation isn’t only a condition associated with arthritis. If it occurs in neurotransmitters of the brain, it can lead to dementia and mental illnesses, and in other parts of the body, can cause cardiovascular problems and diabetes. So, even if you don’t have problems with your joints, these remedies might help lower your risk of inflammation causing other health difficulties.

Sources of Omega-3’s
There are a variety of sources of Omega-3’s, with the most natural being oily fish such as tuna, salmon, sardines, or mackerel. For an adequate intake, the National Heart Foundation suggests that we eat these fish two to three times a week — quite a big ask in our carb-heavy modern diets.

Oily -fish -smoke -salmon -on -crisp -omega -3
Oily fish, such as salmon, are rich in omega-3 fatty acids

Therefore, like most health requirements in our pharmacy-laden lives, many people turn to supplements such as fish oil and krill oil.

“Fish oil is okay, but according to the experts, most of our doses are sub-therapeutic. We simply don’t take enough,” says Quigley.

According to Arthritis Australia, we have to consume 2.7 grams of Omega-3’s daily in order to make a difference to chronic pain caused by arthritis. This is equivalent to nine capsules of standard strength fish oil tablets every single day.

Krill oil is a relatively newer supplement and so the research is not quite as clear on the subject regarding its benefits for arthritis treatment. However, krill oil has a phospholipid packaging, which makes it easier for the body to absorb compared to the triglyceride packaging of fish oils.

A 2007 study also found that krill oil supplementation may help to reduce the level of C-reactive protein (CRP), which can assist specifically in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis.

In addition, krill oil is considered to be a more environmental sustainable option, as the harvesting of krill for the supplement has little impact on the enormous global population. If you’re especially worried about the environment, you might also consider flaxseed oil. It contains a smaller quantity of Omega-3’s than fish and krill oil, but is made without any animal content so is suitable for vegetarians.

It is important to note that these treatments are not going to be an instant remedy — snake oil would be just as effective if someone told you they were.

“If you start taking an Omega-3 [supplement], you’re probably not going to feel any different tomorrow, you’re probably not going to feel any different in a month. Long term, we’re looking at reducing the levels of inflammation that cause [these] health risks,” explains Quigley.

What else can you do?
Diet can also have a significant impact on inflammation. A diet high in vegetables is more likely to have anti-inflammatory effects rather than a high carb diet or unhealthy fast foods.

It’s also helpful to try and incorporate at least some oily fish into your diet, as the supplements mentioned above are meant to be exactly that — supplements.

Furthermore, there is some evidence that herbs such as turmeric may have a positive impact on reducing inflammation in the body.

But perhaps the simplest method that may assist in easing arthritis pain is to keep moving.

“If a joint is sore, do something that’s comfortable and keeps your joints moving — this might mean walking with comfortable footwear, walking in a pool, or swimming,” says Quigley.

It is important to speak to your health care practitioner before taking any supplements in order to decide the best course of action for your individual situation. The information presented here is intended to be general and should not be taken as medical advice.

Do you have a form of arthritis that results in chronic pain? Share your experiences below.

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